Loess Hills Floral Studio

Rhonda Bullington got help from the Iowa Small Business Development Center at Iowa Western Community College to develop her business plan, create cash flow projections, find financing and more so she could start, expand and move her floral shop.

Rhonda Bullington’s family has owned a small business in Lincoln, Nebraska since 1975 so owning and operating a small business is in her blood. Rhonda wanted to start her own floral design business but knew she needed to get experience in floral design to go forward. She worked in many different floral shops and warehouses and eventually developed her own unique design aesthetic.

In early 2011 Rhonda and her family moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa. She thought it was the perfect opportunity to open her own floral business and continue her family’s tradition of small business ownership.

Rhonda went to the Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Iowa Western Community College full of ideas and ambition. Her passion was design and she wanted to bring her unique style to area weddings, funerals, and every day celebrations. Sue Pitts, SBDC Regional Director, helped Rhonda plan out her business model, develop it into a business plan, and create cash flow projections, which she then presented to a local bank.

Rhonda received a bank loan and, along with her savings, started Loess Hills Floral Studio in a small existing building located on 16th Street and Broadway. Even though the location was a little off the well-traveled routes it was next to a brand new funeral home. For twelve months Rhonda worked out of the small shop and built up her business. She also opened her shop to local artists, showcasing their work and selling their art pieces on commission.

Rhonda soon found that her preferred business niche was wedding design and retail. Her existing shop was a little too far off of the beaten path for drop-ins so she looked for a location that was more accessible. She found her new location at the Harvester Art Lofts, a newly renovated building with residential space for local artists as well as retail space on the street level. This new space was a perfect fit for her unique design aesthetic and her willingness to showcase local art in her shop.

Rhonda moved into the new space in August 2012. She also went back to the SBDC for help with a new website and some training in social networking and content marketing. She knew that she needed to increase her marketing efforts in order to get the word out to her targeted market but she didn’t have enough money to participate in large budget media or tradeshow efforts.

With the help of the SBDC, Rhonda built her new website and became very active in social networking, blogging, email marketing, and video podcasting. One of the more innovative ideas that she shares weekly with all of her social networks is a $5.00 Friday Bouquet—along with the $5.00 bouquet she posts a how-to video on how to arrange the flowers purchased. The online hits on this effort alone is driving more traffic to her website weekly and has pushed her search engine results listing from page 20 to page 1.

Not only are customers finding Loess Hills Floral Studio online and hiring Rhonda for their floral needs, but she is also seeing an increase in media attention and has been sought out several times by local and regional media for expert opinions in feature stories. Recently Rhonda was named The Knots 2013 Best of Weddings Vendors for the Council Bluffs/Omaha area.

After 18 months of business ownership, one location change, and several necessary education updates, Rhonda’s business is at the breakeven point. She is halfway booked for 2013 weddings, is seeing a steady growth in her retail business, and an increase in funerals and other special events. She anticipates hiring part-time help during the busy 2013 wedding season and hopes to have some additional full-time staff by 2014.

Rhonda is very grateful for the professional assistance she received from the SBDC saying, “The Small Business Development Center helped me create a business plan to get this business started and continues to be there to help me along the way as I come across new things that I need to learn. They are an indispensable service and one that I intend to keep tapping into as I grow and expand my business.”

If you can’t visit Loess Hills Floral Studio in person, be sure to visit its new website at www.loesshillsfloral.com or connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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