written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Not so long ago, typical floral and table decor designs for weddings and other special events seemed stifled and stale. Far too often, florists could not – or would not – break free from the ho-hum, here-we-go-again, cookie-cutter options.
There’s nothing wrong with tradition, mind you. But, don’t special occasions beckon for personal design touches that make the events more…well…special? Touches that go beyond a change in the color scheme or the shape and height of vases or baskets?
Wedding Table Decor Reflects Memories And Dreams
When Candlelight Floral Designs’ Chris And Melissa Popple were planning their own wedding in 2001, Melissa wanted a very unique decor for the reception tables. In fact, the design concept was so unusual that the hotel wouldn’t touch it. The wedding planner nixed the idea, too. It just couldn’t be done. Or could it? What made the idea so far-fetched?
The couple enjoyed living in Australia for a huge part of their courtship and spent a lot of time scuba diving together. To reflect the special memories of those shared experiences, Melissa, the bride-to-be, wanted tropical fish tanks for the table decor. Chris, the groom-to-be, wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Chris recalled how they met when they were both attending the University of Leicester in the UK, even though they were on different campuses and taking different classes. She was a music major; he was a biologist. Yet, somehow, they did meet. And, once they did, they knew they didn’t want to be apart.
On the morning of their wedding in Chester (UK), the groomsmen and Chris took it upon themselves to position tropical fish tanks in the center of each table at the reception venue. The impossible suddenly became the possible and everyone was greatly impressed by the magical feat.
The incredible buzz that was stirred up by the creative wedding reception table decor was solid confirmation that it was time for non-floral table centerpieces for weddings and events. Melissa launched Candlelight Floral Designs in the UK.
Chris worked for one of the major pharmaceutical companies – Wyeth. In 2002, his employment led to the opportunity to be transported to the US side of the pond. Suddenly, they were residing in New York! “Melissa continued to grow the business in the US and UK, at that time,” said Chris.
All Roads Lead To Frederick County, Maryland
“About 2005, we moved to Maryland,” Chris shared. The product I was working on, which was a nasal spray flu vaccine, was moved to Medimmune in Gaithersburg.” The couple then spent a year in Rockville because it was an easy commute to the job. But, something was missing.
“In a year of living in Rockville, we didn’t really meet anybody. It was a very impersonal area that we lived in,” Chris reflects. “Life revolved around doing a few event jobs in D.C. for Candlelight Floral Designs and going to work every day. I knew there was more to life.”
Chris and Melissa considered moving back to New York. They even thought about the possibility of going back to the UK. Then, another option was tossed into the mix. A close friend who lived on Baker Park in Downtown Frederick invited the couple for a visit. They joined him on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in January.
“We walked through downtown Frederick with him. He was showing us around his home town. We were amazed how many people stopped to talk to him or introduced themselves to us or smiled or said hello as they walked by.” Finally, it all fit.
In just a few short months, the Popples found just the right place and made the move. “We haven’t looked back since. We love it here!”
What’s So Special About Frederick County? Chris Counts The Ways
“We found that small town, friendly environment that we wanted to live in that we didn’t think existed in Maryland. People help each other out all the time. Everyone’s willing to lend a hand to a neighbor or a friend. That applies to the business community as well.”
Chris easily makes the comparison to past locations. “We experienced working in D.C. and working in New York. The environments there are completely different from working in the Frederick area. We have friends – very close friends – that we also traditionally consider competition in the industry; they’re florists as well.”
“But, when we need the help on a Saturday morning, if we’re busy, then we’ll call them. We’ll ask them if they have spare stock or if they have somebody who can come over and give us a hand to tie boutonnieres.” And, Chris notes, the helpful gestures are returned!
Frederick is the 2nd largest city in Maryland but manages to retain the rare feel of a small, close-knit community. It defines ‘friendly competition’. “That kind of community of businesses that help each other out is very rare to find in the bigger cities.”
