Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Today I'm talking with Rachael Brown of Fleur de Lis in South Portland. We've been working together for about a year now and I wanted to show off her beautiful work and her insights into her story and her business.
How did you get started with Fleur de Lis? How long have you had it? How did you decide to take over the shop?
Just over a year ago, after perusing the business listing for years, I presented a full price cash offer with a substantial earnest money deposit, brief due diligence window and quick closing in August of 2018. The former owner and founder 15 years ago accepted my offer and assisted with the seamless transition including employee and client introductions. Fleur De Lis presented the ideal opportunity to capitalize on my 30 year sales, marketing and operation background to embark on a meaningful journey. As a Portsmouth, New Hampshire native who was born at Portsmouth Hospital, graduated Portsmouth High School, where my daughter, Chloe is currently a Junior at my dearly departed father and I’s alma mater I spent a great deal of time in Southern Maine. Summer days at Seapoint Beach in Kittery and Long Sands in York were common. Recently we had the absolute pleasure of collaborating with Destination Maine Weddings, Catie Fairbanks-Cliffe on a wedding for a lovely young couple from Los Angeles at a private residence in Kittery Point and it was like going home. Location, location, location. Fleur De Lis’ storefront location at 460 Ocean Street sited perfectly on Route 77 in South Portland, steps from the Cape Elizabeth line is certainly a well-traveled road. We are fortunate to enjoy frequent, consistent walk in retail clients both by appointment and by convenience. Real estate brokers en route to host open houses and to financial institutions for closings. Guests on their way to dinner parties in need of a hostess gift. I love the notion that family values are still treasured my parents taught me from a very young age to never arrive empty handed as an invited guest. The location is ideal and my landlords are the sweetest elderly couple you could meet. Many clients recall Harry and Maria who reside upstairs above the shop as 460 Ocean was the home of Market Basket for decades. Our front station where we wrap individual flowers for presentation bouquets every day is where the Koukos prepared delicious Greek subs for customers. When I arrived here I did not know a soul but Harry and Maria welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to so many family members I feel like I’m in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Although the location was ideal the website desperately needed an update due to an obsolete platform, compliance and low resolution challenges. After nine months, four seasons and three photo shoots our new website was launched at the end of April just in time for prom and graduation season and of course Mother’s Day. A huge shout out to my fellow female entrepreneurs Kathy Allen at Greenlight Websites and Lauren Lear for their unsurpassed quality, service and patience. The website was a labor of love since we only have one shot to make a first impression.
Do you have a favorite flower or arrangement?
A few of my favorite face flowers include peonies, anemones and ranunculus for their palettes and textures. My favorite arrangement on our website at the moment is the Brilliant Basket featured in the first photo on the carousel. This is my favorite time of the season for deep, rich local summer colors which that arrangement exudes. Honestly, my favorite arrangement is the one we are designing in real time at the moment for our clients. We are here for our valued clients during the best of times and unfortunately the worst. From the joy of birth of a first grandchild to the celebration of life for a spouse of 70 years. A recent hand written note is so rewarding, “Dear Ladies of Fleur De Lis, I was so thrilled to receive two special bouquets on the celebration of Phin’s and my 71st anniversary! Each of them sent me a happy memory. Phin loved to wear a Bachelor Button because he thought it more than declared he liked the message it sent – and I loved to have yellow lilies – They are so cheery and fragrant! You received so many compliments on the lovely arrangements you send to my family and friends – I count on you to do what I can’t. Thanks a bunch – Mary Lou"
What got you interested in floral design?
This has been my dream since my earliest childhood memories spending summers at my Grandmother Julia’s farm in Whigville, Connecticut. Grams was a young widow who lived to be 96 years old living alone on the massive rural farm for over 50 years. During the winter we started seeds as peas were always planted in March. Spring and summer blessed us with fruits, berries and asparagus galore year after year with delicious jams, jellies, honey and maple syrup. Memorial Day weekend was enjoyed with our annual plantings of lettuce, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, onions and tomatoes. Upon harvest we would pickle, can and blanch vegetables to freeze for the coming winter. We had a farm stand built by Uncle Al at the end of Gram’s drive on Main Street. Fall harvest was all about the squash and potatoes which were stored in the root cellar of her 1800’s New Englander Farmhouse. Did I mention flowers? From spring symphonies like daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, pansies and pussy willows to summer luvins like peonies, hydrangea, iris, gladiolas, dahlias and delphinium to fall cat o nine tails and winter holiday trees. My Daughter Chloe and I are enrolled in the Maine Florists Association Professional Certified Florist Program (PCF) commencing next month at The University of Maine Orono concluding the day before Chloe’s 17th birthday, March 22nd.
What would you like your clients to know about you?
