Born and raised in Farmington Hills, MI, Barbara is a Mid-Western girl at heart. Currently, Barbara resides in Foster City, CA and works as a Sales Representative for Brannan Street Wholesale in San Francisco. In her spare time, Barbara volunteers at the local animal shelter.
You were introduced to floral design in a class you took in high school. What was it about flowers and design that attracted you to take this class?
All the other classes offered were “desk” related. I knew that with my energy level and personality, I needed to be in a career that allowed me expression and freedom. And while I am NOT a gardener, my grandmother always had an amazing garden and it always made me happy as a child to be in her backyard in Detroit, surrounded by blossoms.
6 months in to the floral design program, you started working at a local florist. Tell us about your experience working in your first brick & mortar shop….what was it like?
Funny you should ask this question. My true ‘first’ job was at a shop located near cemeteries. The whole shop was filled with all death related items like crosses, broken wheels, easels and mache containers. I only lasted 2 days before I went to my instructor and told her that while I understood and appreciated the benefits of hands on work experience, I could not work in such a depressing place and I refused to return!
What were some of your favorite designs to create?
This will make a lot of people laugh, but remember this was over 20 years ago. Mixed flower arrangements and certain wire service designs.
Was there a particular design/arrangement that you were most “proud” of?
No, not really, Designs were much more simple then and even weddings were much more ‘basic’. The few shops I worked in were very traditional and we did a lot of wire service work
What were the Top 2 or 3 things that you learned while working at the floral shop?
- Working with a lot of different clients and personalities. You know, brides happy to be planning a wedding to families sad because a loved one has died, etc
- Inventory control
- How to get along with people while working in very tight quarters for long periods of time!
What brought you all the way to California from Michigan?
I had visited CA prior to my move and fell in love with the ocean, the mountains and the desert and returned to Michigan knowing I wanted to relocate. And I did have an old family friend living in So. Cal. who was a liason for me with the shop that hired me so I could relocate. He also offered me a room until I got settled
I moved to California to continue my floral design career and while picking up flowers at a San Diego farm, I met Doug Dobecki (currently with Sun Valley Floral Farms), who, with out intent, changed my career path! He convinced me to interview with a flower grower in Northern California. I was hired to be part of the sales team and eventually moved in to their import division located in the bay area. During my career at the farm, the parent company purchased a wholesale division. I was eventually transferred to the wholesale division and spent time working at the Los Angeles Flower Market before returning to San Francisco, where I continue to work for that same wholesaler! While the name has changed, the staff has not, and my current employer, Roy Borodkin, and I have been a team for well over 20 years.
What convinced you to go from a flower designer to working in sales for a flower grower?
I was not really 100% sold on being in the retail end of the industry. And when I flew up to Arcata for a job interview and as I was walking through greenhouses and fields I knew it was a better fit for me!
After working for a flower grower, you were transferred & began working at the famous Los Angeles Flower Market. What was it like working at one of the most notable wholesalers in the U.S. and how did it prepare you for your current job at SF Brannan Street?
I had done some part time work at the SF Market while working with a flower grower so I was familiar with the market business. Back then, the LA market was a lot different. We were not well received because we were a ‘chain’ wholesaler owned by a parent corporation. I think that we were sort of a threat to small wholesale houses. I cannot pin point any one thing that prepared me for my current position because I believe that most everything I have done in both my personal and professional life has prepared me for my job. They are intertwined, no matter how hard I don’t want them to be!
What is your “official” position at Brannan Street and what does your typical day at work look like?
My day begins checking emails & sorting through faxed orders. I prepare my worktables so they are ‘order ready’. I fulfill my own orders so I begin shopping and placing orders on the tables. During this time I might also be receiving product, running out on the market to procure a product or answering my phone. I am in charge of our facebook page so I may also be snapping photos of products that are crazy fun or new. As customers start to arrive, I may be found wrapping flowers, packing boxes or writing invoices. We are all multi-tasking, all day.