Candlelight Floral Designs: Where Do The Flowers Come From?
“All over! In the Summer months, it’s a lot easier to buy locally grown flowers from local farms. So, lisianthus, roses, hydrangeas, lavender, irises…it all comes from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”
Chris continues, “We’ve spent years building up these relationships with the local farms and bringing in what we need. Honestly, the product that they have is so much better than the product we can get from wholesalers or shipped in.”
As for cost, “often times, it’s cheaper to buy locally. And, the product is cut fresher, so we have it a lot earlier and it just makes the work we do so much better. It’s also so much more aromatic!”
Delving further into the economy of the industry, Chris points out the truths of the wholesale supply chain. “The poor farmer is making $ .02 or $ .03 per stem (yes, that’s 2-3 cents!) Instead of making the whole amount, because of all the people it has to go through on the way in the processing and the logistics. So, we try to buy as local as we can.”
Of course, it’s very difficult to find flowers that are grown locally during the ‘out of season’ months of November-February. Still, they try to stick to sources in the US. “We bring them up from Georgia, from Florida, from Louisiana.”
What about the times when there are special requests for something that’s tropical, like orchids or birds of paradise? “It’s very, very hard to get those outside of Central or South America or the Caribbean. So, some flowers we reserve the right to import. But, most of them, we try to buy locally.”
Creative Designs Inspired By Extensive Travel Adventures
In addition to the few years they lived in Australia, the Popples have also resided in Japan, spent time in Southeast Asia, enjoyed six months in the Caribbean in St. Lucia and Jamaica, and traveled throughout the US. This was all prior to starting the business in the UK and bringing it to the US.
“We grabbed the opportunity to travel while we had it. We didn’t have any children. We didn’t have any mortgages. And, we worked everywhere we went. It took a few years to settle down properly and decide we wanted to start a business, get married and have children.”
They now have two children. Their son, 8, and daughter, 9, both attend Myersville Elementary School. This proud Dad doesn’t hesitate at all when asked about them – “they’re GREAT!”
European And Australian Influence On Eclectic Floral Designs
“The work we do is inspired very much by our European roots; the British and the European floral design.” As for the Australian influence, it sparks much enthusiasm in Chris. “I consider it to be some of the best floral design work in the world!”
He goes on to firmly back up his opinion. “They really push the envelope in Australia. They do things before anyone else has thought about it. It’s really fascinating to watch the industry grow over there!” Spoken like a florist with a sincere passion for his trade.
“If anyone is really interested in the wedding industry, I’d encourage them to go look at the Australian floral design websites, especially The Knot Australia. It’s really fascinating work that’s going on there, especially with photography, videography and floral work. That’s where we take a lot of our cues from.”
“We try to build in flowers and styles that you just don’t see around in the US,” Chris responds when asked what contributes to making his floral enterprise so unique. “We were described in the Washingtonian Bride and Groom magazine, a few years ago, as being a cross between Downton Abbey and The Great Gatsby,” he’s proud to say.
“I love that because you can use words like rustic or traditional or contemporary but everyone has their own view of what that means.” Chris continues, “But, when you describe a style in terms of a movie or a book, then everybody has the same picture in their minds.”
The comparison continues to resonate with Chris. “If you can find one that fits, like somebody did for ours, it was one of the biggest compliments we ever received. We love that and we use it frequently.”
No Consultation Fees! No Minimum Order Requirement! No way!
Many florists are charging consultation fees and requiring a minimum purchase amount. These business practices can cause the cost of a wedding or event to escalate dramatically. And, it can be devastating for would-be clients who can’t make any room in their budgets for unexpected additional expenses.
“It is something that’s happening. We steadfastly refuse to do that.” Chris offers the perfect analogy. “I’m in the process now of buying a new delivery van for the business. If dealerships were charging me to walk around the lot to look for the right van, then I would go find another dealership that didn’t charge me to look around the lot.”
