By Katie Hendrick
This month in Floral Management magazine, we’re profiling some of the up-and-coming people and programs in the floral industry. One definite standout? Klair McDermott, AIFD, PFCI.
At 16, McDermott wanted an after-school job and turned to the Stop & Shop down the road from her Middletown, Connecticut home. She was assigned to the floral department, which set in motion a lifelong career. When she enrolled at the University of Connecticut a few years later, she majored in horticulture because of her prior experience with flowers. She complemented her coursework with hands-on training at the New York Botanical Garden, where she took design classes on the weekends.
Upon graduating in 2007, McDermott received a Mosmiller scholarship from the American Floral Endowment, which she used for a summer apprenticeship with Renae Brubaker of Renae’s Bouquet in Santa Ynez, California. There, she learned how a retail flower shop operates, advanced her design techniques and picked up West Coast trends.
When the summer ended, McDermott returned to Connecticut, working at Guildford White House Florist while she got her affairs in order to purchase her own shop. In June 2008, she opened Klair’s Seaflowers Florist in Essex, Connecticut, a quaint town near Long Island Sound. (That’s right, 2008 — the year the economy turned.)She hobbled through the Great Recession and finally sold the shop in January 2010.
“The day I closed, I already had my bags packed,” she said.
Her next stop: New York City.
In the Big Apple, McDermott immersed herself in the events industry, working with Floralia Decorators, the in-house floral design company for the Waldorf Astoria, followed by Jes Gordon’s Proper Fun before freelancing for several different businesses. The experience acquainted her with a slew of floral industry professionals, NYC venues, design and collaboration styles — ”and personalities,” she said with a laugh. It was exciting work, but also very tiring.
“I felt like I was aging very quickly,” she recalled. “I started thinking about other opportunities in the industry.”
Active on LinkedIn, McDermott attracted the attention of a friend of a friend who was hiring for Sunshine Bouquet, a company that grows, designs and supplies flowers for the mass market.
“I wasn’t sure if the pitch was real or not, but I agreed to a phone call,” she said. In short order, she moved to Miami, Florida, Sunshine’s headquarters. “It was a whirlwind first month, just weeks before Mother’s Day 2012,” she said.
On her third day, McDermott boarded a plane for Colombia to tour Sunshine Bouquet’s farms. Then she was off to New Jersey, to see where the company’s European and domestic product is consolidated. After that, she made numerous trips to retailers to see how they merchandised Sunshine bouquets and arrangements.
“This business has so many moving parts,” she said. “I was intrigued from day one and have been every day since.”
Mentors: McDermott credits Brubaker for cementing her love of flowers and helping her hone her style. She thanks designer and educator René van Rems, AIFD, PFCI, who works with Sunshine Bouquet on a contractual basis, for participating in idea swaps. “He has a lot of wisdom, yet he’s interested in hearing my perspective too,” she said.
Goals: “I’m a big believer in education,” said McDermott, who was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers this summer and will formally join the ranks of SAF’s Professional Floral Communicators-International during SAF Palm Springs 2018. “There’s always something new to learn and experience.”
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the Society of American Florists.