I’m connected to joy and all of the things that really emulate my last name
Betti Bliss Bliss Fine Florals
My mother always had fresh flowers in the house when I was growing up, and I’ve always had a love for flowers. So that started when I was really young. But as I grew up and went to college, I majored in advertising and marketing. That’s just what I loved when I was in school; it was fascinating to me. I loved commercials, they made me laugh. My mother’s Colombian, so I speak Spanish. I went to college in Boulder and when I moved back to Orange County with a boyfriend, I was living in Corona Del Mar and I was kind of just messing around for the summer and I wanted to get a job finally. It was hard to get a job in the general market and so I went to the Hispanic market and I got a job right away. I worked in advertising and after like two years of doing it, I found myself completely bored. I didn’t like it. I was finding that Sunday at 2:00 I started getting depressed because Monday was coming – I hated that. Then I got engaged, moved out of my apartment, moved into a new apartment and all within the same six weeks I was interviewing for a new job in the general market. My life was literally doing a 180 – all these changes were happening. I moved in with my fiancé and I was interviewing for this job at Townsend & O’Leary, a general market agency, and it took like six weeks to interview with this company. My last interview was with the president of the agency, his name is Steve O’Leary, and he sat down in a conference room with me and he asked me one question. He said, “What’s your dream job?” I thought to myself, “I’ve been interviewing for six weeks, if I say the wrong thing… it’s between me and another guy, am I going to get this job or not?” I was like, screw it, I’m just going to say it: “My dream job – it’s kind of a pipe dream – is to open a flower shop someday. BUT I love advertising, I live and breathe it, blah blah blah …” So that was it, that was his one question. And he goes, “Do you have any questions for me?” I said, “Yeah, what’s your dream job?” He said, “I’m doing it.” I said, “Wow, what does that feel like?” and he said, “It’s like I don’t go to work at all – I come to work every day with a smile on my face, it’s not hard to get out of bed.” What he’s basically telling me is, “I’m not depressed on a Sunday” and I’m like, wow, that must feel really good.
I got the job, and on Monday, May 1 I started my new position at Townsend & O’Leary. Met my supervisor, and she introduced me over the week’s time to three of my clients so I got to meet my clients right away. I went home the first day, Monday, and I was depressed. My fiancé is looking at me like, “What’s wrong?” It was the same thing as the Hispanic market – it was the same job just in a different office. This is going to be the same frustration for me. Came back on Tuesday, same thing. Came back on Wednesday, same thing. I was crying, it’s like May 3 now and I was so upset. He’s like, “You know, you’ve always wanted to open a flower shop… maybe you should start researching it.” I called my oldest brother who is an entrepreneur and owns his own business, and I said, “I need some advice. I’m thinking of opening a flower shop… what should I do?” His words of advice were, “If you want to open a Taco Bell, you should probably go work at one first.” I was like, ok, so you’re saying I should go work at a flower shop. I’ll go do that!
On Thursday, my fiancé – who is not the man I ended up marrying – he drives a very nice car, I had a very nice ring on, I drove a Honda but we traded cars that day for some reason. I pull up to Blooms in Corona Del Mar on my lunch hour on May 4. I walk up in a suit, ring, Range Rover, and they’re like, “How can we help you, ma’am?” I was like, “Are you guys hiring?” And they looked at me like I had six heads. I said, “I will work for free.” And I got the job. Steven comes home from work and I’m cooking in the kitchen, drinking wine, singing… and he’s like, “What happened today?” I’m like, “I’m doing research! I got a job at Blooms in Corona Del Mar!” He’s like, “But you already have a job.” I’m like, “No. I’m going to quit. If I quit tomorrow, they still have time to hire that guy.” May 5, Cinco de Mayo, I walk into the office and at lunch time they fire up the blenders and everyone’s making margaritas. I’m like, “Well… I can’t quit today. I’ll quit tomorrow.” So on Saturday, I’m sitting at Ruby’s on 17th Street and I’m hemming and hawing – I have to call my supervisor. I’m scared to call this woman. I call her and I’m like, “I’m so sorry, I have to quit my position.” She’s like, “We just hired you, what happened?” I told her I’m going to try and pursue opening a flower shop. When Steve O’Leary asked her what I was doing, he said, “Good for her.”
