Chicken wire, zip ties, and English garden roses. These are just a few of the elements Alison, Kelsey, and Haley mix together to bring their floral creations to life. “We’re dangling on ladders and scaffolding,” says CEO Alison Fleck. “It gets pretty elaborate.”
Apart from the acrobatics, people are starting to take notice — Juniper Designs was recently voted one of Martha Stewart’s top wedding floral designers in the nation. So how did this Oklahoma City flower studio sprout into such a ravishing success? Real friendships, lots of support, and a mutual passion for sinking their hands into the grit and beauty of things.
“We’re all really good friends,” says Studio Director Kelsey Smith. “We like to have fun and talk about way too many inappropriate things. But we also know how to get down to business.”
Letting talents shine through
At Juniper Designs, everyone brings something special to the table (hey, there’s a reason it’s called a bouquet). Alison makes it a point to utilize all the skills of the team — even if they’re not directly tied to floral art.
For example, Floral Engineer Haley Owen loves designing sculptures. So Alison gave her the chance to construct an industrial-style arbor piece for one of their weddings. The whole team then got involved in making the steel structure “ethereal-looking” by wrapping it in foam and draping a fountain of flowers all around it. The contrast of the hard steel with the soft florals is what made the piece truly pop.
For Haley, working at Juniper has been “a huge confidence booster.” She had no floral experience when she first started, and neither did Kelsey. But Alison took a shot on both of them. The two started learning the tricks of the trade by shadowing each other and learning on the fly. Alison would also set up one-on-one learning sessions where they would have to mimic an arrangement, and then she’d offer pointers on how to tighten things up, “like adding dimension here, not cutting the stems so short, stuff like that,” describes Kelsey.
Another interesting approach to training the team is to incorporate the broader community — and rake in some extra income while doing so. For example, Juniper Designs offers something called “Bloom Culture” classes where anyone can drop by and try their hand at floral design. When Haley first started, she would sit in on these classes and learn right along with the rest of the community. At the end, everyone walks away with a fresh floral arrangement, but for new employees, it’s also a way to accelerate the on-the-job learning.
Giving people ownership
As an owner, making sacrifices is typically your MO. It’s Alison’s fifth year in business, yet it’s the first year she’s actually taking home a salary. Why’s that? Because she invested that money in her team. For her, imbuing employees with a sense of ownership begins with being crystal-clear on what’s happening at the company.
She recently purchased Honeybook, a software program to help the team communicate better with clients and ensure that everyone is in the loop. This gives employees the same access to the files she has so they have an easier time doing their jobs, and prevents any on-the-job surprises from unfurling. “It makes them want to work hard for themselves because they take ownership and pride in this,” says Alison.
Ownership also means giving people a voice. In the beginning, Alison used to take the team out for lunch every day because she couldn’t afford to pay them hefty salaries. That daily lunch expense started to spiral, so she asked her employees to make the call on how that money should be spent. Everyone chose to skip eating out and instead pour that amount into their paychecks. An easy win for everyone.
Making the office feel like a home
Because a lot of their events take place on weekends, the team has odd working hours that take them away from their families. “I want to make our studio feel as much like a second home as possible,” says Alison. That’s why it’s so important for her to make sure the office feels like it belongs to everyone. It involves stocking up on the snacks people enjoy, “like the periwinkle Pellegrino.” But it’s also about letting the team have a say on what their studio will look like, “just like they do with their own homes,” says Alison.
The team recently installed a large sink (a lifesaver for florists), long countertops, floral wallpaper in the entryway, and a warehouse in the back where they can store and access vases and other containers. “It’s functional and really comfortable here,” says Kelsey. Plus, it was fun to sketch out the designs with her teammates.
Says Alison, “Just because you’re not big doesn’t mean you can’t do big things for your employees.”
For women, by women
Typically, there aren’t a lot of men in the floral design field. That imbalance gave Alison an opportunity to find balance with Juniper, by creating a safe space where women could “feel like themselves without thinking they’re not good enough.” For Alison, part of that desire stems from having a daughter, and because the rest of the team has kids too. In fact, “If you have a new baby and want to wear him or her to work, do it,” she says.
Kelsey once worked on an installation that her newborn daughter, Alden, also helped out with. At the venue, the only quiet place they could find to put the pack ‘n play was a tiny, dark bathroom. She laid Alden there while they set up everything, and it worked out. Alden got to nap, and Kelsey got to be a part of an amazing event. “It’s really nice to have someone who appreciates the other responsibilities I have as I build my life,” says Kelsey. “It saves your life some days.”
Support also surrounds the actual projects they work on. That feeling is a must, because a lot of the events they work on are high-pressure environments, like weddings. “It’s just the biggest day of that person’s life, no big deal,” laughs Haley. Once, an entire side of an installation broke off that was already covered with florals. Haley had to hammer in new nails and piece it back together, all while making sure the bride didn’t notice and freak out. “But the adrenaline kicks in, and I know I have the support of everyone. That support, being an optimist, and knowing we can rely on each other is how we’re able to do the job and not feel panicked,” says Haley.
Alison backs up the sentiment. “We’re like a pack of wolves. We’re all protecting and looking out for each other.”
As for the best part about Juniper? For Kelsey, it’s the ability to be a part of a close-knit team while translating her creativity into something tangible. “You start with something in the morning and you can physically see what you did at the end of the day. Even if it’s kind of a sucky day, you still created something beautiful,” she says. “You see things come alive.”