My chance for a relationship with John Waters has passed me by. I had some opportunities, direct and indirect, to make an impression, but I blew it. His friend and casting director, Pat Moran, came into my shop a few times. She peculiarly asked for white hyacinths (and only white hyacinths) each time while her gentleman friend waited in an idling car outside. I never had them and she eventually stopped coming in. My mother-in-law, who had a unspectacular career as an actress and model (one notable achievement was her inclusion as a “summer” in the 80’s fashion fad Color Me Beautiful) was an extra in Serial Mom. No introductions, as such, resulted. Running into the man himself in Baltimore isn’t that unusual for me. He lives walking distance from my studio. We shop at the same grocery store. I behave myself each time I see him and respect his privacy. I don’t know why a chance encounter out of town wrested my impulse control, but I did accost him in the street this past summer on Cape Cod nearly knocking him off his bicycle. It was bad, but it could have been way worse. He’s 76. If he knew who I was, he would probably hate me.
John Waters is pretty famous and an icon in some communities including where I live, but not everyone knows who he is. He is mostly known as a filmmaker, but he is also an artist, performer, author, and ambassador of Baltimore. His best known (and most accessible) work is definitely his musical comedy Hairspray set in 1960’s Baltimore dealing with racial integration. It was first a movie that he wrote and directed, then a Broadway musical, then a remake with a big budget and finally a live TV show (I loved it). Most of his art celebrates less desirable aspects of American culture. He loves filth and treats trash with affection. Anyway, he is a famous person near me, he is very stylish and seems like he could have a need for a lot of flowers. I picture contract riders, gifts for celebrity friends and lavish parties. Imagine the gram! Plus, there would be the possibility of making more connections with big floral spenders though him. Any relationship would have potential for business opportunities, not to mention personal excitement. It was a long-shot, but he was definitely a target on my flower friend radar.
“90% of Success in Life is Just Showing Up”
I have always needed to be bold in developing relationships to build my flower business. Unlike my encounter with a cycling Mr. Waters last summer, my pursuits have usually been professional. Early in my business, I attended every networking and business development event I could: wedding shows, neighborhood meetings, breakfasts, happy hours, pop-ups and street fairs. I joined business and community organizations. I volunteered for committees. I said yes to every donation request for garden clubs, non-profits, schools, and charitable fund raisers. The return was expectedly mixed. Most events were just a waste of time. Some events, I still don’t know what they were supposed to be. (I once shared a podium with a writer from The Wire at a beatnik/spoken word thing at a bookstore/coffee shop – we mostly talked about the Orioles.) I didn’t know which event would turn into a fruitful relationship. Most didn’t, but enough did. Over time, I’ve reduced my participation in these events and only attend those which keep me on a preferred vendor list or to maintain a valuable relationship.
My other attempts at making business connections have been more strategic. The college my husband attended for undergraduate studies and where I went to graduate school is just a few miles from my shop. I sent a bouquet to the school’s events manager with a note about our story – our connection with the school, our local commitment and how a partnership would be beneficial. That effort turned into a feature in the alumni magazine plus some more aggressive donation requests, but no jobs. The same lack of work resulted from similar attempts at my employees’ local alma maters. They were worth a try. Some targeted cold calls did work: a few restaurants, a couple of day spas, weirdly three different liquor stores re-sold our wrapped bouquets. My approach was always the same: identify a business, drop off a sample with a note and check back the next week. The success rate was about 10%, but those that did work often lasted for years.
The most profitable business connections I’ve made are those on the job. When you find your niche, you tend to get hired with the same caterers, photographers, planners, and DJs for events at the same venues over and over again. The combination of location, budget and style is the recipe that brings us together. When one vender in our cohort is hired, we will refer other venders we know, like and trust (shout out to my online mentor Jenna Kutcher). Although we are independent businesses, we work like teammates for successful events and future work.
I treasure and nurture my business relationships. Recurring work is easier, more predictable and less expensive than trying to find new business. I have relationships with event managers at several local schools (where I’m not an alumnus) in the area. I also maintain connections with multiple venue managers. If any of those contacts switches job, I try to follow them at their new location and stay in with the place they left. I make sure I follow the procedures of any large institution that hires me and be patient with their system. I want to make it easy. If someone can just copy and paste a contract for the next event, I want to be copied and pasted. When you prove you can be trusted and come through, you get rehired. Developing the right relationships has been vital for my business. The cliché “it’s who you know” does have some truth, which brings me back to my famous neighbor.