What do you love MOST about your job?
- Working ‘hands on’ with the flowers
- Interacting with the clients. A large percentage of our business is walk-in and I love being able to visit with the customers.
- Working in a market situation. I love walking around in the morning and saying hello to other vendors, sharing in daily goofy happenings of the market. Getting up in the middle of the night to work, it’s a different lifestyle and we’re sort of all from the same mold! It’s like having a work family!
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
Trying to anticipate what will sell and what will not! One of the disadvantages of a market situation is your competition is staring you in the face so we always have to try to stay one step ahead, in some way.
You have been in this industry for 20 years and work with incredible amounts of flowers everyday. Describe what it is like to be surrounded by such a huge volume of flowers and are you ever “surprised” by some of the varieties you get in?
Almost daily we receive something that is new, amazing, or just plain fun! I often do not realize the volume of flowers I am surrounded by daily until I visit another wholesale house or I see my business through the eyes of a visitor.
What are some of your top selling flower and foliage varieties?
We do very well with assorted dracaena foliages and unusual foliages from Chile. Lilies, roses, and flowering branches are some of top selling year round items. Peonies, hydrangeas, tulips, stock, ranancula, anemones, allium and eremurus and some of top selling limited time best sellers.
Have you ever received a shipment of a new flower/foliage variety that was so unusual that you didn’t know if it would sell…but it turned out to become a popular item?
Yes, at least once a week one of the buyers (myself included) take a chance a make a random buy. We open the box and panic, only to find out that it is gone at the end of our sales day!!
What are your personal top 3 flower faves at Brannan St.?
That is a tough question to answer. I love flowers and, as I told J and the JTV crew I can’t pick just one because there is always great stuff arriving and I fall in love all over again! So why limit myself?
Do you sell a flower that is notoriously difficult to keep alive and how did you learn to handle this picky flower?
Hydrangeas. To my point of interacting with clients, I am able to ask the advice of the lesser known but often equally knowledgeable industry leaders, our customers!! They are often the best resource for ideas and tips on ‘how to’ for flowers.
What is the one flower/foliage that you sell out of immediately as soon as you get it in?
There are many products that sell out immediately. It is usually when the first of our ‘seasonal’ stuff starts arriving. Some of the favorites are chestnuts, peonies, hybrid hydrangea from Holland, allium gigantum, crazy tulips from Holland, mock orange and quince is some favorites
As a wholesaler, what is some advice you can give florists and other flower professionals when it comes to choosing and ordering flowers? Also, what is the ONE BIG mistake florists make the most when ordering flowers?
Pre order as much and as often as you can on big events. Don’t just sell a flower; sell a look, a color and a style.
Think outside the box. Try, at least once a week, to purchase something you might never think of using in design work and challenge yourself! Speaking from my experience, the one big mistake florists make is ‘assuming’ that if they ‘ordered it’ it will be (and should be) available.
Go to events, lectures, conventions or other places where you have the opportunity to have discussions with other industry members.
When/How did you meet J Schwanke?
Hmm, well, we crossed paths at a few industry events but I would have to say that our relationship flourished when he was invited to do a seminar at the SF Flower Mart. We went to dinner the evening before and that was the beginning of great thing!
You and J are good friends…describe your relationship.
I TREASURE my relationship with J! He makes me laugh! He gets me you know what I mean? We can talk, laugh and share secrets like family. When we hang out, it’s comfortable … like coming home.
In addition to being a flower lover you are an animal lover as well and are very involved with the Humane Society and the Homeless Cat Network. Talk a little bit about your volunteer work with animals.
Me? Talk a little bit about animals? That’s going to be tough, but I’ll try! The HCN is a non-profit small shelter that promotes the management of feral cat colonies and the TNR (trap, neuter, release) program. They have a small shelter that houses 24 cats. My work at the Homeless Cat Network involves socializing cats, cleaning their ‘cat condos’, grooming and feeding.