Fleur De Lis gives back to our beloved community frequently, generously and consistently. This Spring alone we donated over $5,000 worth of products and services to area nonprofits. Specifically, we donated floral arrangements for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Annual Seafood Festival. Also, we donated the floral arrangements for the American Cancer Society’s Inaugural Couleur A Masquerade Ball at The Masonic Temple to decorate the event then auction off for proceeds. In June we donated the floral arrangements for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s FUR-BALL Gala at Aura. We are local and therefore source and shop locally ourselves. During the growing season here we partner with local farms to bring the freshest local Maine color to our shop for our clients. Everything in our portfolio, online and otherwise was procured, processed, designed and photographed here at our bricks and mortar on Ocean Street in SoPo. We do not use stock photos and are not affiliated with fulfillment centers such as FTD and Teleflora. That being said, we often assist our loyal local clients with orders outside our tertiary area hand selecting a local flower shop in their desired delivery town. Our website flowersinmaine.com is online 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Our retail shop is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm, Saturday from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm and Sundays by appointment. Although our storefront is open by appointment on Sunday we often do Sunday events and delivery practically every Sunday. We delivery daily to 20 cities and town in Southern Maine and others upon requests.
When I’m not working I enjoy gardening, landscaping, relaxing at the beach, baking and cooking and golfing. You may see me driving and camping in my antique Volkswagens, a 1970 Karmann Ghia Cabriolet and an 1982 Vanagon Westfalia with a Porsche Conversion. In the winter I also enjoy reading and research.
What were you up to before this?
In 2015 I retired from for profit healthcare and became self employed as a Residential Real Estate Salesperson licensed in New Hampshire and Maine. I grew up in real estate as my Mother was a prominent and accomplished broker for many years. My licenses are currently inactive so I refer clients to a select few licensees depending on the geographical preferences. My entire employment experience is in the service industry with twenty years in management. During 15 years at Navigant International, I was the Director of Operations for the Northeast Region where I was responsible for all service areas include supervision of 60 employees in 12 locations. I was accountable for all aspects of the implementation cycle in large corporations and universities including a portion of the sales cycle for integration of high profile clients particularly in the University and Healthcare industries. While employed at Navigant, I achieved my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University, my Master of Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University and my Certified Travel Counselor and Event Planning Certifications from The Institute of Certified Travel Counselors in Wellsley, Massachusetts. At Hospital Corporation of America’s Portsmouth Regional Hospital, I was employed as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive Officer for ten years where I provided support in strategic leadership with clear direction on positioning the hospital to be the community’s choice for care. I particularly enjoyed working with summer interns from the University of New Hampshire’s Health Management and Policy Baccalaureate Program and ProjectSEARCH students through a partnership with Great Bay Community College. The six figure retirement party I planned and orchestrated for the Retiring Chief Executive Officer at The Wentworth By The Sea Resort in New Castle drew accolades from the President of HCA’s 172 Hospitals. During my tenure at HCA Portsmouth Regional Hospital I achieved my Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Franklin Pierce University and secured my New Hampshire Real Estates Salesperson and Maine Associate Broker Licenses. For two decades I was engaged in community involvement at the board level with the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals where I chaired the Governance Committee and thousand of hours of community service in areas such as animal welfare, health care for the homeless, education, hunger and other community needs spanning several decades.
What is the best part of running the shop?
The best part of running the shop is our amazing Team Fleur De Lis and our wonderful, loyal clients. We have an outstanding and diverse regular cast of floral designers complimented by freelance artists ranging from occasional to seasonal and event specific. The infrastructure we built is such that the shop and our lovely and talented professionals runs itself. Our group possesses a unique blend of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in art, literature, creative writing, business and organizational leadership together with skills and characteristics that fully complement our associates. We are all experienced meeting and event planners. Our Lead Designer, Jess and Event Specialist Stefanie boast Wedding MBA International Accreddations. With over 60 years combined event experience, we love sharing our knowledge and passion from small intimate wedding showers to grandiose events and wedding and everything in between. We offer this knowledge and expertise to our clients at no additional charge. Our tertiary area for weddings and events spans three states potentially further upon request. Recently we joined the newly formed Maine Chapter of the International Catering and Event Association and are forming fantastic mutually beneficial relationships with local colleagues with an emphasis on wedding and event planners and photographers. Since I’m self employed location, location, location is everything. My daughter, Chloe, our doggo Sparky Boy and three cats reside a half a mile down the road in Cape Elizabeth. Last week I was here at 7pm on a Tuesday night emptying items into the dumpster for disposal that evening. A client saw me, pulled in an asked if there was any way she could purchase a plant for a friend whose parent had just passed. At Fleur De Lis the response is always yes. Given enough resources we can accommodate pretty much any client request.