Short of Stature Long on Success
Standing only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, CC Roa recalls feeling intimidated when she walked into the conference room at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver 14 years ago with her floral design proposal for the hotel’s special holiday decor. Nine “tall gentlemen, all wearing suits,” waited to see how she planned to adorn their space, home to the annual Gingerbread Lane display in December that attracts thousands of visitors and benefits Make-A-Wish’s British Columbia & Yukon chapter.
“My knees were shaking,” Roa said. Spying a phonebook, she sat on it to raise herself. Her booster seat added confidence, and the managers’ laughter over her unconventional use of the thick directory broke the ice. “I got the job as their holiday designer and I have been doing it for 14 years now,” said Roa, CAFA, CFD, a member of the World Flower Council and the Canadian Professional Floral Designers Association.
Her ideas and photos must have impressed the executives, but she still marvels at conquering what seemed like such a long shot, given that she had floral design education to back her up, but not much experience at the time. Since then, she has carefully burnished Roa Floral and Event Designs’ brand, working for other high-visibility clients such as the Juno Awards, Fairmont Chateau Whistler resort, and several other upmarket hotels, as well as numerous discerning brides.
Trust and referrals make contracts easier to come by now, but Roa never takes them for granted. She continues her “concierge walk” that she started years ago to drum up business. In January and February each year, she schedules as many in-person appointments as possible with both current and prospective clients to discuss ways they can collaborate. “The clients are not going to come to you, especially when they don’t know you,” Roa
said. “You have to come to them.”
Sometimes, that even means travelling great distances for events in Maui and the Caribbean. Roa and her daughter, Jamie, specialize in tailoring each event to the individual’s needs and preferences. For instance, for the 2018 Juno Awards in Vancouver, the client wanted driftwood for its “West Coast” theme. So Roa drove five hours each way to Hornby Island to gather driftwood from the beach. While setting up 165 centrepieces, bands were rehearsing for the music awards show so the Roas got to hear the celebrities. Their company handled all seven private events for the Junos.
This year was Roa’s third working on the Junos. In 2011, she helped with the 440th-anniversary show in Toronto. And her first Juno experience was as a volunteer in 2009. For the many hours she put in, her mentor, Joel Marc Frappier, then the president of the Canadian Academy of Floral Art, offered to waive the fee for her to start the two-phase process of joining the academy, which requires an exam.
To pass the evaluation of her floral artistic abilities, Roa drew on her training that began in the early 1990s, when a friend gave her an early Mother’s Day gift, a certificate for a floral design class. Roa was working in nursing administration at the time, and her friend, who enjoyed arranging flowers as a hobby, knew Roa needed new hope for herself and her two daughters after a difficult divorce from an abusive ex-husband.
Over the next two years, she took class after class in design and event planning. Some were with Margaret Peters, a teacher at Burnaby Community & Continuing Education in Burnaby, British Columbia.
“I was just falling in love with it,” Roa said. “It became like a therapy from my normal life.” With her training complete, Roa wanted to start a business, but she struggled with shyness. So Roa practiced talking to strangers at a local McDonald’s. Remembering her work in geriatric care, Roa spoke to a group of elderly people who met there regularly for coffee. It must have worked, she jokes, because now she’s so talkative, some people tell her she went too far in the other direction.
In 2005, Roa opened a bricks-and-mortar shop in Coal Harbour. There, she did everyday, all-occasion work, though never anything “standard.”
Her clients always wanted “funky.” “They wanted something different,” she said. “They wanted their friends
to be wowed.” After five years, when her lease expired, she became home-based. (With a steady book of established event clients, she did not need to continue with daily sales.) Three years ago, needing more storage, she, Jamie and six seasonal employees moved into a 1,200-square-foot warehouse and showroom, where she conducts consultations today.
Her family is extremely supportive. Her husband of 14 years, Bruce McKinnon, custom built her first cooler and continues to lend a hand, such as building an armature for the Junos. Her younger daughter, Sarah, is pursuing an acting career, but loves to help as often as she can, especially when there are floral halos to be made. And Roa credits Jamie with helping her expand the business. “Without her the last five years, we would not have grown this big,” she said. “I respect her … because she has that millennial thinking.
I look up to her.” For example, when CC once asked Jamie why a consultation didn’t work, Jamie told her mother that she might have been too “old school.”
Roa knows her mother is proud of her, but wishes her father, a painter, was still alive to see her success in an artistic field, and “happy at last.” She’s reached her goals “with a little help from flowers,” which have taken her many places and allowed her to meet many people.
“I am full of drama and full of comedy,” she said. “The only time I actually shine and sparkle is through my floral blog and Instagram. My flowers speak for me … for my company.”