A few years ago, when John Waters was promoting his book Car Sick chronicling his adventures hitch-hiking across the country, he was scheduled for a reading at one of our neighborhood bookstores. I was excited about it and thought I had such a clever idea to make an introduction: bring him a hairy balls bouquet in some kind of repurposed automotive container – like an oil can. Cute, right? If you’re not familiar with hairy balls (really, that’s the common name), it is a tall green plant in the milkweed family (botanical name: gomphocarpus physocarpus). They are a favorite of monarch caterpillars due to leaves they favor for snacking and immature men (including my husband) due to the bawdy name. (I warned my husband when they were included in some arrangements at a wedding we delivered to not make any jokes. The second he was away from my side, I heard loud laughing from an old man in a tuxedo incredulously questioning “Is that really what they’re called?”) Anyway, I thought I was on the fast track to a celebrity business relationship with this cheeky introduction to my business. Hairy balls always get attention. So perfectly inappropriate for John Waters. So terrifically trashy.
In search of a car-themed vessel, I walked down the street to Linder Automotive (Richard keeps our van running and could be a character in a Waters’ movie) to see if they had anything that we could repurpose to hold flowers. He didn’t blink and gave me a few options. We chose a red plastic transmission fluid bottle wide enough to hold a pint mason jar. I cut the top off, made the arrangement in the jar and put it inside the bottle. I added a note: “Congratulations on the new book. Enjoy these hairy balls! Your friends at LoCoFlo,” my middle-aged, floral equivalent to throwing panties on the stage of a concert to a gay septuagenarian.
I walked over to the bookstore with the arrangement and card a few minutes before the reading was scheduled. There were many people seated waiting but the man of honor was not in sight. There was a lectern and a table with water and copies of the new book waiting to be signed. I walked up the table and placed the flowers. I have found most people in businesses and offices to be accepting of flowers. They are disarming. I can get into just about any building just because I’m holding a bouquet. An official looking person, wearing a lanyard with a laminated ID, approached and simply said, “Thank you. I will be sure he gets them.”
I had a busy day, so I did not stick around and never saw the author in the store. I figured that would be the end of this attempt and wouldn’t hear anything. I, at least, had some fun. A few days later, however, I yelped when receiving this postcard:
Success! We were practically besties at that point. I could picture my boutonniere (let’s see… a bull thistle would do with german statice supporting) on John’s lapel at his next red carpet. Poinsettias will be a must in each dressing room on the tour of A John Waters Christmas this season. On stage, too? Why not. Yes, of course, I will be flowering John’s home for his holiday party this year, I am his personal florist after all… Is this how celebrity stalking begins? Back to reality – the call never came, but the postcard is on my refrigerator at the shop. Famous business relationship delayed.
I took a trip to Provincetown, MA for the first time this summer. I knew John Waters summers (I assume he “summers”) every year there and because it is such a small town, although very crowded that time of year, I figured I would see him. Each evening my husband and I would walk down Commercial St., the main drag of town, to get tacos or pizza or ice cream (that’s how I “summer.”) We walked past PAAM (Provincetown Art Association and Museum). There was fund raiser with a sign picturing John Waters. He was performing a reading from his new book, his first novel, Liarmouth. It was a cool night and I was wearing my “From Baltimore With Love” sweatshirt. I imagined him noticing it, stopping me and reminiscing about hairy balls.
Of course it didn’t happen. But my imagination, our Baltimore connection, P-Town magic, the anticipation of an inevitable encounter all somehow built up in me leading to the incident. Another night on crowded Commercial St, though warmer this time and no Baltimore swag, I was walking again with my husband. John Waters, wearing seersucker on a beach cruiser, coasted through the crowd directly toward me. I just reacted, “JOHN WATERS!” It was louder than I meant as I jumped in front of the bike with two finger pointing at his face. He braked and swerved. There was the briefest delay as I could discern his formulating a response while trying to maintain control of the bike. His lips curled under his distinctive pencil mustache. He chose a low and disdainful but gentlemanly, “Hello” and navigated around me. He would have been right to have chosen differently. I was the asshole.
I’ve seen Mr. Waters back home since. He is still recognizable in purple sneakers behind an N-95 at our local grocery store. I’ll keep my distance. If he’s looking for hairy balls, he’ll probably go someplace other than my shop.