All photos: Kalen Hayman
An exclusive series by Carolyn Grisold that profiles female entrepreneurs in Toronto
Business Name: Pink Twig Floral Boutique
Owner: Amy Saleh, 36
Type of Business: Flower Shop
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Address: 711 College Street
Closest Major Intersection: College and Ossington
Pinterest: Pink Twig
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri: 9am-7pm; Sat: 10am-7pm; Sun: 12-5pm
How did you come up with the business name?
I started the business with a friend and we knew we wanted the colour pink to be a part of the name. “Twig” came naturally to it. We wanted something different that didn’t sound like every other flower shop name, and so Pink Twig Floral Boutique was born.
Did you work in the floral industry previously?
No, I worked for CTV/TSN as a story producer previously. I had gotten bored and needed a new challenge when I was asked by my former partner if I was interested in starting a business with her. She was a florist who wanted creative control but did not want to run the business. So after working in a flower shop for three months to see if I would like it, I decided that it was something I really wanted to do.
Was that when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I think I always had it in me; my father owned five businesses and some of my siblings are self-employed as well. We were raised with a “hard work pays off” mentality. I use that every day at the shop: if you work hard and you are good to your customers, they will continue to support your business.
You mentioned your former partner; are you the sole owner now?
I am. We decided to go our separate ways recently but remain friends. She decided that Toronto wasn’t for her anymore and is making the move back North, to where she was raised, to give her daughter the same upbringing.
How do you balance work-life?
It varies at different times of the year. In the summer we just have to work hard because it is wedding season, but come winter it is a time to catch your breath, take a vacation and get ready for the next wedding season. Also, having an amazing staff really helps as well. I have a great staff who I trust 100% to run my business as I would when I am not there.
I am always available to the staff if I am not in the store (I do take 2 days off a week), but I don’t let it stop me from enjoying my life. I think it is up to the individual on how they handle it.
Are you a member of any support groups for entrepreneurs?
I am not, but would love to be!
Have you won any awards?
We have won a few: Best Florist by NOW Magazine for 2007, 2010 and 2011, and Editors’ Pick for Toronto Life (we also regularly make their ‘Best of Toronto’ issue).
What kind of challenges did you face when you first opened?
The [biggest] challenge faced when we first opened was just getting people to trust us with their large events. At first they were really small and, as we became more established, our events grew. This is especially true with weddings; we understand that most people only have one shot at making this their most special day and we had to earn their trust.
Why is it important for small business to take an active role in their community?
At the beginning it is important to do anything you can just to let them know you are there, but once established it is important because they are supporting your business. You should help [the community] when they need things; we regularly provide [items] for silent auctions, etc., in the local schools.
Why did you choose to locate your business in Little Italy?
We originally thought we wanted to be on Queen West, but while looking at locations we discovered that College (Little Italy) didn’t have any real full-service flower shops, just bucket shops, and thought it would be a nice place to open up.
Has your neighbourhood evolved since you opened?
Our neighbourhood hasn’t changed all that much since we opened. It was already established when we moved in, filled with tons of restaurants. They change frequently, but it still continues to be a very popular place to come especially in the summer with all the patios along College.
How does your business keep up?
We try to stay current with all the trends in fashion etc. Our customers are pretty trendy and they are always looking for new and different designs, not the same old stuff that you see in the Ma-and-Pa shops. I have gone to Europe a couple of times since we opened and made a point to go into different flower shops there to see what they are doing and bring it back here.
What are some of your new challenges?
I think social media is a double edged sword; it can really help your business, but it can also really hurt your business. Anyone nowadays can write what they want about you and your business, and unfortunately, because it is on the internet, some people take it as true. Because of social media, some people won’t give you the opportunity with their events due to what is written about you. We are pretty lucky though, 99% of what is written about us is positive, but I have friends in the industry who work so hard and are just so frustrated by what is out there on the internet.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out?
I wish I knew how hard it was going to be. Once you are in it, you basically have to sink or swim; if you aren’t willing to put in the time, your chances of success are next to none. I have gone five weeks without a day off, but I always knew that if I worked hard enough it would pay off, and it has.
What have you learned that has been the most surprising?
I learned that nobody will ever love your business as much as you. I also learned that it doesn’t matter how successful you are, you will always lie in bed and count your pennies in your head. That fear when you first start out of “how am I going to pay my bills” never goes away.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
I think it is important to keep changing your business so it doesn’t get stuck in a rut, and for us that includes bringing in different products constantly so we don’t get bored with what we are doing. Also, it is so important to be good to your staff; if you are good to them they will be good to you in return.
Is there an area of new growth that you’ve recently implemented or are planning to in the near future?
My goal for 2013 is to grow the corporate side of our business. We really focused on growing the event side, but now being the florist for large businesses is something that is attractive to me. Weddings are amazing, but once the event is done we don’t have much to do with the couples after (unless they are ordering personal flowers). A relationship with large companies is ongoing; you can do their office flowers weekly, outgoing flowers and office parties. I would like to build up those relationships.
What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
I think for me, finding something that I love this much has been amazing. I still love going into the shop everyday; knowing that you are making someone else smile with what you create is so special. Everyone is always so happy to get flowers.
I love being creative, I love seeing buckets of flowers on the floor, and hours later seeing them transformed into someone’s dream wedding. I will always love showing up to a bride’s house with her bouquet and watch how excited she gets at what you created for her. I love that they choose you to be a part of their special day. Most importantly, I love that it is for me and my family, and that I am not working hard for some large company and not seeing the rewards.
Could you imagine being anything else?
I always thought that I would eventually get into politics; it is something that I think that I will do once I can’t do this anymore. Being a florist is a very physical job, and I don’t think I will be doing it in my 50s, so planning on a third career makes sense for me.
Carolyn Grisold is the managing editor of Women of Influence Magazine and a contributing writer to various print and online publications (Post City Magazines, Toronto.com, Gallery Magazine, Argyle Magazine). Follow Carolyn on Twitter @CityandCharm. To suggest a female entrepreneur, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.