In Freddi Grimes’ business, a rose is a rose is a dollar.
So is a peony, a lily and hundreds of other flowers and plants that go through her Foothills Floral Galley on Chandler Boulevard and 48th Street, where she is the only independent florist in Ahwatukee.
Her road to that position began because she needed a job. Along the way, she discovered she had an interest and a talent in floral design, made the leap from manager to owner of a store and was one of the survivors of a recession that “wiped out the industry to the bare bones because of the luxury niche we’re in.”
The Safford native began working in the floral industry 16 years ago, when supermarkets and discount warehouses weren’t selling flowers much and people who needed even simple arrangements looked up the name of a business in the Yellow Pages.
“I just needed a job and then it was because, like, I couldn’t get out of the floral business. It kept pulling me back in,” she said.
Her evolution as a floral designer was largely through on-the-job experience, starting at Foothills Floral Gallery when it was at a different location and under a different owner.
“I bounced around a little after that, came back to Foothills Floral when it was under a new owner,” she recalled.
Four years ago, she continued, “I wanted to move up from a manager, and the owner wanted to move on, so my husband and I decided to buy the shop,” which by then had been located already for four years in the rear of a strip mall that also houses a gun store and Va Bene Restaurant.
The business also had changed by the time she became a flower shop owner.
“Sixteen years ago, you didn’t have the internet,” she said. “Now, everything is a photo. People see something online and want that exact arrangement. Before, we could sell more of what we had on hand. Now, you have to pay more attention to what’s on your website.”
Despite her on-the-job training, coupled with workshops she attended, her occupation “is not just something you can sit up and do,” Grimes said.
“You have to pay attention to making sure the stems are all touching the bottom so they don’t dry up quickly, pay attention to the types of flowers you group,” she said, addomg:
“I like to mix my textures. Some are fluffy and soft and others are a little harder. Some are dainty and some are elegant. And you have to have a focal point in the arrangement.”
Florists also have to pay attention to seasonality of many flowers, she said.
Relying mainly on three distributors – one each in Arizona, Ecuador and California, though she also gets many from Holland – Grimes carefully manages her website display so as not to be showing varieties that are out of season.
There are a couple of exceptions. “Roses are definitely popular year-round,” she said. “And lilies. People love lilies.”
But customers also are somewhat attuned to seasons as well, she notes.
For example, now that school is beginning, “people are thinking fall.”
They want sunflowers and lots of reds and oranges to remind them of fall, she said, even though there’s still half of the monsoon season ahead.
Still, her business has its highs and lows as she cycles through the year.
“I’d say it goes from January with early wedding season, then you have Valentine’s Day, spring formals and semiformals, weddings, Mother’s Day, proms and then when school’s out, the floral industry goes through a lull.”
Big-ticket orders such as weddings and funerals poses their biggest challenges in different ways.
“Weddings are probably the most stressful,” Grimes said. “There’s an expectation and no second chance. Sometimes it’s a matter of not being able to get the customer everything they want.”
Yet, Grimes also is resourceful, as she was recently when – for a funeral – “one gentleman wanted a huge tennis ball.”
“I talked him into adding a tennis racket into the arrangement and it turned out real good.”
Sometimes these unusual demands extend to basic arrangements as well, as one did with a request for something that looked “like the moon and stars.”
Grimes found some celestial pieces that resembled stars to add to an arrangement, topping it off with a Christmas ornament that resembled the moon.
Though her she serves customers as far away as Scottsdale and nearly into Gilbert, most of Grimes’ business is closer to home.
That’s why when prom season hits, the three high schools in Ahwatukee give her more than enough to do when it comes to corsages.
But after that age bracket, her clientele seems to skip a generation she said, until people who are starting to get married find need of her services. By far, however, most of her customers are in the 55- to 75-year-old age bracket – “generally gentlemen and good floral buyers.”
Open all day Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, Grimes does far more than make floral arrangements.
She’ll decorate Christmas trees, string lights, sell hand-made baskets of Christmas foods and, of course, make fresh wreaths.
While her wreaths generally are between 16 and 48 inches in diameter, she can supply 60-inch wreaths that can fit across the middle of a set of double doors, coming in two pieces that seamlessly join together when they are closed.
As for those big stores that compete with independent florists, Grimes said there are a number of differences, starting with the freshness of her product because everything she sells is refrigerated until it reaches the customer’s hands.
“I look for something pleasing to the eye, not your everyday boring ‘flowers are sticking straight up.’”