When you decide that your life’s goal is to have fun while making art with your friends, where do you begin? If you’re Natalie Gill, you start by opening Southern California’s coolest flower shop and creating a genuine, artistic environment with your employees. We chatted with her to get a sense of what her shop, Native Poppy, is all about, in our latest Retailer Feature.
How did Native Poppy get started?
I started Native Poppy in January of 2014. I really wanted to start a business and I didn’t even necessarily know what it was going to be. I thought about doing a food truck or a stationary company. Then one day, a light bulb went off. I had been a floral hobbyist for a while and I realized that I have a natural talent for it and I really enjoy it, plus, there are almost no startup costs associated with becoming a florist. So, I quit my job in the corporate world and became a florist! I started arranging flowers and posting pictures to Instagram, and next thing you know I was fully booked for the year with weddings. Then, in my second year of business, I signed a lease on opening a store and now we have a flower shop, gift shop, floral delivery and full-service event floral company. The event side of the company is for people who want something very custom and unique, like high-end wedding clients or large-scale installations for brands, thoughtfully designed elements.
We’re always a flower shop first, but we’ve curated a shop full of gifts that go well with flowers: candles, party goods, stationery, silly items. We make our own candles at the shop and we collaborate with other brands on pin designs, specialty t-shirts and gift items. All of our beauty items are 100 percent natural. We have things like scrubs, facial care and nail polishes, and everything is nontoxic. Everything that’s in our store we want to be healthy for you and good for the environment. Overall, we focus on art, customer service, fun and beauty.
Tell us more about your shop.
My team is mostly focused on being in the store where we do daily flower arrangements. We share our store with a coffee shop so it’s half flowers, half coffee, from two different business owners. We have a flower bar called the ‘Stem Bar’ where people can pick out their flowers and we wrap it together for them. That’s been our most popular item since the day we opened. Our à la carte wedding services are for people who don’t want the giant arch or all the little details, so they can just order whatever they need off the menu of bouquets and centerpieces to pick up at the store or have delivered.
The whole reason I feel like the store is successful, and one of the reasons I opened it in the first place, is because I feel like the flower industry and shops were very outdated. They use flowers that they want to last a long time and aren’t that beautiful or modern. I wanted to have an approachable shop with unique, garden-style arrangements and color palettes that are more refined and artistic. I ask my staff to be artists in their own right, representing their own brands as florists. We have a style that we somewhat stick to but I encourage everybody to make things from their heart. We all have to be dedicated and passionate about what we do; there’s no formula for what we make. Every flower arrangement needs to be made with so much attention to detail and care. I’ll sometimes ask the staff to explain why they chose a certain color or height and if they can justify artistically that it’s something they feel strongly about, then I say “go for it.”
What is it like to be in the business of flowers?
Flowers are tied to really important parts of people’s lives: having a baby, a death, getting engaged, having a birthday. So it needs to not just be something you get from a grocery store bucket or something from a website that’s a formula. We ask questions like “Where did your mom grow up?” or “What’s their favorite color?” or “What smells does he like?” to create something really special.
The flower industry is very cooperative to be in. Almost every florist that I know will share advice and knowledge; it’s really amazing. I can text so many different people to ask them questions or give suggestions. When we share what our experiences are, share what our prices are and that type of information, we end up making the industry stronger.
We get our flowers from local growers, wholesalers and importers. There is a flower market in San Diego and also we grow some of our own flowers. We have a tiny garden behind our shop where we grow specialty roses and some greenery. Also, we now have a mini-urban flower farm in El Cajon where we have a bunch of raised beds to grow our own flowers (it’s actually my boyfriend’s parent’s tennis court which they haven’t used in 15 years so they’re letting me rent it from them). We’re thinking about doing some urban gardening in other places and developing a sort-of community garden space program but not quite ready for that yet.
What are you really excited about right now?
Our awesome Wild Flower Club membership program offers a discount on our flowers and merchandise. For $75 per month, members get four petite wraps per month which can be rolled over forever, 10 percent off all flower purchases and 10 percent off all merchandise. It’s pretty much the best deal ever for someone who wants flowers in their life consistently. There was a study done where patients who had plants in their rooms had shorter recovery times, less postoperative medication and were happier with lower stress levels. So flowers literally are medicine. There have been similar studies on workplaces that show plants to improve creativity and decrease anxiety. I believe you should have flowers in your space all the time. It should be a part of your self-care to come in once a week and get fresh flowers so the Wild Flower Club is encouraging people to do that.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration in the flower world comes from just looking at the natural world around me. It’s going for a walk and looking at what’s blooming or the way that vines are growing, the color combinations in nature and how plants naturally grow. That’s inspiring because it’s what we’re trying to imitate through flower arrangements. Definitely also traveling: seeing new things, smelling new smells and learning new cultural things are all incredibly inspiring. Also going out to happy hour with friends and talking with people—my brain is always naturally going at 100 miles an hour, so when I hang out with people, I naturally get a lot of ideas. I try to only hang out with people who I think are creative, inspiring and kind.
What does the future look like for Native Poppy?
We want to move into growing all of our own flowers. The flower industry is not the most environmentally friendly, especially when you’re shipping flowers from Ecuador, not to mention different labor standards.
We’d also like to open more shop locations. We have a really awesome work environment. The worst thing in the world to me would be if somebody didn’t like their job. First and foremost as a business owner I’m trying to help my employees have a really healthy work life so they feel creative, valued and have some fun. If my employees are happy, then we run a happy company and my customers are happy. So I’d like to have more shops, more happy employees, more happy customers and happy flower shops in San Diego and beyond.
Want more? Read about another entrepreneur making waves on the West Coast.