Here’s the best part of the story. I worked at Blooms for a year and a half, I learned the business in and out. How to buy. I learned what a hydrangea was. I didn’t know what flowers were at all. I learned everything I could possibly learn there and then I opened my store December 1, 2001, and a year after I opened my store, I did Steve O’Leary’s daughter’s wedding. He came walking across the lawn and he’s this big jolly man, and he picked me up and he was like, “This is what I’m talking about! Does it feel like work?” And I said, “Nope!” Here I am 19 years later and it’s the best thing. I wish I could tell him how many times I tell this story and I use his name. He was so important to me. That was kind of the bow on the story, it wraps it all up.
I get teary-eyed telling that story because it’s true – when you do something that you really, really love doing… standing here doing this right now, is not hard for me. I mean, my back hurts when I get home and me feet hurt sometimes, but truly, when COVID struck, it really made you think about what you do. I thought I had to quit and pivot to something else. But there’s nothing else I want to do. I don’t even know what that is. Do I go get a job at Trader Joe’s? I love Trader Joes. Do I get a job at corporate because I love their whole thing? I don’t want to do that. I don’t want someone telling me when I have to be at work and telling me when I have to clock out and clock in.
When you ask me about how I go about getting all of this stuff: it’s local, buying at flower marts, going to L.A. at 5 a.m., leaving my house at 3:45 in the morning – and driving in no traffic – getting there, and I’m wide-eyed and loving it. It’s like I’m Audrey Hepburn walking into a diamond store. That’s my job. I walk into the flower mart at 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m like, “All right! We’re here! Let’s shop!” I have that pep in my step and I’m ready to go. But I’m an early morning person. If you’re not, you don’t want to do this job.
The feeling that I get – think about what I do. I’m connected to joy and all of the things that really emulate my last name 100%: it’s all bliss, it really truly is. I really believe I have the best name for what I do. When you’re doing a wedding, it’s stressful sometimes. But at the end when it’s all built and it’s all created and you light that last candle and you walk away from the table and all the lights are down and the music is starting and the bride comes to do that one first look at the room and she goes, “Oh my god!” – that right there is why I do what I do. Or when you hand her her bouquet and she’s like [gasp]. You deliver flowers to somebody at their house, you set it on their doorstep and you run away… you’re like a flower gnome.
I deliver, I do weddings and events, I do anything related to flowers. I’m doing workshops now because I pivoted with COVID. I knew the experiences were going to sell; they sold last year, so I knew that I needed to do them earlier this year. Everyone was dying to get together, so we did these pumpkin parties and they were a hit. People didn’t care what they looked like, even though they left with a gorgeous piece and they were stunned, they didn’t come here for that. They were coming here to have fun – for joy. It’s all about joy. It’s all about bliss. You buy flowers because they make your house pretty. You buy them because you want to make someone happy. When people are down, flowers lift your spirits. It’s beautiful.
I always say to look to nature for your color palettes. If you’re designing your house, I always say go on a hike, look at the mountains, look at how everything kind of rolls together, that’s natural. The tans, the blues, it all kind of goes together, so when you’re doing arranging, it’s like that, too. You look to nature for color and then kind of create a palette around that. But then sometimes I’ll do something completely wild. What I love about flowers is there’s endless creativity. There’s not just one thing you can make.
It’s aesthetics. Some people have a knack for looking at something… but I think you have an eye for things or you don’t. I think you can be taught. I was never taught – I just started working at Blooms. I never went to school, I never took a floral class, nothing. I was taught just by watching other people. There are people who are artists that can just naturally paint a picture and I think you have to have an eye for it. Or like architectural design – you know what looks good and what fits. No bride wants to walk around with some huge arrangement… or sometimes they do! A lot of things come to me because people will give me pictures for inspiration and then I just kind of go off on my own. Just give me an idea of what you’re thinking, what colors you like, and then show me and I’ll just run with it. And they trust me. It’s just having an eye and some have it and some don’t and that’s why some are florists and some are not. Some close really fast and some are open for 19+ years.
