Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your "backstory"?
My particular skills have always been ideal for entrepreneurship and business. For as long as I can remember this was the only field I wanted to pursue. With my multi-cultural background and fluency in several languages, international business seemed the most sensible course to take in college. During my senior year, I was selected for internship at Dresdner Bank, one of the largest banking concerns in Germany. It was there that I discovered that I had a facility for finance, which led me to working for seven years on Wall Street. Eventually though, I realized I wanted to have more hands-on involvement in an actual business, not just working on figures on a spreadsheet. So, I founded my own import company called HGI, which for the following fifteen years grew steadily with bigger and more important clients annually.
As they say, all good things come to an end, so did my trusted partnership of 15 years and when the time was most difficult for me I was blindsided by an unforeseen event. I was already married and expecting my second child and it was while I was preoccupied with that pregnancy when my HGI business partner of so many years formed a separate company on his own and diverted our company funds, assets and clients to his personal accounts. I had not realized how badly he had damaged the company until I returned to it and found it in near ruin. The blow came as an emotional and financial shock that nearly destroyed me as well. I panicked, had a breakdown and then realized I had no choice but to reinvent myself. With very little options, I rallied because even while everything hit rock-bottom, I still had a family to think of and expenses to face. This was how I created the new company Prêt-à-Fleur.
Can you share your most interesting experience since you started your company?
Everything prior to and since Prêt-à-Fleur has been interesting because just the sheer amount of work and effort it took to create it was a test of all my resources and resolve. From sourcing our roses in new countries, designing and creating the ceramic centerpieces, to marketing them properly has been an experience I could never have imagined.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
From the beginning, the idea behind Prêt-à-Fleur was to create the ideal gift and then going beyond that into something truly special. Our first offering is the collection we call Eternal Roses New York – real roses that don’t need to be watered or maintained yet continues to be vibrantly fresh for three years! While there are other brands that sell similar roses, they only have gift boxes. Prêt-à-Fleur is singular in having Eternal Roses New York dazzlingly presented in artisanal, carefully crafted ceramic vessels as centerpieces. We quickly realized this key difference and patented our designs. This makes our range serve not only as a memorable gift but as an elegant décor piece or accent as well – at home, weddings or any celebration, in restaurants, hotels, offices and public spaces! They can be enjoyed daily, displayed anywhere and admired by all.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My husband Lance is my one, most trusted partner in everything I do. He is my rock and continues to be the voice of calm and reason through the barrage of all my ideas and plans. His attention to detail is invaluable from a business standpoint and his ability to come up with practical solutions to anything we have to deal with keep me and our business grounded and moving along at a viable pace.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are always working on exciting new projects to stay ahead of the market. Because ours is a creative field, developing new concepts is ongoing. We are introducing a full range of bridal items and currently updating our boxes to reflect a modern sophistication. And, we are already finalizing our Fall and Holiday collections! We started in this business with very little knowledge about the floral industry but we're quick studies and we've really learned a lot in just the first few months of being in operation. We are also focused on our brand goal of providing the ultimate Indulgence in Gifting. We firmly believe that gift giving is a feeling that flows mutually from giver to receiver and back to the giver. We want Prêt-à-Fleur to be a vital part of that equation and heighten that experience for everyone to perfection.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The very nature of what we do is to share joy and beauty with everyone. We have customers call us constantly to tell us how much they enjoy seeing these gorgeous arrangements in their homes. Recently, for example we participated at the annual summer kick off at the Hamptons - Dan’s Rose Soiree and one of the women who was working security for the event was so in love with one our displays because she said it was the exact same shade of pink as her bedroom. We had to sell her the piece on the spot to make her happy. And these moments are really important to us.
But beyond that, philanthropy has always played a vital part of my work. As a family we have always believed in sharing with the less fortunate. One particular cause we are dedicated to are animal welfare and mistreatment, this is actually one of the main reason this new venture even got started. When the previous company folded I was unable to donate with the same generosity. But with Prêt-à-Fleur we dedicate a percentage of our sales to these causes so that as the company grows so will the contributions. One of these causes is that of Mr. Radu Termure who has over a thousand strays in his care in Romania. Since this is mostly done on his own, I find it is even more important for people who can to pitch in. I strongly believe that each and every single one of us has to contribute more to this world besides the aspiration of success on a financial level. There are many of us who live comfortable lives but that doesn't make us exempt from being aware of the horrible conditions around us simply because they are disturbing or unpleasant. The most fundamental part of being a human being is to recognize our responsibility to be humane.
What are your "5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company" and why. Please share a story or example for each.
*I wish somebody would have told me to work at a florist for a few weeks to get the experience of properly handling and dealing with flowers! It definitely would have helped me save hundreds of roses that were inadvertently damaged along the way.
*I wish somebody would have told me how challenging it was going to be starting and operating a new company and juggling responsibilities along with caring for two small kids under the age of 3. Starting a company is obviously no picnic but try doing that when you have the demands of being a mother to such young children. It's a whole new world! I am very hands-on with everything regarding my children – from their food, activities and schooling – and I exhibit the same tendencies with work where I find it essential to get involved in every aspect of my business. So, combining those two preoccupations has been quite a challenge.
*I wish somebody would have told me to do more research when it comes to online selling. With the decline of brick and mortar stores, I realize it's become inescapable to have an online presence when it comes to selling. And frankly for our business it was the best way to go. However, understanding and navigating the different ways of Google campaigning and marketing can be an expensive effort when done incorrectly.
*I wish somebody would have told me more in regards to the importance of social media and its impact in today’s business world. Marketing and sales from my experience in importing has proven to be completely different when dealing head on with direct retail.
- * I wish I would have known the very best way to present my product. We feel that we have a great product, but have at times have not been able to show the consumers how great it is. We are constantly evolving our product to make it better, but it is a very difficult road and it is hard to do when your background is not necessarily in this arena. Wanting to make it the very best for everyone is not as easy as we had expected.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I enjoy meeting people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life. My favorite thing, other than my children, is to talk with someone about my products, I truly love that. Showing them how it has come together into what it is now, is a great feeling of pride and accomplishment. To try and decide who I would like to meet, that would depend entirely what was going to be discussed. There are too many people out there I would enjoy speaking with to limit it to just one. I have great admiration for people in business, people that have achieved great accomplishments on a business level, however I probably would be more inclined to meet somebody that has made an impact on the wellbeing of others as well. I have several personal heroes with whom I would love to spend a private breakfast or lunch just to be able to learn some important lessons and wisdom from their own experiences. But being in this business I would have to say I would love the opportunity to sit with Ellen Degeneres or Oprah Winfrey. Who knows, we could end up being one of Oprah's favorite things!