Blooming small business pivots to stay open during shutdown

Lily and Betsy

Kansas City-based wedding florists Lily Williams and Betsy Ford are on a mission to express love through flowers. But over the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to adapt their business and serve their community by filling orders for funerals instead of wedding celebrations.

Lily and Betsy met eight years ago while working together for a major florist in Kansas City. After five years, Lily left and started taking wedding orders out of her own kitchen, all the while staying in touch with Betsy who had moved to Charleston. Lily’s home-based florist shop grew exponentially over three years and when Betsy moved back to Kansas City, she proposed the two make the business official. 

In January of this year, they registered Lily Floral Designs as an LLC and signed a lease on a studio space. They set a goal to make $120,000 in wedding sales in 2020, which they quickly upped when they reached the $70,000 benchmark in February. 

However, when the coronavirus spread across the U.S., cancellations started rolling in as couples postponed their wedding celebrations. As a new business, Lily Floral Designs didn’t qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, and since their initial profits have already been used to further establish the business, Lily and Betsy, who are determined to remain debt-free, have yet to take a paycheck from the business. 

Despite their strong start to 2020, Betsy explains, “Now we’re just thinking about what we can do to get to the next stage.” 

Their original business plan was to service weddings and large events, but now they’ve had to adapt to include smaller-scale projects. Lily explains, “As we speak, Betsy is standing across from me working on a funeral arrangement, which is not something we ever anticipated doing.” 

Lily and Betsy have had to pivot their business model from weddings to gifts for various occasions like birthdays and Mother’s Day. They have also launched a monthly flower subscription that allows customers to receive a fresh bouquet each month. But as businesses start to re-open, there are now more weddings in their future, which poses a completely different challenge for the duo. 

Lily explains, “Now, we have to make a choice between protecting ourselves and the people around us from potential infection and keeping the doors open.”

It’s not an option for them to close down completely and meet their rent obligations, so they must take on a certain amount of risk by continuing to service events. 

They wish the government loans were more inclusive of new businesses as they know a number of other people are in the same situation who could really use the support. Currently, they are grateful to be debt-free and still able to work towards their original dream. 

They explain, “We love what we do and we love the simple fact that we get to add beauty into the world when it seems like the world really needs it.” 

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