My work at The Peninsula Humane Society is diverse. I spend one day a week at the spay & neuter clinic. My duties include washing surgical tools, making surgical packs, waking up animals from anesthesia, assisting the vet techs with animal care and kennel cleaning.
I am one of 8 volunteers chosen to participate in Growly Dog School. The animal behaviorists choose difficult dogs, dogs that have issues or were recently surrendered and not yet released for adoption. We spend an hour a week working with them in a classroom situation with the assistance of the behaviorists.
I have been trained to work with red collar dogs, which, at PHS, are the dogs that are strong and high energy. I put them on the treadmill or take them off site for power walks.
Once or twice a month I am part of a select group of volunteers that takes out our pit bull breeds for an intense, high speed, power training walk. Animal behaviorists also supervise this class.
I take the lead in all of the their special event/fund raisers through the year. The Mutt Strutt, golf tournament, gala, and fashion show are the 4 fundraisers each year.
And last, but certainly not least, I sit on the Volunteer Advisory Committee for our new shelter opening in September. We were chosen to assist in the transitioning of the volunteers to the new facility.
You are ALSO trained in disaster response with the Humane Society and the Foster City Fire Dept. What exactly are you trained to do? Please share some of your experiences in disaster response.
My training with the Foster City Fire Department is part of the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program that is partnered with Citizen Corps and offered in many communities. I attended over 28 hours of intense training at FCFD to learn disaster medical, search & rescue, disaster fire suppression, incident command, team building, radio command, triage and basic utilities management. I have never been activated in an emergency but have helped in many disaster exercises with in the city and the county.
Our Humane Society disaster team is trained to set up temporary shelters, which includes, but is not limited to, animal intake, basic animal medical care, documenting lost animals, setting up surgical rooms, distributing food, leashes, bowls to victims, and working with the animals once the shelter is up and running.
The Humane Society has activated me three times in the past 2 years.
The first time was a case involving a drug raid by the FBI. These raids often turn up dangerous animals and reptiles. We had to go to the shelter and prepare for a possible intake of animals, which meant building temporary kennels for the dogs, documenting and feeding the animals. Fortunately, the officers only found 2 pit bulls and animal rescue and control handled them.
The second time I was activated was when PG&E blew up the neighborhood in San Bruno, CA. In an instant, people lost everything, including pets, or, they got out with only their pets and nothing else. We were sent to the Red Cross shelter to assist these victims. We inventoried and distributed all of the donations by local businesses for food, bedding, litter boxes, collars, dishes and other animal related donations. We were on site accepting donations, directing people to the humane society, helping them with pet loss and offering basic medical.
The third time was when Japan had the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. We were activated to set up a shelter on the California Coast.
Do you have any “fur babies” at home?
Yes, Phil & Abby, both cats and both rescues. They are the loves of my life. I cannot imagine returning home at the end of a day and not seeing those ADORABLE faces in my hallway!
You work with flowers all day long…do you keep any vases of flowers in your house? If so, what are your favorite flowers to decorate your home with and what do you have in your house RIGHT NOW?
It’s feast or famine at my house with flowers! Today I am leaving with the most amazing bundle of fresh lavender, a Sara Bernhard peony and a bag of loose gardenias to float around the house. After they have gone, it may be weeks before I take more home! I do have to use caution since one of my fur babies is only 3 and thinks everything is a toy!
What’s next for you? Do you have any future plans or goals that you would like to share?
I have been very blessed in my life. I have traveled; I have met some amazing people and made some wonderful friends. I have done more than I ever even thought about doing and some things I thought about doing and then wish I hadn’t done them! I suppose, like a lot of people, there will always be someplace I would like to visit but won’t get the chance in during this lifetime. I’m OK with that! I own a nice condominium in a wonderful community. I am involved in my community and I have a job and volunteer work that I love.
I see myself, perhaps one day moving on to work with animals at a shelter. But for right now, LIG (life is good) right here in the bay area!