Family Promise Turns Urban English Garden into Thriving Small Business

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No assistants. No coolers filled with fresh-cut flowers. Just a promise to design and deliver centerpieces for a 200-person wedding. For Karen Toole, a niece’s wedding helped her create a niche, women-owned small business.

“With lots of family coming in, I had a great idea and started asking for volunteers to help with the centerpieces,” Toole explained. “I told them it would be sociable and fun…and that’s how &Flowers was created.”

Clippers in hand and family in tow, the certified master gardener and landscape designer turned to her English Garden, its flowerbeds with overflowing native pollinator blooms, for flora. Over food, beverages and conversation, Toole  provided instructions helping her new assistants create one-of-a-kind centerpieces.

Wanting to recreate the social and artistic experience for other bridal parties, Toole once again turned to her family. Within two weeks, she and her four daughters created the unique moniker, and accompanying website, and designed and printed business cards and T-shirts just in time for an upcoming bridal show. “&Flowers represents the time we spend with family and friends and the flowers that make the event special,” Toole added. “And we got six clients at that show…including our first wedding.”

After a chance meeting, Toole and her budding business received much-needed no-cost counseling from SCORE’s Western PA District Director, Mark Fallek. “The SCORE counselors are valued SBA resource partners. Their members are current and retired executives volunteering to share their extensive on-the-job experience with clients,” said SBA Western Pa. District Director Dr. Kell Hunt. “I’m so pleased this unique business, that creatively helps groups celebrate, is working with our local chapter.”

Fallek, a six-year SCORE veteran, said Toole had a great business model of getting people together, creating camaraderie and making floral arrangements. “We discussed increasing business, looking at how the business scales up as the pandemic abates and setting both long-term business and financial goals,” he explained.

Toole’s home-based business typically hosts three weddings and includes six workshops at her Highland Park residence and at venues in the surrounding area. “Events last a few hours with mingling, food and drink and designing,” she said. “My main floor houses a workshop, reception and support area; the lower level has a water-bucket and drying area, and I even converted an old, dry-storage area into walk-in coolers.”

Brides, clippers in hand, routinely stroll Toole’s gardens gathering both flower and color inspiration from peonies, hydrangeas and roses for their big day. “Wedding parties can choose to design and assemble centerpieces or just bouquets,” Toole explained. “Our team helps finish up any projects and we provide delivery and setup making sure everything is perfectly presented.”

And when the pandemic struck, Toole, once again turned to her SCORE counselor. “We discussed how to pivot my business and continue creating,” she stated. “I started hosting online classes with attendees receiving kits filled with flowers and greenery…and it worked.”

Today, Toole works with six local floral vendors, helping create picture-perfect moments and arrangements for any celebratory occasion. She’s also hosting team-based and pop-in workshops where attendees craft anything from wreaths to Thanksgiving centerpieces. “We have groups of couples making 24-inch wreaths, complete with greenery, flowers and bows. And they want  joint custody of their projects, “she laughingly said. “There’s nothing like a ‘hands-on’ experience creating a bouquet or wreath…because when you look at the wreath or see that flower, it brings back memories.”

Hunt, an entrepreneur and crafter herself, understands the success of Toole’s unique business venture. “Consumers truly want that special, one-of-a kind gift and experience,” she explained. “Not only is she helping them create, but also helping them to appreciate both art and nature.”



This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.