Scientist Turned Florist
Margaret Hinkley has truly worked her way up from the bottom in the floral industry, starting as a part-time bucket washer forbidden to touch flowers to running her own business, Two Buds Floral Artistry in Edmonton, Alberta. She even won second place in a national design competition this year.
In 2007, Hinkley got a job at Your Florist in Edmonton while finishing her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry at Concordia University of Alberta. She remembers accidentally breaking an anthurium stem on her third day. “I was terrified to tell the boss,” she said.
She would later credit that boss, Mark Zeitouni, and designer Bruce Woolner with teaching her a lot about the field. The creative side she comes by naturally. “So much of floral design also comes from within, having an eye and that bit of an artistic flair for it,” Hinkley said. “Even though I love science, art and creative design have always been my fall back, whether it’s in floral design, painting, drawing, crafting, sewing, knitting [or] wood working.”
Before graduating from Concordia in 2008, Margaret was a scholarship hockey player at the University of North Dakota. She expected to pursue a career in health sciences or chemistry, but creating arrangements that make “a small difference in the lives of others” won her heart.
“I fell in love with the floral industry and the art and the creativity and everything about it,” Hinkley said. “Flowers are powerful and I feel that they ease souls and emit peace and love. When curated into a custom or one-of-a-kind design, there is a real sense of feeling your customer’s message and understanding what the flowers are supposed to represent as they are delivered to someone deserving.”
Though not using her degree directly, Hinkley says her studies inform her chosen profession. Knowing botany and horticulture, and understanding the importance of proper care for plants and flowers helps tremendously, she said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much goes into ithe cleanliness of keeping a flower shop so your product doesn’t get diseased.” She had also worked seasonally through last year in the city’s entomology and pest management lab, checking trees and plants.
Twice, Hinkley and Samantha Kluthe, an accountant and her friend since they were 8 years old, almost bought Your Florist from Zeitouni. But they did not want to be locked in to working shopping mall hours, as its location would have required. They decided instead to “create the company how we want it to be,” Hinkley said. Her company incorporated in January 2015.
They started with a home-based business, keeping their other full-time employment and mostly doing weddings and special events they could work on evenings and weekends. They moved into a small room in an artists’ loft building. Then in 2016, as Two Buds got busier, Hinkley dropped back to two days a week at the lab, and moved into larger quarters at the back of a space with a tailor in front.
Marketing on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and at bridal trade shows including Bridal Fantasy paid off for the 2016 wedding season, Hinkley said. “We really stepped it up,” she said, recalling how they got more than 1,000 bridal bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages out the door in 2016. During bridal consultations, when she asks brides how they discovered Two Buds, often the answer is on Facebook’s wedding “buy and sell” pages, organized by region. On these pages, brides can sell leftover décor or recommend vendors. That type of unpaid, word-of-mouth advertising is “really great,” because bridal shows are an investment of time and money, costing $1,600 for a booth, plus the expense of fresh product, Hinkley said.
In October 2016, Kluthe, who has two young children, had to step away from the business. She wouldn’t have been comfortable just cutting back and would have always felt she wanted to do more but couldn’t, Hinkley said.
Consequently, Hinkley cut her ties with the lab and, for the last year, has been focused solely on running Two Buds, with help from her parents and several part-time designers. She likes working with her mom two days a week: “No one else knows how much it means to me,” she said. “She wants me to succeed.”
Hinkley is managing to pay everyone, including herself, she said. “It’s a very, very big risk to leave your job,” she acknowledged. “Sometimes I miss just going to work and leaving at the end of the day, but at the same time, I’m doing what I love and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
With the wedding side of the business established (she filled orders for nearly 1,500 bridal bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages in 2017), Hinkley’s next goal is bringing in everyday business. At Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, Hinkley and other small businesses such as bakers have held “pop-up” events in her space or rented space that attracted a better-than-expected turnout.
While her shop is set up for walk-in traffic, its “tucked away” location is hard to find, so Hinkley plans to combat that by building online sales and hosting workshops. She is reluctant to move to a more visible location, as her expenses would increase because of higher rent and buying more inventory, she explained.
Hinkley is scheduling some winter and holiday workshops for eight to ten people priced from $40 to $120. “I’m trying to be realistic while still making a profit, she said, adding that “there are a lot of do-it-yourself people.”
In another sign that she must have chosen the right career, Hinkley placed second out of 16 contenders from across Canada in the 2017 Maple Leaf Cup, a floral design competition at the Edmonton Home and Garden Show. Each contestant had three hours to dress a mannequin, using the same flowers and materials. “Looking around at the other floral designers, watching their designs come to life as they prepped made me really nervous,” she said. “So much talent in one room!”
With floral design, “I can get lost in it without worrying about anything,” Hinkley said. “When I am designing, I feel like I am exactly where I am meant to be.”