How one Nashville entrepreneur created year-round revenue for her seasonal business
Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas; these floral holidays guide the seasonal income earned by your local flower shop. With bursts of timeline-driven production, fluctuations in staffing requirements, and inventory management concerns, the floral business is often considered a seasonal enterprise. But, is this the only way to operate? Creations by Debbie offers a strong and resounding rebuttal to the status quo by creating a niche in their community for year-round specialty arrangements, proving that holiday-driven instabilities can be tamed.
Debbie Sumner started Nashville’s Creations by Debbie in 1976 with a love of fresh blooms and a desire to create something incredible for her clients. Her husband’s business, Events Plus, Inc. directly complement’s Debbie’s venture as she provides the florals and he provides the wedding drapery. Sumner was excited to join the industry. “We chose to specialize in corporate events and weddings so that we don’t have the everyday deliveries and orders to fill. This gave us more time to focus on the important events we were involved with.” As a result, this team can enjoy the holidays, plan for events without drastic staffing fluctuations, and manage the demands of their unique set of clients.
When building her client base, Debbie Sumner thought of diversification first. The goals were not to produce holiday florals, but to find customers who held events, either one-time or annually, who appreciated her design aesthetic and excellent customer service. Projects now range from weddings to college graduation ceremonies to corporate galas, all of which keep the team busy throughout the week. “We are not just busy on weekends. Some events take days and even weeks to plan. This involves getting their containers ready, pulling props, as well as getting their flowers ordered, processes and ready to create their special look. We also work with the venue regarding delivery. Therefore, we work on a regular basis.” Despite the event coming and going, there is always another project the next week.
This is especially so during wedding season. Though Creations by Debbie works with brides all year long, the most sought after months for marriages in Nashville are April, May, September, and October. Debbie designs five to six weddings per weekend during this time, but throughout the year, brides are consistency requesting their services. Despite the intensity of wedding season, these peaks in matrimony are an excellent counterbalance for her second largest client base, corporate accounts. Working for universities, organizations, and businesses alike, Sumner is able to stabilize her revenue stream January through December.
For owners of seasonal businesses, she advises, “Investigate, keep your eyes open. What can you do to not make your business a seasonal business? What markets can you penetrate to increase sales during those seasonal times?” It took great creativity and resourcefulness to seek out corporate relationships and to build trust. After working with many business customers year-after-year, they simply call her, explain their order, and they let Sumner handle the rest. Refusing to stay idle, she sought options that would enable her to build Creations by Debbie into her vision of what a life in floral design meant to her; not resigning herself to the standard, holiday-focused mentality of her competition. With attention on quality of life, the bottom line, and designing from her heart, Debbie Sumner built an incredible following in Nashville.
With flowing and lush works of art that rival the design stars of Instagram, her love of floral arranging is palpable in every conversation. “Every bride or client that you work with is different. There is always a challenge to create for your customer what is in their mind. You have to work with them to discover what they like, what they don’t like.” Sumner is nearly clairvoyant in her creative process, blending a client’s colors, feelings, hopes, and dreams into one cohesive design theory that flows throughout an event. Her customers are astounded by her resonance and her ability to seemingly pluck form their minds the perfect arrangements.
"Investigate, keep your eyes open. What can you do to not make your business a seasonal business? What avenues can I go into to go into to increase sales during those seasonal times?"
The success of Creations by Debbie is extremely evident in the exuberant social media reviews. With the cultural landscape around gifts and purchasing of flowers shifting over time, social media can play an impactful role in the success or failure of a small or seasonal business. Reviews are something she is mindful of at every step. “We are on two of the top websites, which include The Knot and Wedding Wire. We are thankful to say that every wedding we do and every event we do, our customers are so appreciative.” And this is clearly reflected in their perfect, five-star reviews on the most influential wedding sites. “The consumer reads these reviews and they result in business generation.” With millennials flexing their purchasing power, even event-based flower shops must adapt and excel in the reviews game to reap the rewards.
But when it’s simply Debbie Sumner, fresh blooms, and a client to please, she is always striving for joy before praise. “You have to love people and the opportunity to make somebody’s day. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have discouraging days or that you’re not going to get tired of it. I’ll tell you, when I’ve reached that point, I’ll get a thank you note in the mail from somebody saying, ‘Debbie, you have made my wedding day beautiful and you can’t know how much I appreciate what you’ve done.’ You have to love what you’re doing. I do enjoy it. I really do. I have a great staff that all works together to create all these wonderful events.” Having built a seasonal business into an annually successful company, she has proven that ingenuity and creativity can re-shape industry expectations.
Also in This Issue
- Embracing Seasonality
- How Do I Finance My Seasonal Business?
- The Firm Winners
- 50/50 Revenue Streams
- Timing is Everything: The Impact of Trends on Sale Price
- Learning From A Pro: 8 Questions
- For The Love of Design: Expanding a Seasonal Landscaping Business
- Hog Farming to Hedging Commodities
- Culture is Key