Petal Pusher: McNamara Florist is Homegrown
I defy you to walk into a McNamara florist shop and not come away feeling better. The combination of incredible smells, vibrant colors, and the presence of the miracle of living things is an instant mood enhancer. It is compounded by the fact that McNamara goes all out in its arrangements and decorations, especially during the holidays. The holiday decorating doesn’t just happen either; it takes months of preparation and literally days and weeks of work according to McNamara’s owner, Toomie Farris, who says they make 1600 arrangements for Christmas alone. He is so hands on that he does all the holiday ordering himself.
Farris has done it all for McNamara ever since he went to work for its founder back in 1980. Bob McNamara started the business in 1954 and is still on the company’s board of directors. Farris bought the business in 2007 after going through a string of transitions. Since 1990, it has been owned by several companies including Marsh Supermarkets, which sold out to a private equity firm in 2006 taking McNamara Florist along.
It was at that point that Farris put a group of investors together and bought it. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t the best as the economy took a major dive in 2007. He says the impact was pretty dramatic. “We expected to be growing in upper single digits to double digits like we had for the last 10 or 15 years. Instead, we started declining in double digits which was pretty typical of retail around that timeframe. So it was challenging, but we managed to keep our head above water.” He adds that the economy is still not great but they are proud of their continued growth and expansion despite the weak economy.
The company’s growth includes moving the original store in Broadripple to Glendale last year and opening a store in Geist at Brooks School and Fall Creek and another store in Avon in November of this year. That brings McNamara’s store count up to 9, including a 6-acre greenhouse and garden center/flower shop complex in Fort Wayne, plus a 58,000-square-foot warehouse in Fishers. There is an industry trend toward importing flowers; and Farris says even though McNamara does import from six continents for seasonal varieties, they also grow a lot of their own flowers in Fort Wayne. “We’re pretty unique in the country in that we are vertically integrated – that we still are growing things ourselves. Most people just buy products from other growers. We really want to keep that homegrown local flavor as much as possible.”
Homegrown is what makes McNamara stand out. The company focuses on local relationships, and they are proud that most of McNamara’s store managers have been with them for a long time and have developed their own relationships in their own communities. He points out that companies such as ProFlowers, 1-800-Flowers, and FTD are national businesses that charge customers a service fee and then place the order with a local florist at a deep discount. So, he asserts that everyone loses in that situation: The customer is basically paying for the privilege of doing business with them and is being overcharged, and the local florist is being underpaid for the product.
Farris is very involved in a national movement called “Florists for Change,” which is made up of florists who want to create a different scenario. Farris says they don’t want to go the way of the local grocery store and disappear, and he thinks the kind of business that is personal and relationship-based is not just about selling product. “People can go buy flowers anywhere, if they just want to drop them in a vase or something. But if they want something to give their wife for their anniversary or they want to send it to the funeral home, they want it to be special. It means something. What we do is express emotions. It isn’t buying a widget, so there is creativity involved and there’s customization. As a business, we custom design same day and deliver. There’s not much else you can do that can be custom designed to your wishes – that you can call in the morning and have it delivered that afternoon.”
Farris says his company is also unusual in that it is expanding its retail stores when others are closing them and the small florist is being squeezed out. But he says part of the McNamara brand is being able to come into the stores and see and embrace what’s there and come away with ideas. He says they are available online 24 hours a day, by phone, and they will even come out to your home or business and work with customers on site. But he thinks people are still looking for experiences in retail and that’s why he’s still going all in on brick and mortar stores. “When they walk into one of our stores we want them to feel good and feel welcome, get ideas and be able to look at all the pretty things and be inspired.”
Like many businesses today, everything isn’t all rosy in the floral industry. Farris says it’s a tough business because the product is so perishable and it’s also so labor intensive. It takes a ton of people to make it work because they need designers, people to process flowers, drivers waiting to take the order. In fact, he says the company’s cost for labor is more than its cost for product. McNamara employs 120 people and is the biggest locally-owned florist in the state. If you are trying to follow the trend to “buy local,” that would be good to keep in mind.
After almost 60 years in business, Farris is still bullish on the future for McNamara. “We’ve just kind of gone through the evolution of building the brand and being a part of the community over all that time, and it’s just my watch right now to watch over it and continue the brand and values. We are proud that the founder, Bob McNamara, is still on our board of directors. So, we value that heritage and those core values. There’s a lot of tradition. Even though we change and update and we stay on top of design trends and everything else, we still think that foundation is really important.”
You may wonder what a guy who lives and breathes flowers likes when he picks out flowers for himself. Farris says he gets excited about seasonal flowers such as tulips in the spring and orchids in the summer and he adds, “For the most part, I just enjoy the beauty of flowers. I will take whatever is seasonal and really pretty and just drop it in vases to have at home. And I try to keep flowers around all the time.”
So, here’s my suggestion for a natural pick-me-up. Drop by your neighborhood McNamara Florist and fill your senses with the smells and colors of nature. If you want to take some home with you, that’s fine, too, since you will be helping the local economy.