House of Plants Florist Inc. has been in business since 1972. If you are out of town call us toll free 1-800-733-7602. Flowers for all occasions, birthday flowers, wedding flowers, births, get well flowers business gifts and flowers, funeral flowers, sympathy flowers.
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Plant Shop Branches Out
Akron's House of Plants diversifies products, services during more than three decades in business.
By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal Business Writer
Published on Monday, Feb 01, 2010
The House of Plants opened in Akron's Merriman Valley in 1974, during the golden age of indoor plants.
Few homes were without a Creeping Charlie, Wandering Jew or spider plant back then, and the young shop thrived as baby boomers exercised their green thumbs.
The fad faded as lives became busier and the look of artificial plants improved, but the store owners learned to evolve.
''Like anything else, things come and go,'' said Steve Giampapa, who co-owns the business with Betty Howell.
For 36 years, the partners have adapted to shifts in consumer tastes and shopping habits, dodged economic storms, and withstood dramatic changes to their neighborhood.
Today, the business is a florist (including wedding and event
planning), a gift shop (candles to candy) and a commercial plant provider (from landscaping to maintenance).
Their recipe for success is no secret.
''We survived by diversifying,'' Giampapa said.
Neighborhood changes -
House of Plants Florist (the name expanded during one of their evolutions) was an early retail pioneer to ''the valley'' once a largely undeveloped swath of land sandwiched between Akron's wealthiest neighborhood to the south and a wooded recreation area to the north.
While the location seemed like a dream because of all the disposable cash along Merriman Road, there was an unexpected challenge. Fancy dress shops and upscale retailers moved into the shopping plaza, making the area seem exclusive and limiting the customers that House of Plants hoped to serve.
''That kind of hurt us because everybody thought, 'Oh the valley, that's too expensive. I'm not going to shop there,' '' Howell said.
That changed over the next four decades, as developers put in apartment complexes and condos appealing to a variety of price ranges, but House of Plants did not benefit much, Howell said.
While some developments along Smith Road, leading into the valley, brought potential for new customers, many of the new complexes in the valley catered to singles, college students and lower income families demographics least likely to spend money on flowers.
To make matters worse, as the population in the valley grew, their numbers attracted lots of vendors who would sell flowers out of their trucks from nearby parking lots.
And while Giampapa and Howell were initially hopeful that development of the nearby recreation area into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park would increase traffic, it didn't really translate into traffic for the store, Giampapa said.
''More people are coming through, but not for the retail,'' he said.
The shop also had to hang on through a pair of lengthy road improvement projects that limited access to properties and discouraged motorists from visiting the valley. The construction caused many businesses in the valley to move or close.
But Giampapa said there was a silver lining: 'When people got stuck in traffic, they'd have nothing to do but look around, so we picked up new customers because they were stuck in front and didn't know we were here.''
And since about 70 percent of his business is conducted by phone (and now Internet), ''We still got our phone orders and that wasn't hurt at all,'' he said.
Evolving services -
When the bloom fell off the house plant craze in the early 1980s, Giampapa and Howell added traditional florist services.
''We felt it would help to have perishable products that people buy more frequently,'' Giampapa said.
By the mid-'80s, House of Plants expanded again, adding an interior ''plantscape'' service, providing and maintaining plants and hanging baskets for commercial properties.
That service soon made up half of the business's revenue, with contracts at area McDonald's, Arby's and Long John Silvers.
But as companies sought to cut costs in the current recessions, plant budgets were an easy target. Giampapa estimates it only makes up 30 percent to 40 percent of his business now.
To help the bottom line, the store also began offering gifts. A neon ''Gifts'' sign went up in the window when House of Plants moved into its current space in 2000, a few doors down from its original location.
''We're still fighting with the gift line, trying to figure out what people want,'' Giampapa admits.
Nearly half of the store is filled with candles and oil lamps, figurines, candy and novelty items.
Most recently, House of Plants has concentrated on bringing down prices, finding cheaper distributors that, for instance, enable them to offer a dozen long stem roses for $17.99.
''We try to have really cheap prices and the best selection of anybody in town,'' Howell said.
Being mindful of competition is a full-time job for Giampapa and Howell.
As with other mom and pop stores, they've had to compete with big box and chain stores, as well as supermarkets that opened floral departments as part of their own diversification strategies.
House of Plants' commercial plant division also vies with national companies that have moved into Northeast Ohio to do the same thing.
At one time, House of Plants owned three stores, including one in downtown Akron and one in Canton.
Today, the Merriman Valley is their sole operation, employing nine people: the two owners, a floral designer, and six part-timers who operate the commercial maintenance division.
''We're making less money this year than last year, but we're not in terrible shape,'' Giampapa said. ''I always thought when I was younger that business would get easier when you get older, but it gets harder.''
Still, one thing has come with age a loyal following.
Giampapa said it would be unlikely that his business would survive if it were just opening now.
''We wouldn't have the reputation, we wouldn't have the old customers, we wouldn't have the repeat business,'' he said, ''and it would take an awful lot of advertising to get that out there.''
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In the unlikely event you are unhappy with your product(s), please notify us within 24 hours of delivery and you may return the arrangement for a refund, request an exchange of products, or receive store credit.
Refunds or credits given for orders that have already been delivered or have had an attempted delivery will only be for the partial or full cost of the arrangement(s), less any service, handling, or restocking fees.
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Extensive gift line
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