In a city where ever-rising rents often hamper potential small business owners from opening a storefront, mobile retail has become a popular alternative. Food trucks certainly led the way over the last few years, but the business model has spread beyond the culinary world and now includes a flower shop on wheels.
A year ago, Ashley Custer and Kristin Heckler introduced New York to Uprooted Flower Truck. The business parks in neighborhoods around Manhattan to sell their New York-inspired, hand-tied bouquets available in three sizes: studio, loft, and penthouse. The driving force behind Uprooted is to not only bring flowers directly to New Yorkers, but to help people engage with and hopefully gain a deeper appreciation for them. 6sqft recently spoke with Kristin to learn more about this budding business and how it’s developing a unique identity in the city.
Were you always a lover of flowers?
Ashley and I are a couple, and I didn’t truly appreciate flowers until she started bringing them home. My mom always liked them and made me garden, but I really didn’t like that. I didn’t realize that having fresh cut flowers as opposed to gardening can be so exciting and beautiful, and I think the major thing they bring is cheer.
Where did the inspiration for Uprooted come from?
It was completely Ashley’s idea. We moved to New York because I was getting my Master’s in theater directing. When we lived in Philadelphia, she had been in social work and was really dissatisfied with the whole system and had worked in flower shops since she was 14. So when we moved here she said, “I’ll just get a job at a shop to tide me over while I figure out exactly what I want to do with my life.”
She was working in a really tiny shop on the Upper West Side. This was three years ago, so food trucks were already peaking, and there also started to be some non-food trucks opening in the city. She was like, “I’m already working in a really tiny space, wouldn’t it be easily transferred to a box truck?” And I said, “I think it actually might be kind of genius.”
We garnered feedback over the next six to eight months and talked to people we thought might be interested in investing. Ashley attended a startup workshop with Lean StartUp Machine, and then we got to the point where we could only test [our concept] by opening. We did a couple flower happy hours where, on our days off, we would buy a bunch of flowers from the market and sell them in small quantities from a little table in the park to see if that was something people were interested in – in high-quality flowers in small quantities. At some point we though, “Why don’t we get a truck?”
How did you come up with the such a clever name?
Developing the name was a long process. For a while we were thinking it might be Roots. Ash liked the idea of “getting back to the roots of flowers” as in an appreciation of the flowers. But Roots was never quite right because a majority of our product doesn’t have roots. We realized that our business would be one that didn’t have roots as a mobile business, fresh cut flowers have been uprooted, lots of people living in NYC have been uprooted (including ourselves, from Pennsylvania and Delaware), it just fit!
What makes a flower truck uniquely suited for New York?
The most prominent reason is that our overhead and fixed costs are so much lower by having a truck instead of a brick and mortar store. The other thing we’ve been discovering as we’ve done more events and started getting more involved in restaurants is that we’re bringing our entire shop. There’s a lot of random, little floral supplies you need. Maybe you find at the last second you need fishing wire or floral tape and didn’t bring it, but our whole shop is there.
Another thing that’s great about being mobile is that we’ve been able to find what days of the week sell best in which neighborhoods. For example, on Fridays the truck is setting up on the Upper West Side on Broadway in the 80s and then tomorrow we’ll be by the Bleecker Street playground, and then on Sunday back on the Upper West Side, but a little bit farther south on Columbus, just north of Lincoln Center. Our spot that works out great on Saturdays is the West Village; the West Village is asleep on Sundays.
Speaking of which, do specific neighborhoods gravitate towards certain flowers?
What I notice more than particular flowers is what they’ll buy. The West Village really loves our bud vases, which is our best seller, but on the Upper West Side they buy more lofts and penthouses. We get a lot of people who want roses and a lot of people who don’t want roses.
Tell us a bit about your work with larger companies and events.
For marketing events, we found that companies like lululemon, SoulCycle, and Ann Taylor Loft are really interested in having us as a prop. We parked outside lululemon because they were offering a complimentary $5 posey for shopping at the store. SoulCycle has been a really great partnership for us because they’re all over the city, so the uptown Soul Cycle manager passed us on to the downtown manager. For the first day of spring, we delivered to 10 Soul Cycles, so that kind of thing ends up spreading by word of mouth. We’re doing one next week for Cynthia Rowley and have people choose two or three stems to customize.
Is there anything new and exciting you can fill us in on?
The thing I’m most enthusiastic about is the bouquet bar and creating an interactive [experience] for flowers–a more approachable environment where people can learn to appreciate them. That’s something that in general was part of our business plan. We liked the idea that people could browse from afar, so we got a little table out in front of the truck where people can look at the flowers up close and personal. But we’re behind the window, so it’s a little more comfortable. We actually have one wedding that’s interested in us setting up a bouquet bar and having all of her guests make flower crowns for the wedding.
How do New Yorkers react when they see the truck for the first time?
Working just one day on the truck is enough to lift your spirits. Obviously it’s the first year in business, and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but it’s like constant streams of people saying, “Oh my god, a flower truck.” I would say surprise and joy are the primary emotions and reactions. A lot of photos. People are really adorable about trying to be discrete about taking the picture. Actually, kids are some of our best customers. We always keep old flowers on standby to give to them.
If you could select one flower that epitomizes New York, which would it be?
It’s probably global, but people love peonies everywhere; they’re the great equalizer. They have a sturdy stem and are really, really beautiful, but it’s fleeting. They start out in a fist and then bloom. They don’t last super long, but they’re spectacularly beautiful. That kind of suits New Yorkers–you have a strong spine and it’s really amazing here, but can you really last that long?
What does sharing the joy of flowers with New Yorkers mean to you?
People have a tendency to bow their head down as quickly as possible from place to place and avoid eye contact, but seeing the truck almost always lifts people’s heads up. We’re super cheerful because it’s hard not to be super cheerful surrounded by all these flowers, and I think it’s nice to provide a smile and something really, really beautiful for people to look at and get them to break that pushing-through-every-second sort of mentality.
To find out where Uprooted will be parked next, click here.
[This interview has been edited for clarity]
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All photos via Uprooted unless otherwise noted