Last Mother’s Day weekend, amidst the bustle of the holiday, Stacie Lee Banks, AAF, a third-generation co-owner of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop in Washington, D.C., rose extra early for an impromptu 4 a.m. visit to her wholesaler.
When Kidd O’Shea, the entertainment reporter for “Good Morning Washington,” requested the previous day to come film in the shop, Banks knew it would make great television to do an on-air design tutorial with the newsman, famous for his lighthearted, self-effacing humor — so she raced to purchase extra product.
Several hours with O’Shea resulted in multiple segments throughout the morning news program. In addition to flaunting his amateur arranging skills, O’Shea chatted with Banks about the shop’s deep roots in the nation’s capital, her recent award from the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which named her its Small Businessperson of the Year for 2018, and the value of working with a professional florist. He later accompanied fourth-generation employees, Samarah Banks (Stacie’s daughter) and Joi Tyler (her niece), on a surprise delivery to their grandmother.
That high-profile plug did not happen randomly. The reporter selected the 74-year-old shop for its can-do attitude, community connections, rich history and decidedly local vibe.
These qualities feel exceedingly rare in a world dominated by Amazon. Just last month, the e-commerce behemoth was named the world’s most valuable public company, worth roughly $800 billion. According to a recent Bloomberg study, more than half of all product searches start on Amazon.com.
How can you compete with “the Everything Store” that has transformed the retail landscape? That is the question facing businesses of all sizes and in all industries.
“Adding millions of SKUs and amassing thousands of reviews is not the way,” said Angelica Valentine, marketing manager for San Francisco-based data firm LISNR, in an article for The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce, a retail news site. Instead, she advises brick-and-mortar retailers to focus on their exclusive strengths — nurturing personal relationships — and “creating a unique experience for customers to keep them coming back.”
That is precisely the mantra of Lee’s.
“We specialize in flowers, but our business, really, is rooted in people,” said Banks, who took over the shop, founded by her grandparents, with her sister, Kristie Lee Tyler, in 2012.
Even in a city with a notoriously transient population that cycles in and out with each election, the company has established name recognition by being a community advocate, constantly seeking, embracing — and creating — opportunities that uplift their neighbors and bring people together. It’s a mindset that founders William and Winifred Lee supported and proudly passed down to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
“I just don’t see how you can survive as a small business if you don’t care about relationships,” said Banks, who saw Lee’s sales grow by 18 percent last year. “We’re always doing things to meet new people, because you need a really big web of potential customers. But what’s sustained us long-term, especially through the lean times, are families that have been with us for generations. We knew their parents and grandparents and they knew ours. It’s really special.”
Read all about Lee’s, and how the family is keeping experiences new and exciting at this longtime business, in the February issue of Floral Management.
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.