Changes are taking place at your corner flower shop. Today’s floral designers offer their customers much more than corsages and carnations—exotic blooms, unique foods and gifts, and home visits are on the menu these days. But the common thread is that floral deisgners bring affordable, artistic touches into their customers’ everyday lives.

Bob Monier, owner/president/floral designer of Monier’s Flowers and Gifts, Inc., said fresh and silk flowers are just the beginning of his inventory. “At my shop I have lamps, pillows, accent tables, framed prints, jewelry, garden accessories, and gifts for various occasions. I also decorate and/or plant at customers’ homes for the holidays and other special occasions such as weddings and outdoor receptions.”

Like Monier, Leo’s Flowers and Gifts Co-Owner and Manager Tommy Carrigan also makes house calls. “There, I survey the room for colors, textures, and the house and furniture styles. That’s when we decide what’s needed—whether it’s a wreath in permanent flowers or a design in a customer’s container. I love to do that—it adds so much more personality to the arrangement. I encourage my customers to shop their attic, basement, or any storage area for a container. If they don’t have anything, we get it for them.”

Carrigan has plenty to choose from when shopping for clients at his own store. “We have many gift items: Meredith Baxter body treatments, Boyd’s Bears, Lee Middleton dolls, Barbie dolls, candles, picture frames, and food items too numerous to mention—except our peach salsa, which has a recipe with it. It’s tops with our customers and our staff.”

Breaking into the floral design field is usually a result of a lifelong passion for flowers, according to Monier and Carrigan. “I’ve been a florist for 28 years,” said Carrigan, a Peoria native. “Inspiration came from working in our flower garden at home and in my grandmother’s garden—designing the layout of the gardens and then using the cuttings in flower arrangements in the home. I graduated from the American Floral Art School in Chicago in 1975.”

“I grew up on a 100-year-old family farm in Sparland, where I planted flowers in the flower beds when I was very young,” Monier said. “I’ve always had a natural inclination for and appreciation of flowers. In 4-H, I entered the flower arrangement competition at the local county fairs, and my aunt encouraged me to pursue my love as a profession. In high school I worked at Apple’s Greenhouse in Lacon, where I cultivated my love and proclivity for working with flowers. I furthered my education in floraculture by attending Danville Community College, where I earned my associate’s degree in 1975. I worked at two flower shops in Peoria over the next 22 years and then opened Monier’s Flowers and Gifts, Inc.”

Monier said being a floral designer is a fluid career, and each day brings a new challenge. “I try to meet and exceed my customers’ needs and expectations, whether it’s for a new birth, funeral, wedding, anniversary, or other occasion.”

A majority of Carrigan’s time is spent determining what flowers work together in color and style and finding the perfect container to design them in, but he said there are other duties most people wouldn’t think a floral designer does. “At weddings I run errands for brides at the last minute—for panty hose, make up, etc. Then I help them apply the make up; there’s nothing worse than a washed out bride on her special day. I’ve picked up forgotten guest books, purses for the dollar dance—and I could go on and on.”

He said one of his favorite unusual services is delivering odd items at odd hours. “I’ve delivered bags of ice to a restaurant at 6 a.m. and blue silk poinsettias in a coffee can to an attorney in downtown Peoria. The best was the picture of dogs painted on velvet I delivered to a prominent attorney in Peoria during an anniversary party at his home. That painting was re-gifted because I delivered it more than once.”

Monier said the best part of his job is making people smile. “It’s great when they exclaim, ‘Oh my gosh! For me?’ when my flower arrangements are delivered to the door, the office, or the hospital. Another wonderful part is receiving compliments and thanks from customers when they come to the shop or call in—or when I see them out in public. For example, a couple who had been married for 60 years made a special trip to come into my shop and tell me ‘thanks’ for the floral arrangements I made for their anniversary party. They were so happy, and that makes me happy. Their big smiles and grateful hearts made my day. A complimentary call from a bride or a mother of the bride inspires me also.” 

Carrigan said one of the great aspects of his job is working with long-time customers who are now friends and spending his days with his staff and partners SuAnne Krick and Laurie Weaver. “Working with the staff at Leo’s is incredible. There isn’t a day I don’t look forward to being around them; they’re No. 1 in my opinion. Also, aspiring beyond where I’ve been before, such as working with a bride who’s open to unique ideas and letting me flow with them, and then seeing the joy on her face when I deliver. One of the most rewarding challenges is when a bride comes in for a consultation and gives me the color of the gowns, total number of people in the wedding party, and then tells me, ‘Have fun. I’ll see you at the church.’”

A different kind of challenge is trying to get to know the personality of a loved one through family members for funeral flowers, he said. “We then do a tribute that speaks to their personality, whether it’s incorporating her garden tools in an arrangement or using electrical wire instead of ribbon to match a gentleman’s trade.”

In their decades of experience in floral design, Carrigan and Monier have seen trends come and go, but they agree most things stay pretty much the same in the end. “Popular colors change every year and season, but I think the current trends of classic, traditional home accessories and open, airy flower arrangements will remain constant,” Monier said.

“Flower trends seem to repeat themselves but always come back in a slightly different variation,” Carrigan said. “When I started, we were doing tight, compact centerpieces and nosegays for weddings. It then went on to an open and loose just-picked-from-the-garden look. Now we’re back to the more controlled look again.”

It’s an everyday challenge to find the best fresh materials and try to keep up with the latest looks, but Monier said he wouldn’t trade his career. “In spite of weathering through a sluggish economy, I love my job and my shop, and I don’t regret opening my own business. I have a wonderful, hard-working staff and many appreciative customers. I enjoy creating flower arrangements for any occasion and buying for my shop at the gift shows in Atlanta and Chicago. And I still enjoy gardening and growing a few flowers and flowering shrubs at my home.”

Carrigan said being a floral designer has taken him places he never imagined, including doing floral design for singers, presidents and first ladies, and actors. “I spent two years in Dallas in a shop that catered to actors Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, and George Kennedy. This was when the TV show Dallas was on top of the ratings.”

Whether they’re famous or not, however, brightening people’s day is the name of the game in floral design, Carrigan said. “I think back to high school, when I wanted to be a librarian, and I hope I’ve had a positive influence on people through the years.” AA!