Anyone who knows me in person knows that I LOVE talking about small businesses! And I absolutely LOVE supporting the creative people behind them and their amazing visions. (It’s sometimes all I talk about. I have to watch myself at times.) I basically want anyone and everyone to be bonkers successful in sharing their gifts and ideas with the world.
So today, it is a complete honor to introduce you to Taproot Flowers of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Rachel Gordon, the owner of Taproot, happens to be a long time blog reader (I mean it, this is an honor!!) While I have not met her in person yet, I can tell just by email that she is one of the most lovely, light filled, passionate human beings. There is so, so much heart behind her small business. I am rooting for Taproot in the biggest way. And here is a proud blogger moment: Because of my blog, Rachel found a designer, the amazing Linsey Laidlaw, who designed Taproot’s brand. Big smiles on that one 🙂 🙂
Here’s an interview I did with Rachel. You’ll quickly see why this business is particularly special…
Note: all the gorgeous photos were art directed by Linsey Laidlaw and photographed by Alpha Smoot. Floral arranging by Rachel Gordon of Taproot Flowers.
What makes your florist shop unique?
Taproot is a floral design business based in Brooklyn, NY. We do weddings & events, deliveries, teach classes — but what makes us different is that we’re completely committed to using locally grown flowers. Every single flower we sell was grown within 200 miles of our workshop.
There are so many big problems in the cut flower industry — shipping emissions, worker exploitation, the use of toxic preservatives and pesticides. The vast majority of flowers sold in the US are imported from other countries, which is crazy. And the vast majority of American-grown flowers sold are grown in California. Here’s the thing: there are SO many amazing flower farmers right here in our region! There are so many reasons to go local. It’s the eco-friendly choice, for sure. And I’m completely convinced that local flowers are prettier and last longer than imported ones. The turnaround time on them is pretty amazing. We often deliver flowers that were cut from a field or greenhouse the day before. That doesn’t happen with flowers that are imported. Don’t even get me started on how old bodega flowers are.
My favorite benefit, though, is this: in choosing locally grown, you’re directly supporting your neighbors. And in doing so, something of a community is created. We want to know the people who are buying our flowers AND the people who are growing them, and we want them to know each other. There is a relationship there. This can be particularly special with our wedding clients. I really look forward to sharing with them who the people are who’ve grown the flowers for their big day.
Why did you decide to open your own floral business?
I think I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My mother was an entrepreneur when I was a kid, and I really looked up to her. I’ve always admired people who see a problem, and then just go ahead and do the work to fix it. Also — full confession here — I’m not that great at working for other people, so getting to work for myself is certainly a motivating factor in my choice to open a business!
As to why this business: there are many, many reasons why I feel so strongly about choosing local, but a lot of my personal motivations for opening Taproot are the result of a whole lot of grief. My dad passed away in 2013, just a week or two after I had decided I wanted to open my own business, and a few days before Valentine’s Day. Long story short: the weeks before his death gave me some exposure to the inner workings of the healthcare industry, and left me very, very angry. I was left feeling like — what if the doctors and social workers and nurses and health insurance executives of my generation (I’m 29 now) all worked really hard to change the systems and industries they worked in? Just the tiniest, little bit? The smallest shift could have an enormous impact — who knows, maybe our children won’t have to see us die the way I saw my father die. (Note: I realize that I know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to work in these fields, and I’ve no doubt people ARE trying to make change happen every day, but at the time these were the angry thoughts of a grieving person. My apologies to those readers who work in those fields and do their jobs really damn well.)
In any case — I don’t work in the healthcare industry. Nor will I ever do so. And eventually, the anger shifted into motivation, and I decided that if I was going to work in any industry, I was going to do my damnedest to make my little, tiny corner of it the best it could possibly be. So, I started researching and reading everything I could about the flower industry, and what I found was pretty appalling. There needed to be a better option, especially in a city as progressive as New York. I believe that being the “better option” means being socially responsible and eco-friendly. It means going local, and sticking to it. Year-round. And that’s what Taproot does. We provide our customers with an alternative.
This might all sound very naive, but I don’t care. In the two years since my father’s death, six other people I knew have also passed away. Not all were close, but that number includes a dear friend, and my beloved grandmother. There are worse things than grief, but it’s certainly not fun. I think we all have days where we need a reason to get up in the morning, and mine is this: maybe, just maybe, my crazy business idea and the work I do every day might effect some small change in the world.
Do you have a background that helped you in becoming a florist and also setting up the business?
I became a florist kind of on accident. I fell into it — I was offered a job interning at a neighborhood flower shop after leaving my previous career, and I just fell completely in love with it. I’m still surprised by all of this. After interning for four months, I decided I really wanted to be a florist, and took as many classes as I could afford. I’ve taken floral design classes with some of the most amazing florists in both the US and the UK, and I’ve taken business classes as well. There is just so much to learn!
