GALLIPOLIS — “The day I unlocked that door, put the key in and turned the key, here were my words, ‘Lord, you gave it to me. All I can do is ask that you bless it,’ and he has, for twenty years,” said Floral Fashions owner, Melvin Biars.
Despite the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship, Biars shows no signs of regret for making the decision 20 years ago to open the shop, still in the original location opened in February, 1997 on Third Avenue.
His interest in floral arrangements began as a hobby building floral arrangements for Memorial Day. When he reached a point in his life where he began to consider a career change, owning a floral shop was something he felt he could do. He started talking to people who had worked in the floral business, crediting Susie Cox with Ladybug Floral and Bonnie Mitchell, with helping him kickstart the new business. Mitchell was his first designer.
“She taught me a lot. And believe me, I learned a lot,” said Biars.
In the beginning, Biars spent a lot of time just learning what it meant to be a business owner and identifying his business model.
“You have to be ready for anything that might come along. Whether it’s a funeral, or planning of a wedding, whatever it might be, there’s just so many things you need to always keep going in your mind as a business owner,” said Biars. “Then, of course, you need good staff and I’ve been blessed down through the years. I haven’t done it by myself. If I said that, that would be a lie. We work together as a team.”
Greeting customers when they walk through the door is important to Biars, as is ensuring the customer is satisfied with the service they receive.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do,” said Biars. “We always pride ourselves in doing our best and always try to give the customer the best. You don’t always get it right, but when it’s not right, we try to make it right.”
As a florist, Biars sees both the saddest and happiest moments in life. And, throughout the years, his own life experiences have shaped how he serves his customers. While he and his staff have always been compassionate to those who experienced a loss and strived to assist the family in any way possible, it wasn’t until he lost his mother in 2014, when Biars truly understood the pain of those customers walking through his door.
“I learned one of the most valuable lessons, ever. Literally, ever. The loss of a parent. It was probably the hardest lesson. I thought I knew how they were feeling when they came into the shop, but I didn’t. You don’t grasp it, until it happens to you. Now, when someone walks in, I understand,” said Biars.
For Biars, being trusted, with a family or casket floral arrangement, is the highest honor he could receive. And over the years, the Floral Fashions staff has created arrangements ranging from a tobacco casket spray to adding family portraits in the piece.
“A family piece doesn’t just mean it has to be a gathering of flowers on top of a casket. There are so many different arrangements we have created, over the years. You just take the time to find out about that person, or if I knew them personally, I am able to think of that person, while creating the arrangement,” said Biars. “When a family entrusts Floral Fashions to take care of that one thing that means the most to them, that speaks volumes to us as a business and me as a business owner, that they have confidence in us. I think, maybe in business today, we’ve lost that. I think we forget, when a customer walks in the door, that’s the person who really pays our bills. That’s the person who supports us.”
Whether it is a corsage for a first dance, a bouquet for a wedding, a first grandbaby piece or a funeral piece, the staff at Floral Fashions focus on cultivating relationships with their customers, no matter the age.
“I see them as not just a customer then, but as customers through the years,” said Biars.
Some of Biars’ favorite moments as a floral shop owner are when he can be a part of a family’s joyous occasion.
“I always look at occasions like proms and weddings as you’re making memories. Memories that will last for a lifetime,” said Biars.
Prom, obviously, is a busy time for Floral Fashions. In 2017, the staff designed more prom pieces than ever and Biars credits employee Gigi Neff with the success of the season.
“I have probably the best prom design person around,” said Biars. “She did all of our prom bouquets and corsages.”
Weddings hold a special place for Biars, who enjoys the moment when he reveals the bouquet to the bride.
“When you hand them their bouquet, and the bride says ‘It’s just perfect’, that has been a joy – seeing the bride happy,” said Biars.
All in all, Biars has seen a lot of changes in the floral business over the years, ranging from technological changes, to changes in what customers seek for occasions. Accepting change is one thing Biars feels is extremely important in owning a business.
When asked what advice he would have for new business owners, Biars said, “Make sure you have a good plan. That would be the first thing. Don’t come in feeling like you know it all and be willing to accept some change along the way. Maybe a lot of change along the way. Because things change. America is on a 10 to 12 year change. You see stuff change about every 10 to 12 years. Things go, new things come. You see that. And more than anything, realize if you start, you’d better be dedicated. It’s not just 9 to 5. It’s a 24/7 and you have to be available for those customers, because they pay your bills.”
As a local business owner, Biars supports the community, especially the youth, any time he is able. In addition, he volunteers each year for the Gallipolis River Recreation Festival Queen Scholarship Pageant, speaks for different community organizations and, most recently, began volunteering for Gallipolis in Lights.
“I think that as a business, one of the things you have to do is give back to your community,” said Biars.
To his customers, Biars said, “It was scary starting off, because you started from ground zero. And over the years, our customers, they’ve come, they’ve stayed and thanks just doesn’t seem like it’s enough. But to our community and to our customers, thank you is the best word that I know right now and your business is appreciated.”
Floral Fashions is located at 244 Third Avenue, Gallipolis or follow them on Facebook. Stop in and congratulate this long-standing Gallia County business.
Michelle Miller is executive director of the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce.