Elizabeth Schenk hadn’t planned on being a full-time floral designer, but her business blossomed even before she opened her storefront. Photo by Michael Buck
Elizabeth Schenk might still be working in corporate communications at Universal Forest Products Inc. had it not been for a business venture that progressively blossomed.
“Blossom” is more than a cliché. Schenk made the decision earlier this year to resign the systems analyst/communications position she held for 10 years at Universal Forest to plunge headlong into her own floral design business she has dubbed Posh Petals.
In November, Posh Petals was named Outstanding New Business by the city’s Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures.
The storefront at 2150 Plainfield Ave. NE has its own storied past. In the 1940s, it was the Roxy Theater. Later it served as Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and, after that, as a roller-skating arena.
But the historical significance of the building wasn’t on Schenk’s mind when she leased the 2,100-square-foot space for six months. Her main reason for choosing the site was because it’s close to where she lives.
“I noticed on a Saturday (while looking at Craigslist), it was a couple of blocks from my home,” said Schenk. “I looked at it Monday; we shook hands and signed a lease on Tuesday, in April of this year.”
Today, there are no vestiges of the building’s former occupants. Schenk has made the interior her own with a cozy vibe. The space isn’t overwhelmed with a clutter of merchandise. Instead, she wants customers to be intrigued by the variety of flower-related pieces on display that encourage browsing.
Posh Petals features a cooler filled with fresh blooms and arrangements and a “build-a-bouquet” station where shoppers can choose a vase, add water and select from a variety of blooms.
Ribbons and bows are available for that finishing touch, as is jewelry from Spring Lake’s Rose Water Designs, tote bags from Green Girl of California, fragrant body products from Library of Flowers, and custom-order wood items like wedding cake toppers and picture frames that can be personalized. Schenk added that Posh Petals is one of only three Trapp Candle retailers in the Grand Rapids area.
Then there’s Murphy, a lionhead mix rabbit who stays in his cage most of the time but can sometimes be found wandering throughout the floral store.
In some ways, Schenk is not a traditional florist. For instance, she does not keep on hand for customers a “look book” — a catalog of photos that display standard floral designs from which patrons can choose.
“I didn’t want to do that,” said Schenk. “I want every bouquet to be unique — to have some personality.”
Schenk started Posh Petals six years ago as a home business, doing floral arrangements and bouquets for weddings. Word spread quickly about her personalized and trendy designs and, by the beginning of this year, she had outgrown her home workspace.
Initially, she was just looking for a larger workspace that could handle the volume of her business — until she found the perfect space and decided to open a storefront.
The positive energy at Posh Petals may not have happened if not for the birth of Schenk’s son, Waylon, named after country music legend Waylon Jennings. His arrival nudged Schenk to realize that working an average of 100-hour weeks between her job at Universal Forest and her floral design business did not leave adequate time with her son.
It sounds improbable that anyone would willingly work that amount of hours, but Schenk insists she would willingly have continued that pace because she enjoyed juggling her responsibilities at Universal Forest with her floral business.
“If I didn’t have my baby, I probably would have kept doing the same thing,” she said. “But I didn’t want to keep him in daycare all the time.”
Earlier in her life, making a living by designing bouquets with calla lilies, eucalyptus, spray roses and the like wasn’t on Schenk’s radar as a career. During her years as a college student at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, it was a way to earn money during the summer months at Batschke Flowers Greenhouse and Garden Center in her hometown of Bay City. After graduating, she moved to Grand Rapids in 2002 to work for Sharp Marketing.
But then one thing led to another. Three of her brothers were married within a year-and-a-half, and all turned to her for their wedding floral arrangements. Soon, a friend who worked as an event planner enlisted her flower-arranging skills. It snowballed from there.
Six years ago, she started designing arrangements and bouquets for weddings on her own. The first year she estimates she did about 25 weddings, which climbed to 40 the next year until, in 2013, it was nearly 80 weddings. Projections for 2014 indicate she’ll do floral arrangements for around 100 events, including weddings, events for nonprofits and corporations, and funerals. She also does her own deliveries.
Schenk said she left Universal Forest on good terms. Her boss assured her there would always be an opening for her at the company if she ever wanted to return.
She named her business Posh Petals, in part, as a nod to the British pop girl group, the Spice Girls.
“The CEO of Universal used to call me Posh, for the Spice Girls,” said Schenk, referring to Victoria Caroline Beckham who was dubbed Posh Spice.
Schenk’s work in corporate communications may have created a pet peeve: People who can’t spell even the simplest of words correctly.
“It’s amazing how many people can’t spell ‘petals,’” she said. “I’ve seen ‘peddals’ and ‘pedals,’ like on a bicycle. I did proofreading for years for Universal. I cringe.”
Schenk’s favorite flowers are from the ranunculus family, which includes buttercups, spearworts, water crowfoots and the lesser celandine that are often bright yellow or white. Her humorous side comes out when she explains why the ranunculus is a personal favorite.
“It looks like a rose that got smashed in the face, like a pug,” she said. “It comes in a variety of colors and looks so cute, like a bunny.”
When she was a child, Schenk wanted to be a zoologist. “I just love animals,” she said.
Zoos, however, are not high on her list, especially the ones that don’t provide adequate room to roam, she added.
“You go to a zoo and see a bear pacing back and forth.” She shakes her head. “Animals are like flowers. You can’t look at this guy and not smile,” she says, gazing at Murphy who’s nestled in her arms.
Behind Schenk’s engaging smile is an abiding desire to make people happy.
“People don’t realize beyond the monetary cost,” she said. “Yes, it’s $45 to send flowers, but compared to making someone’s day, you can’t really put a value on it.”
There is an unsettled side Schenk thinks she may explore at some point in her life.
“Sometimes I feel there’s something else I could be doing,” she said. “I haven’t figured it out yet. I let things take their course, just follow the plan given to me.
“I wake up in the morning with no regrets for what I’ve done. I’m giving my family time and giving my clients good work, and I’m happy with what I’m doing. A nice house and so much money do not define who you are. I’d rather be known for my engaging personality.”