Made with hand and heart: The benevolent bouquets of Flowers For Dreams
12/06/18 1:31pmNicholas Pipitone • Milwaukee
Let’s go back a year or so, late fall. A group of about 30 employees of Flowers For Dreams meet at one of their homes in Chicago and are sitting around a dinner table. This is one of the few times a year employees come together as a group, and as companies go, the camaraderie is palpable. They are all here to celebrate one thing – that what they do transcends simply selling flowers. They are on a mission. And on this night that mission is on everyone’s mind.
Flower For Dreams gives 25% of its profits to charities and during this yearly dinner each participant comes with a list of three. As the night progresses, they go around the table and give each person the chance to make a case for why Flower For Dreams should adopt those charities.
There are tears. There is passion. There is deliberation.
This is not the normal business day for any flower shop. But flowers and purpose come together holistically here, the vision of owners Joseph Dickstein and Steven Dyme – to sell flowers and give a portion of the proceeds to people in need. For those around the table you feel the investment, a firm belief that you can’t simply make and deliver bouquets here at Flowers For Dreams.
No, you have to wholeheartedly believe in what you’re doing above and beyond the bouquets.
The nascent vision for Flowers For Dreams brings us to Dyme and Dickstein’s college years, when, like most college kids, they needed to find a way to make a little money. So they concocted a brilliant and slightly crackpot idea of going back to a local high school and selling flowers at a graduation ceremony. Instead of keeping 100% of the profits, they decided to take a portion of the proceeds to buy backpacks for young students. It was a hit. And like most budding young entrepreneurs, they just went for it, without permission. It was a glorious entrepreneurial junket that became more than just a one-time flower sale. As the old saying goes, “Don’t ask permission, beg forgiveness later.”
This business idea took on a life of it’s own, blossoming (pun intended) into something bigger than they ever imagined.
When I met Steven Dyme at an event called “The Run-in” at BVK, a Milwaukee advertising agency, you get the distinct sense that when he’s focused on a goal, he finds a way. He’s talkative, passionate, articulate, and anything but typical. To illustrate the dedication of Flowers For Dreams, look no further than their run-in with Chicago law (yes, you read that right). They wanted to bring their unique bouquets to the people, creating a Flowers For Dreams mobile experience – a truck that parks on city streets and goes to events. But there just happened to be a law on the books prohibiting anyone from selling flowers on the street in Chicago.
It was an antiquated bit of litigation, but for the passionate owners of Flowers For Dreams, not an impenetrable firewall.
As you would expect, they challenged the law, and after a bit of a battle – which took nearly two years – they got the law overturned.
Today, the company and its mission has become the largest flower delivery service in Chicago with over 130 deliveries per day. The Flowers For Dreams truck goes around to Chicago events selling bouquets. And most recently they have expanded into Milwaukee into a well-appointed warehouse space on Pittsburgh St.
I popped into the Milwaukee location, which still has that new flower smell, and talked to Marketing Manager Lindsay Leinenkugel. “My title is more like Flower Extraordinaire,” she told me. Along with her flower mates Kaity and Erika they’re running the Milwaukee Flowers For Dreams show. “We’re not the carnation, teddy bear, weird singing cards flower shop you’re used to going to,” she told me. “You can’t come here for a dozen roses.”
In my travels it has become abundantly clear to me that some of the most successful entrepreneurs stick to a singular vision. They play to their strengths and they keep things simple. They can explain what they do simply. At Flowers For Dreams, you don’t get a ton of options. You get your choice of three or four brilliantly designed seasonal bouquets that are unlike what other flower shops offer. I watched Kaity assemble a bouquet. The time and attention given to the making of and what constitutes the bouquet is pretty special.
Hey, flowers with a purpose should be made with a purpose too.
Lindsay, if you haven’t guessed already is part of the Leinenkugel family, known for their successful beer company based in Wisconsin. Her perspective on business success comes from experience. As she told me, “The more genuine you are in your product, the more successful you are going to be – I grew up in the beer industry – we had to stay true to our roots, family ties and heritage – that’s why Leinenkugels is popular in Wisconsin – we could have become bigger, nationally and internationally – but if you grow too fast it’s not going to work out.”
That “stick to your roots” attitude (again, pun intended) starts with the flowers. Besides benefiting local charities, they also work diligently to use flowers sourced from regional farms (weather permitting). “We source locally when possible,” Lindsay said. “During the summer we source from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. When we can’t, it’s South America.” In today’s market it’s important that consumers know where things come from. That local vibe stretches to the actual making and delivery of the trademark Flowers For Dreams bouquet, which comes hand made with a hand written card. “There is a very hand made vibe to it,” says Lindsay.
Of course, to maintain their commitment to charities, Flowers For Dreams obviously needs to sell flowers. And while they are still brand new in Milwaukee, they have become staples at events, galas, and weddings – which are massive right now. “Fiserv Forum is a client so we do the concert green rooms. Subscriptions are generally a weekly arrangement meant for reception desks and move-in gifts are succulent arrangements meant for new residents,” she told me.
This is all incredibly important, because in order to continue to give to charities, you have to sell flowers. And, when I asked about the numbers, Lindsay didn’t shy away, proud of their accomplishments.
“Since 2012 we’ve given about $250,000 to different charities. And that number will go up.”
Learn about Flowers For Dreams at their website.