I never thought I would want to go work at a flower shop, I thought I just wanted to start one. But back then you weren’t YouTubing things, back then, you needed experience. Now, for example, I had a woman come to me and she’s like, “We want to do a floating centerpiece above the head table, it’s an 18-foot-long table and we want a floating centerpiece over the whole thing.” I’m like, “Totally! You got it.” I finish the meeting, I get the deposit, I went home that night and I was like, “How do you make a floating centerpiece? I need to figure that one out!” YouTube, talk to my floral friends, and I’m like “I can do it.” I’m all about fake it until you make it. It’s the confidence to know that you can do it. If you don’t have it then you’ll never try and you’ll never know. In this business, I don’t need to know everything. I can hire someone who does. Because if I don’t know how to make a floating centerpiece, I have friends that do and I’ll freelance with them and I’ll pay them to come help me. We talk about it, they tell me what we need, and I learn. I watch them and now I know how to do it. That’s how I learned how to do any of this. Watch. Learn. I think if you have an interest in something enough, you’ll want to do it more.
Flower trends go with clothing trends, too. Things are very casual right now – everything’s boho everywhere. Bows are last year. Remember mason jars? Mason jar floral arrangements were around for like five, six years. Everyone was doing a mason jar wedding. I was buying mason jars by the dozens and doing arrangements in mason jars. I haven’t done a mason jar wedding in a couple of years. It’s so crazy. But I guarantee if someone’s getting married on a farm, I’ll be doing mason jars on their tables because there’s a trend in that. But what doesn’t go out of style – what’s always in – is timeless, classic white roses, tight in a bundle… it never goes out. There’s timeless arrangements that just have never faded. That’s my signature look: the pavé, tight tight tight arrangements. If you look on my website, it says “Bliss Signature” – those are all really tight arrangements and really mounded – that’s the look that I’m known for. I started that way and I got niched into that. I got in that niche of doing the tight stuff and it’s never gone away. People call me and go “I want your signature look.” That light, airy, breezy way of flower arranging might be Envy Floral’s look and people will go to her because they know that she’s more boho. Even though I can do it, but they come to me for a different look. So you get kind of stuck in a niche sometimes. But I honestly like it, it’s comfortable for me and you can still get super creative with it. There’s no limits to your creativity even when you are in a niche.
My old boyfriend was like, “You need to be in every suburban shopping mall.” No. I never want to get bigger – I would like to be busier, of course. I’ve always been pretty consistently busy, but I don’t want another store. I want to keep it simple. I don’t like being confused; two places would confuse me. I’m better off with my one space – this is like therapy for me. I can just come here and sit – sometimes I come here and sit and I don’t even do anything, I just come and sit in my chair, I’ll just have a glass of wine or whatever. I’ll just sit in my chair and hang out because I just like being here. I’ll never stop loving flowers; my mom started that in me. She had that picture painted for me, “To my daughter Betti” – she gave me that on my opening day when I opened my store. She passed away when my daughter was 8 weeks old, but if this place was on fire, I would rip that down and run out with it because it’s the only thing that means something to me.
Now with Instagram, everybody’s a florist. That’s the thing that kills me the most with weddings: you can take a girl on the street – totally talented, maybe she worked in a floral shop for a year – she starts on Instagram, she gets a hold of a photographer, the photographer takes a couple of pictures of her, she starts posting on Instagram, she’s savvy with Instagram, she starts getting orders, she’s posting all the time... she could be a force to be reckoned with and she’s just a girl working out of her garage.