Before becoming a florist, I worked on and off for eight years in the theater industry as a stage manager. Stage managers work really hard behind the scenes to help make everyone on stage shine, and I think this background has really informed the way I’ve approached this business. Taproot is not about me. It is not necessarily about my personal aesthetic. It is about taking something that is already amazing and beautiful — the work local farmers do, the gorgeous flowers they grow year-round — and shining a big old spotlight on it. (Sorry for the theater puns. Can’t help it.) And as far as setting up the business goes: stage managers work in teams, and I’ll never work any other way. I may be the one answering these interview questions, but Taproot came into existence with the help of an incredible group of talented, passionate people. I’m so grateful to all of them. I could never, ever have done this all by myself.
Did you enlist any mentors along the way to help you set this up?
Yes! I’ve been so lucky in that department! I don’t really feel qualified to give advice on much of anything, but if I were to give advice it would be this: talk to people. Be brave, be friendly, approach people you admire and TELL them that. I’m a friendly, talkative person, but when it comes to talking to people I really admire, I’m something of a mouse.
This is how I wound up with a mentor: I attended a class specifically so I could meet someone who I knew would be there, forced myself to walk up to her, and squeaked “I really love what you do.” Next thing I knew, she was telling me I should do it too. Fast forward more than a year later…someone referred to her recently as my “flower fairy godmother,” which I think pretty much sums it up. She’s opened so many doors for me, has been unbelievably generous with her knowledge, and occasionally shoves me off a ledge when I need to be shoved. To say that I’m lucky and very, very grateful would be a massive understatement.
(Her name is Ellen Frost, and she runs Local Color Flowers
in Baltimore. All of their flowers are locally grown, and her entire team is amazing; if you ever need flowers in Baltimore — call them!)
What were the big hurdles you had to conquer before launching your business?
Fear. I hate failing (although I’ve done it many, many times), I’m a champion procrastinator when it comes to doing things I’m uncomfortable with, and I’m a neurotic perfectionist. I almost didn’t open a business because I find the idea of Yelp reviews truly terrifying. Easily, my biggest hurdle (a daily challenge even now) has been getting over the fear of screwing this up, of saying the wrong thing, of wasting a whole lot of money and time. Of disappointing other people, and myself.
Did you ever feel like quitting or feel like starting the business was too overwhelming? What keeps you going? And finally, how does LOVE play a part in your business and in your life?
Probably once a day! I love what I’m doing so much, but it’s been quite the emotional roller coaster ride.
Three things keep me going: relentless optimism + a solid dose of realism + a whole lot of LOVE…
1& 2) Relentless optimism + a solid dose of realism: I believe in this project, and I believe it will succeed. But also, I’ve failed often enough to know that failure is a given in life. I fail all the time, and then I get back up again. I will screw parts of this up, and it will be fine. I may screw the entire thing up, and if that happens I will be fine. If all of the loss I’ve experienced has taught me anything, it’s that life is short no matter how old you are when you die. You might as well go after whatever it is that you want.
3) We’ve only been “open” for business a few weeks now, but I’m absolutely blown away by the amazing enthusiasm of the little community that’s cropped up around Taproot. There’s a whole lot of love there. So many people have been so generous with their time and expertise, and so many people are shouting our name from the rooftops. So many flower growers welcomed me to their farms as I was doing research last summer, and have been so supportive since then. And our first customers and clients! They’re wonderful. We had wedding clients (complete strangers to me!) before we even had a proper website up. This blows my mind. One morning I woke up to an email from a wedding client who wrote to say she couldn’t wait to tell her friends all about the farmers who’ll be growing her wedding flowers. I cried.
As far as the rest of my life goes, there is a Cheryl Strayed quotation I think of often. She writes: “My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger.” That’s how I feel. I have the loveliest friends and family. I was loved, fiercely, by some extraordinary people who aren’t living anymore. I hope they knew how much I loved them. And I am loved by other extraordinary people who are thankfully still here.
I’m lucky. No matter what happens next, I’ll always have that.
Friends, aren’t you just in love with Taproot as I am? There is so much beauty and goodness here!! Let’s rally around this one and help her business to be successful. Are you getting married or hosting an event? Do you know anyone in NYC? I am guessing they would love a local flower delivery. Rachel wanted to offer FREE SHIPPING on all orders until Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015. So nice. Use the code BLOGLOVE at check-out. Flowers start at $38. (My friends are getting some delivered today!)
Love to all,
P.S. It was so fun to do this interview. I’d love to do MORE interviews here with our dear blog community. If you have a story you’d love to tell about a life lesson learned, or a story of love, gratitude, healing, compassion, marriage, dating, hope, forgiveness, or self worth, please do write me. I would love to provide the space for your voice to be heard. Your post can also be anonymous if you’d like. It will help a bunch if you write “Story For the Blog” in the Subject line.