Front & Center: Rose and Blossom owner Terri O'Connor leads floral shop through change and adversity

May 16—Terri O'Connor believes in infusing joy into flowers and sending them out into the world.

Owner of Rose & Blossom, O'Connor launched the flower shop as Just Roses in 1992, specializing in bringing customers fresh, farm-direct roses. The business rebranded to Rose & Blossom in 2014 and expanded to become a full-service florist, providing handmade arrangements for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals from its two Spokane-area locations.

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Rose & Blossom's Spokane Valley shop relocation from a leased building to its current home at 219 N. Pines Road, which O'Connor purchased in 2019.

When statewide restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 went into effect in March 2020, graduations shifted online and couples postponed weddings. O'Connor was forced to temporarily close Rose & Blossom's shops and lay off 15 employees.

As statewide restrictions were lifted right before Mother's Day last year, O'Connor was able to reopen and bring back employees.

Since then, the shop's sales have been brisk, especially on holidays. Christmas sales were up 70% compared to 2019, O'Connor said.

"Thank goodness, because we needed that cash flow and, from then on, our retail part of sending flowers and giving flowers has been so huge," O'Connor said, adding Mother's Day last week also was busy. "Everybody is giving flowers this year. That was super unexpected."

Just Roses

O'Connor grew up in Deer Lodge, Montana. She moved to Spokane in 1987 to attend Gonzaga University.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in business in 1991, O'Connor obtained a job at Just Roses, a Tri -Cities-based florist that tapped into franchisees.

"I had a franchise opportunity to have my own stores in Spokane. So I opened my shops in Spokane, and back then, we just did roses," O'Connor said. "It was a real simple concept and they were really inexpensive, and that kind of got me into floral."

O'Connor opened the first Just Roses in Spokane near Bridgeport Avenue and Division Street in 1992. A year later, she opened a second shop on Sprague Avenue in Spokane Valley.

By the late 1990s, O'Connor was operating six shops — three in the Spokane area, a location in Coeur d'Alene and two shops in Boise.

In the 2000s, the floral industry changed as more supermarkets began selling roses. That's when O'Connor decided to become a full-service florist that offers fresh, seasonal flowers.

O'Connor said while she's moved her shops a number of times in the Spokane area throughout the years, her passion for the floral business, with emphasis on quality and customer service, has remained constant.

"Originally, my passion was business and I just wanted to have my own business ... I was really good with the numbers, and then I just became more artistic over the years," O'Connor said. "Now, I really enjoy the artistry and the beauty of it all."

'Mission control'

O'Connor describes her role of leading Rose & Blossom as "mission control." A typical day involves answering calls, ordering product, placing customer orders and organizing the shop's delivery routes. She also works with brides on floral arrangements for their weddings.

The most rewarding aspect of her career as a florist is interacting with customers and employees, O'Connor said.

"Over the years, I've had a ton of employees and a lot of them still keep in contact with me, and they've gone on to wonderful careers," she said. "They've just always said, 'I learned so much from my experience back in the flower shop, and that builds on where I am today.' So that always means a lot to me."

O'Connor encourages collaboration and camaraderie among her employees, some of whom have been working at Rose & Blossom for nearly 20 years.

That approach goes a long way when working together to process hundreds of orders during Mother's Day or helping a customer send the perfect message through floral arrangements, O'Connor said.

"It's just so important to me that all my employees understand, (being a florist) is as important as if you are a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist," she said. "This is important work because we're involved in people's lives at really pivotal moments or emotional moments and we're in charge of their message. That's a huge responsibility."

O'Connor said sympathy work is another rewarding aspect of being a florist, as she often helps customers with customized, handmade floral arrangements that aid the bereaved in overcoming a loss and capture their loved ones' personality.

Customers often will see the customized floral arrangements and say, 'That's exactly what mom would have wanted' or 'This is as if mom took these out of her garden,' " O'Connor said.

"And they really feel connected," she said. "Anytime we can create that connection as they're grieving, it's important work. That's super rewarding to me."

Diversifying the business

After O'Connor launched Just Roses in the 1990s, the business was successful.

Then the Great Recession struck.

"When that hit, it was like overnight, all of a sudden, people were not buying flowers, and it was terrifying because I never had to really work hard as far as marketing and getting people in. Business had just always come to me," O'Connor said.

O'Connor and her husband, a real estate appraiser at the time, ended up declaring personal bankruptcy because of the impact of the economic downturn. O'Connor obtained a $20,000 loan from a family member to keep the floral business afloat.

She also networked at events and reinvented the business to focus more on weddings and sympathy work, in addition to retail sales.

That diversification also helped O'Connor weather the pandemic.

"The two things that I thought I was banking on to diversify are the two things that were hit the worst (by the pandemic), but the retail then picked up," she said. "So it worked out. But I think the diversification was super important, because I only did retail up until then."

Making the world beautiful

O'Connor is planning to launch an in-home subscription service, offering customers an assorted bundle of flowers arriving weekly or monthly, depending on the option chosen.

"We're hoping to roll that out this summer or fall," she said. "The subscription business is pretty big in all areas of things."

Rose & Blossom will continue innovating to keep up with the trends in the floral industry and placing emphasis on care and attention to detail in customers' floral arrangements, O'Connor said.

"My tagline is 'Make the world beautiful' and that's what we do — make your world beautiful," O'Connor said.