So there we were, my new husband and me, hovering around the circling baggage claim carousel at the Orlando International Airport. It was October of 1993 and we had just returned from our 8-day honeymoon to the Virgin Islands. I was 27 and he was 33.
As Jay and my dad watched all the black suitcases for those that belonged to us newlyweds, my mom and I stood and discussed what I had missed in Orlando since our wedding day. Our two cats were well taken care of and we had amassed a few more wedding gifts at my parents’ house since we left… as if we needed more. Mom had returned groomsmen’s tuxedos and entertained the last of the out of town guests. She had also contacted just about every florist in town to accomplish the one task that had alluded her all week… preserving my wedding bouquet and that of my maid of honor.
Seriously? No one in town preserved flowers?!
But I had seen ads in bridal magazines (yes, that’s all we had for wedding planning back then .. long before the advent of the glorious internet) and maybe in one of the myriads of books I bought at Barnes & Noble. And I was sure there was an article somewhere. Didn’t I find someone in town after my best friend’s wedding three years ago?
Yes, seriously. All she could find was a recommendation for a taxidermist out in Christmas. Twenty-four years ago, that was like driving to the end of the earth. And like the good mom she was (and still is), she drove to the end of the earth, with my bouquet and Ellens’ bouquet. And left them with the seedy little man whose rural garage/workshop was wallpapered with the trophies of dead animals, the likes of we’d rather not see, I’m sure.
Twenty minutes and $200 later, she had contracted (using that term lightly) with this fellow to dehydrate the two bouquets for Mom to pick up later. He would call her. No worries.
A Bright Idea
“Well,” she began. “I’ve found the business you need to start.” I’d fantasized since I was in high school of starting my own business. Until after that senior summer internship in college, I always thought I would open an advertising firm. But the pressure! And the fake people! That internship cured me of that in about 6 weeks.
“Oh yeah? What would that be, Cornelia?” We only called her by her first name when she was being utterly ridiculous and need of her own parenting.
“Preserving wedding bouquets. No one in town knows where to send me and no one does it. You could figure that out for sure.”
Hmmm… limited competition? An arty-crafty product? That had my name written all over it.
So, along with a friend at the time, I began spending all of my non-working waking hours on this absolutely crazy idea. Hours at the local library (remember, we didn’t have Google back then..), days on end in the back room of my parents’ house experimenting with this weird oolitic sand stuff to dehydrate the flowers. Once the flowers were dry, what could we do with them? Designs? We needed names for the designs .. a Cherish, Resemblance (can’t call it a replica, because it’s not the EXACT same as the original bouquet), Heart to Heart (what a perfect name for a heart-shaped wreath) .. What glue works best? We need a way to keep the shadowboxes clean over time .. the beginning of our maintenance feature was born.
Not Going It Alone
My dad, now 86, God bless him, a retired architect, talented artist, and carpenter took to figuring out how to create shadowboxes that were airtight, implementing his own assembly line in the garage. Between his home-design projects, he worked tirelessly on finding moulding manufacturers and framing supplies. He had befriended a pair of professional framers who shared their wealth of knowledge from their career in the framing business with him, from the national framing industry tradeshow coming to Orlando in January to what miter saw to purchase. Those gals were amazing!
My friend and I began marketing locally to florists and found a few who really loved what we were doing. A couple of well-connected florists were willing to introduce us to their influential friends around the state and the country. Our florist referral programs began to take shape in those early years.
Before we knew it, we had quit our full-time jobs to pursue Keepsake Floral. My husband was a little skeptical, but that soon changed. We made a big move for a bootstrapping startup… decided to take out national ads in both consumer and trade magazines. The one national ad in Florists’ Review really made our phones ring off the hook. We were getting calls from florists all over the country. There was a real interest and need for what we were doing.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, of course. 18-hour days, working all weekend cutting frames and designing keepsakes, hubby in tow. Soon enough, the business partnership dissolved and we needed to move out of Mom and Dad’s garage and the office executive suite.
Then there was the day we presented to the Disney Wedding team .. we thought we had ARRIVED! They loved us and have been a very supportive and important part of our story for nearly 25 years.
Mom and I found a little house just on the north side of Orlando. We rented all but one room of the house. The last room was leased by .. yes, you guessed it .. a rock ‘n roll band, baby! Before we knew it, we took over that room too, and the old warehouse behind the little old cracker house.
We hired one of our early customers as our first employee as our receptionist and customer service rep. And her father came on board to help my dad with framing. And twenty years later, we still hear from Donna, although her dad has been gone for a long while. To honor Pete, we still have sit for a late-morning coffee break together, something our early framer insisted upon with his Krispy Kremes in tow. It has always been just this kind of camaraderie and “family” feeling that has truly defined Keepsake Floral.
A Young, Growing Company
From those early days of developing our systems and products to the current practices of social media and the high-quality art design and professional woodworking and framing that Keepsake boasts, it has always been the serendipitous location of just the right person or just the right location or just the right professional contact at just the right time that has been a consistent and constant thread running through the fiber of our corporate quilt. And after nearly 24 years and staff numbers anywhere from two to 15, it has always, always been the people of Keepsake and the people of our professional networks that have made Keepsake Floral the truly special company that it is.
Granted, the work we do is exceptional, but it is the team of people that have convened here, that make the day to day work truly enjoyable and truly zen.
When the tide of business has been downturned, we would joke with Cornelia, that it was surely all her fault, because it was her idea to start this crazy project. And she continues to take the joking in stride, also at 86, with every phone call she answers or every bouquet she inventories prior to preservation.
The Road Ahead
Twenty-four years young, Keepsake floral continues to hum along, not geographically too far from its inception, and not too spiritually far from the feel-good, peaceful, non-stressful business it was designed to be. Thank God for Cornelia’s marketplace-void discovery in 1993. And about the two bouquets she left with the taxidermist? We never found him… or the flowers… again!