If you've never been to Spruce Flowers & Home, located on 47th and Chicago and now on 50th and France as well, you're missing out on a new-fashioned flower shop experience unlike any other. From the wall of succulents sitting pretty in ceramic pots to the idyllic walk-in cooler filled with flowers of all kind, Spruce is truly a treat for the senses. We sat down with owner Amy Backman to talk about playing with flowers and avoiding potholes.
S&TF: When did you start Spruce?
We opened this location (on 47th and Chicago) about four a half years ago, and we just opened our Edina location last year. It’s gone by so fast!
S&TF: Can you tell us a little about your background? What inspired you to start your own store?
I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and worked at a flower shop there—it was my first job out of high school. It’s hard not to fall in love with working in a flower shop; there are so many different facets of it that I’m drawn to. I love the design aspect of it, I love what it does for people and how it helps them communicate how they feel. I went to college for retail merchandising, and after college I moved to Minneapolis and became a buyer for Bachman’s. I met my husband at the time, and his last name is Backman—I knew this was going to be a problem down the road.
S&TF: I was just thinking that!
Yes! So then I worked for Room and Board doing product development and merchandising. It’s funny how you look back on your experiences and at the time you wonder why you’re doing one thing or another but later it all adds up, because it totally set me up to do something like this. Having store opening experience, vendor experience, pricing, and all that. Then I worked at Thymes in marketing, which was great. But one day I said: if I don’t open my own shop now when am I going to do it? A couple of these spaces became available and I’ve always loved this building—I’ve stalked it for years. So one day I just quit…and started up a flower shop in the middle of a recession.
S&TF: Yikes! What was it like at first?
It’s always been very interesting, fulfilling, scary…really everything. Any kind of emotion you can think of. Every day is like learning a new chapter in business school. It’s been fun to open up a second shop, too and learn a different market and how the two shops complement each other.
S&TF: Do you have plans to open more shops?
Not right now, but long term I think so. Flower shops are things people really want in their neighborhood. They don’t want to travel to Stillwater to get their flowers.
S&TF: Do you personally deliver the flowers?
Sometimes. We recently purchased our own delivery van. Most local florists use a delivery service. I am kind of a control freak. It’s really difficult letting our creations leave out the door—you’re essentially delivering a bowl of water. You’ll never know how many potholes there are in the city until you’ve delivered flowers! It’s also been nice to have our own van for setup at weddings.
S&TF: What have the weddings been like?
Delivering for weddings is the most stressful part of the job. Driving these huge centerpieces from here to St. Paul in traffic—you can’t slam on your breaks with flowers in tow. But seeing it all come together is really great. I’m getting to a point now where I’m realizing how important it is to train someone and share my knowledge with them so I don’t have to be involved in the day to day process.
S&TF: I can imagine it’s hard to let go once you’ve invested so much time, money and energy into developing your own business and brand.
It is! And I’ve talked to other business owners about that too. But there’s a certain point where you have no other choice—I can’t be in two places at once. I’ve spent four and a half years building this and I want to make sure it continues on in the original vision. It’s difficult, but I think it’s possible with the people we have today. It’s just hard to find the right people for this job because it’s not a traditional retail job, where if you’re good with people and have good sales skills you can work at any retail space. Here, you have to have an actual trade as well as those skills.
S&TF: Every time I’m in the store I always think how nice it would be to work with flowers—I’m sure you get that a lot.
Everybody comes in and says how great it would be to work here, yes! There are always the parts that aren’t as fun as the others, though. People don’t always get that there will be people calling and complaining about the shade of pink we chose. I mean, most people aren’t angry about flowers, but it is a completely subjective business. When someone comes in and describes what they want, their ideas might be different than how you’d execute that. So that adds a level of complexity to the business.
S&TF: There can be so much emotion involved in buying flowers. Can you share one of your favorite stories?
There is so much emotion involved. I used to tell people I got paid in stories when I started the business. It’s definitely what kept me going for the first few years. I think deep down, that’s why people want to work in flower shops, because it’s just so cool to be able to connect with people in that way. Florists and bartenders are the people that know the most about people’s relationships! I had this one guy living in Arizona who called and wanted to send flowers to his high school sweetheart. I couldn’t tell how old he was or anything on the phone. He was writing a card to go along with them and wanted me to deliver it. I took the delivery out and it was to somebody in the neighborhood. It was this frail old woman. I gave her the flowers and she was perplexed—a little confused. The man called me later and said, “Did you deliver the flowers??” I said, “Yes I did.” “Was she home?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “How did she look?” he asked. And I just said, “She looked beautiful.” I don’t know what happened. I hope she called him.