“I just don’t see why people feel the need to do it. Everybody’s style is very different. When you know what you want, you should be able to meet with multiple different florists and get an idea of whether their style suits yours.”
In fact, many wedding planners recommend consulting with at least three florists before making a final decision. “If you’re charged for the privilege to do that, it sort of detracts from the whole experience. It doesn’t make any sense to me, to do that.”
As for minimum order requirements, Chris recalls a bride-to-be who came to him with very simple needs. “All she wanted was a bouquet. She didn’t want every table centerpiece doing; she wanted to do some of the work herself. She only had one bridesmaid, and, that bridesmaid didn’t want to carry flowers.”
Even the groom didn’t want to wear a flower! A single bridal bouquet was all that she needed. Other florists wouldn’t budge from their policies of requiring as much as a $3000 minimum.” Yes, $3,000! Understandably, she was on the verge of tears when she approached Candlelight. She said, “I know you guys probably won’t do this but I just want a single bouquet. Can you work with me?”
“Of course we can! We’d love to help you!” Chris recalls telling her. “We put together a spectacular bouquet for her. What we didn’t know at the time is that she’s a teacher in Frederick County – she teaches middle school. She referred us, over the course of the last two years, to probably two or three dozen brides! Of those, we booked the majority!”
“Now, if we turned her away, we could potentially have lost every one of those referrals. So, that’s the story we remind ourselves of every time it comes to considering the business model. Do we charge minimums? Do we charge consultation fees?”
There’s only one answer for the Popples. “We just can’t bring ourselves to do it because our reputation is more important to us than doing that. I think it’s a good reputation to have – to be fair and reasonable in quoting.”
It’s just part of the formula that has led to phenomenal success since locating on Main Street in Middletown. Knowing how to keep the positive momentum going, this dynamic duo continues to expand with the evolutionary flow of their business.
“Studio 36” Candlelight’s Workshop For DIY Wine & Design
Studio 36 is the ideal venue for all sorts of interesting classes led by local gurus. Sometimes, it’s also the place where dreams are built.
“With the rise of the Internet and the rise of Etsy and Pinterest and all of these other websites, a lot of brides are wanting to build a personalization into their weddings but it hasn’t really been an option in the past.”
According to Chris, there are three primary concerns that must be addressed for those who want to do their own floral bouquets, centerpieces, etc.
The first issue is the experience. “You can learn a lot from You Tube but you can’t necessarily learn everything. So, they’re a little concerned that things aren’t going to go very well when they try.”
The second issue is refrigeration. “Flowers, especially in the summer months in the mid-Atlantic, have to be refrigerated in the ideal conditions to make them stay perfect for the wedding. A kitchen fridge just isn’t the place to do that. You need a humidity controlled floral refrigerator for that.”
And, the third issue? Space! “You need more than a kitchen. You need a full-sized basement to do it, with lots of fold-down tables.”
“On Wednesday and Thursday nights, we have bridal parties come to us. We lock up the shop, they come in and we turn the shop over to them. We give them a florist; we give them space in the cooler and we give them the space that they need to design and build their own floral displays for their own wedding.”
The Party Winds up At Studio 36 And Winds Down At The Main Cup
Bridal couples, families and friends bring food and wine. Sometimes they also bring the wedding photographer to capture the evening. “It’s so much fun. You can hear the laughter from outside of the building! They have a great time!”
“It’s an environment where they can have fun but be creative and do their own flowers for their wedding but in a risk-free environment. We’re always going to have the florist there.”
The fun doesn’t always end at the Studio. It often shifts next door to the Main Cup in Middletown where everyone can sit and enjoy another cocktail or two. Meanwhile, the flowers are left at the studio for proper storage and are then delivered at the venue on the special day. How perfect!
Are you wondering what happens when the results aren’t that great? Well, there’s no need for concern about any less-than-perfect creations. Chris and Melissa have it covered. “Our reputation is on the line. We’re never going to let something go out the next day for the wedding, if it’s not perfect. We’ll fix it if it needs to be fixed.”