Instagram saved me through COVID, 100%. I started posting on Instagram, I did something with Common Thread, I started posting more, I started doing more stories… people were ordering, asking, things were happening. I posted wreath parties – it went insane. I sold out my wreath parties in a little over 24 hours. 25 wreath parties and I sold out in a little over 24 hours and it was all because of Instagram. How else would I have done that? It’s been such a wild ride.
There was a time when I was doing 58 weddings a year and there’s 52 weeks in a year. And I went down to like 12. But the difference is, when I was doing 58 it was like a $2,000 wedding, a $3,000 wedding versus an $18,000 wedding and I don’t have to do as many. As you get more seasoned and well-known in the industry, you start getting in with coordinators and you start getting in with hotels and people are promoting you and you’re just more well-known. I can’t tell you how cool it is to be with my kids at school and someone will walk up and go “You don’t remember me but you did my wedding like 12 years ago.”
I’d say the hardest thing for anyone who owns a small business – number one hardest thing is employees. I had an employee come to work at 10 a.m., drunk. And then she drove my delivery van. And she was high. I didn’t even know. I’ve had employees – ugh! I’m like, “Just leave! I can do this myself!” Other than that, business is super easy. I mean, yes, it’s tiring in labor, but I love it so other than that it’s not hard.
I’d say the other hardest thing is dealing with economies. 2008 slammed me to the floor. It’s a luxury item, and office buildings were like, “Nope, fake flowers. Get rid of that $700-a-month bill that we have with fresh flowers in our lobby. Bye!” I had like $6,000 a month in accounts – all gone in 2008. Every single one of them. $6,000 a month in income, just gone. Like from one day to the next, people were calling saying “We’re going to stop doing fresh flowers in our lobby,” and I’m going, “Did I do something?” And they were like, “Nope, you were great.” So I would say the hardest thing is employees and fluctuating with the times. I am a luxury item. I’ve been through three: I opened in a recession – 2001 we were going through a recession. I went through one in 2008, and now I’m going through COVID. I’m surviving every single one of them and I will tell you why: because I never got too big. My overhead, I always kept my overhead to the point where I can handle it. I used to employ three employees, insurance, the whole nine, for like seven years I did that. That’s when I was on the island – I was on Balboa Island for 13 years. I had a little shop, I had staff, one full-time and two part-time and I insured the full time one, and then I started to realize that I wanted less overhead.
My dream is to be by appointment only, I want to be so high-end, so elite, that people are like, “Those are from Bliss? I can never get flowers from them!” I don’t want to be the person that has 10 flower arrangements in here and someone walks in and says, “I’ll take that one.” I’ll never be that. That’s why I don’t keep hours. I’m a studio, and I’m busy through Instagram and I’m busy through my customers that I’ve had for 19 years.
It’s that bumper sticker that says, “Jump and a net will appear.” I’ve always loved that. It makes perfect sense to me because it’s true, you just have to jump because if you don’t jump, you’ll never know. You have to be trusting that you know you’re not going to let it fail. You’ll work hard enough. If the fear wasn’t there, everyone would be doing it. If there wasn’t such a thing as fear, there’d be flower shops on every corner!
I don’t know that my daughter will ever do this, that my son will ever do it – I’m not passing it on to my kids or anything like that. But if you ask my kids, do they love what I do, they totally love what I do. They love coming here – well, maybe not so much anymore. When I get a television in here they’ll probably like coming in! Right now they’re like, “Mom! I don’t get internet access!” But when they were babies, I’d have the car seat right here, rocking it, and I’d be making stuff… just doing it all, you know? My kids love that I do what I do. And they’re pretty creative, too.
If you walked the streets right now and interviewed women and asked them what their dream job is, asked them if they ever wanted to open a flower shop… can I tell you how many people come in here and say, “I’ve always dreamed of opening a flower shop”? I did, too, and look – you can, too! And they’re like, “Oh, no no no…” Well, with that attitude, you never will. Everyone wants to know, “How did you get into this business?” It’s an interesting story and I feel like it’s inspiring. I know it’s inspiring because I’m here 19 years later and I have a daughter and I want to tell her, “You can do anything. If you have a dream, go for it.”