Candlelight Floral Designs Makes Your Imagination Pop Into Life
Also note, you can opt to leave it all up to them. Remember, Chris had a great practice run of it with his own wedding reception decor. If you can imagine it, they can make it! Bring them your unique ideas! They’re up to a good challenge!
An order was placed recently by a woman who was looking for something special for a display for a baby shower. “Is there anything you can do that looks like it’s about to pop?” she asked.
Her inquiry inspired a creative vision of using ‘popping poppy pods’ – unique, unusual and fun!
What Has Been The Biggest Challenge As An Entrepreneur?
“For me, it’s the fluctuation in business. We are very seasonal in nature. The bulk of our business happens in May, June, July, August, September and October. Weddings are popular in October now because of the changing trees.
“That leaves us with November, December and January months, which are really, really very quiet in terms of flowers. You’ve got some Christmas work; you’ve got some Thanksgiving but it’s like a big wave. It all comes in the summer.”
Candlelight Floral Designs Go Beyond Weddings
They provide floral services for about 200 weddings each year. While that comprises the bulk of their business, they also do the other celebratory occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and life’s other special milestones.
They are happy to service corporate accounts by decorating offices, hotel lobbies, expo sites, reception areas and more. They also provide floral arrangements for funerals.
It Isn’t All Roses Behind The Scenes – It’s Work!
The number of employees also varies depending on the time of year. “In the summer months, we draft in a lot of extra people. On a weekend where we could have 12 weddings, we may have seven or eight people working in the shop, at any one time.”
“We have people that jump in to help with deliveries, we have people who come in and purely know that their function is to wash buckets. It’s an awful job; we try to share it around as much as we can. But, with every business there are things that you like to do and things that you don’t like to do.
“Melissa and I both muck in and wash buckets whenever we can and take the trash out, too! It’s all part of having a small business. You do everything you need to do to make it work.”
Inspired by Another Worldly Entrepreneur From The UK
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group which is made up of more than 400 companies, inspires Chris with two of his books. The first is an international best seller titled ‘Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way’. The second is the sequel, ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’.
The resounding message from this adventurous billionaire is loud and clear. Don’t dwell on decisions; just get on with it. “You’ll never regret doing something; you’ll only ever regret not doing it.”
Bronson should know. He started his first venture, a magazine called Student, when he was only 16! He has been on a non-stop roll ever since!
Chris continues, “”I have a great friend who has become a mentor to me, who once told me that 85% of people talk about starting a business; 5% of people actually follow through and do it. And, they’re the 5% that are usually successful. That’s stuck with me. Definitely, there’s a lesson in that.”
Stop By To Inspire Or Be Inspired
You’re always welcome at Candlelight Floral Designs, located at 10 West Main Street in Middletown, during regular business hours. It’s always the right time to stop for a chat to exchange floral or non-floral event decor ideas.
Or, Give A Call: 240-490-5508
If you can imagine it, they can make it! Proudly serving Frederick and surrounding areas.
Mondays: By Appointment
Please note that Chris and Melissa live only 2 miles away from the shop and they’re very accommodating if a sudden need arises outside of their usual business hours. “We’re happy to come in and sit down with you and chat about your floral needs, especially if planning a wedding, funeral or event.”
$5 Fridays? It’s True!
Come on in and pick up a bunch of flowers for only $5! Yes, it’s an incredible deal. And, to make it an even greater find, the flowers come in unique containers that are so indicative of Candlelight’s eclectic touch. Come claim yours before they’re gone!
Candlelightfloraldesigns.com to learn about upcoming classes at Studio 36, view a portfolio of eclectic creations and more.
Content taken from Frederick Advice Givers #011: Interview with host, Eric Verdi and guest, Chris Popple. To hear full interview go to http://frederick.localadvicegivers.com/011/