AUGUST 2012 NEWSLETTER: Featured uBloomer Interview with Sandra Hooper

Sandra Hooper represents Mary Jane's Flowers at a Bridal Show

Sandra is the owner/operator of Mary Jane’s Flowers, she has been married for 15 years and has 2 children…a son, 24 and a daughter, 21.  Mary Jane’s Flowers has been the recipient of numerous accolades for design from the Flower Shop Network and won the Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Florist in Southern NJ in 2011 & 2012 from The Courier Post, a local NJ newspaper.  Sandra and her family currently reside in Williamston, NJ with their 3 cats and a Samoyed dog. 

At the age of 16 you began working for a local florist.  Tell us about your first “flower shop” experience.

My first job I loved working in a flower shop, but things were so different then they are today. I worked at a shop in a mall and the owner had several, he shipped things to us from a warehouse…the basics roses, carnations and premade arrangements. I kept asking why we couldn’t make them from here so he had me go to the warehouse and taught me how to do it. From there I managed about 4 of his shops. Then married and moved away.

Share a couple of the most IMPORTANT things you learned while working there…and…share something that you were required to do that you DIDN’T like/agree with and do differently now that you own your own shop.

I liked learning the way I did because it was hands on, (I learn better that way). But it was also “old school.”  So, I know the basics like how important greens are to an arrangement and how to make a good bow! Now I’m learning a lot of new ways of doing things easier or different.  After 30 years much has changed!  I remember saying to my husband,  “what are they using cold tubes of glue for?”  That is one thing I do find much easier and less time consuming for making corsages. In my mind this is one of the best inventions! These old hands filled with arthritis really do appreciate it. We didn’t have rose strippers, all done by hand, or hand and knife…probably the one thing I hated most.


After your experience at the flower shop, did you want to stay in the flower business…or…did you want to try other things?

I would have loved to work with flowers from then on out, but then again I am a believer in ‘things happen for a reason’ so I followed my husband around (he was in the Navy) and did become a stay at home mom once my children were born. Before they were born I worked part time in retail sales (clothing stores), then, while stationed in Key West, Florida I worked for a baker.  It was a good thing we got orders to move or I would have been the size of the bakery!

Helping the Girl Scouts with a Mother's Day surprise!


Eventually, you and your mom opened up a gift shop.  What types of items did you sell?  What was your best seller?

When we first opened the shop as gifts, we were known for our unique items (not your everyday hallmark or mall things). I bought from mainly smaller companies off the internet. The normal, everyday things like candles didn’t do well for us at all, but just about anything Victorian did great.

After several years of running your gift shop, your mom felt that you should close the doors.  One month later she fell ill.  You & your father spent time caring for your mother until her passing.  Talk a little bit about your journey and the touching story behind you opening Mary Jane’s Flowers.

This is a tough one…my dad actually cared for my mom and I spent as much time as I could with her.  Since we had closed the store I could drive back and forth daily. They lived about 45 miles or so away from where my house is. We (my dad & I) really thought she was going to get better, she had been through so much over the last 10 years (from heart surgery to breast cancer) and came back fighting every time. So, we just assumed she would be coming home again. But that was not to be.  Unfortunately, one Sunday morning my dad called and said he thought we needed to get down there (this is where the 45 or so miles got in the way) but, we were too late.

After helping my dad get things ready for her nitch (she was cremated and put into a public mausoleum which has a glass front) my dad asked me what I was going to do now since my kids are basically grown (still at home though!).  I told him I had no idea except go crazy!  His response to me was – under one condition – that we would take mother’s insurance money and get the shop back open. So I bit, “what is the condition?” He said,  “you get the flowers in first this time.”  I also had a condition of my own and asked him if I could call it MaryJane’s Flowers…in memory of mom. (Which we both laughed, since for 40 years the building had his name on it selling State Farm Insurance and now it has lighted signs reading MaryJane’s flowers)

From then on it has been nonstop!! Literally. The hardest piece I did was for a funeral of a young man…I don’t think we were even open for 2 months at the time.  It was difficult, but I look at funeral pieces now as memorializing people’s lives. I try to personalize them whenever possible, adding something from the loved one…from paintings the person has done, to a picture of that person with other friends around them.

Mary Jane...Sandra's Mom

What are your favorite floral arrangements to design?

My favorite flowers to do are bridal…I love working with the bride in creating her vision of her day.  We are really laid back here and don’t charge for changes…no matter how many! Some brides planning their special day over a year out have one idea and then a few months later find a picture of something they like better.

What flowers/arrangements do your customers request most?

From about the time we first opened we place a large vase of fresh flowers every week in the “New Berlin Diner” that is located in the center of town.  I can’t tell you how many times a week someone stops in and comments on it or uses it as a reference…”you know something like the piece at the diner”.

What is YOUR favorite flower and why?

My favorite flower is a peony, for two reasons…love the fragrance and it was one of my mother’s favorites.

Sandra & her father at the opening of Mary Jane's Flowers

Which flower do you find the hardest to work with?

The peony in my mind is one of the harder flowers to work with. If they come in from local venders they blow open quickly; if they are not local some seem like they never want to open!

How do you keep up to date with current floral design techniques and trends?

When I have the time I like watch a lot of the videos on ubloom, as well as other online seminars.  I also enjoy looking at other’s work. I think Facebook has been a major contributor towards this since I have friends on our FB page from all over the world.

Name some of your favorite designers and why do they inspire you?

I am not sure I have any “favorite,” because I like looking and learning from anyone and everyone. Sometimes, when I go brain dead, I just go to Google or uBloom and do a search on some kind of flowers and it gets the brain moving.

Outside photo of Mary Jane's Flowers

How did you hear about…and what are some of your favorite aspects of uBloom?

I think I must have first learned about through a web search. A few years ago on Mother’s Day I asked my kids to go online to uBloom and buy me a floral design video…I didn’t care which title, but it had to be one of J’s DVD’s!  One of the things I really like is being able to go back through the archives and find things. I had never heard of deco beads until I saw J use them!  But now I’m disappointed that my main wholesaler only sells green and clear deco beads. But it doesn’t stop me from buying them elsewhere!

What is your favorite JTV/FUN with Flowers and J webisode so far?  What did you learn from the video?

I haven’t had the time in a while to take a look, but I think it was close to a year ago… there was a gorgeous yellow piece J designed, it was actually 2 pieces and he connected them with grasses.  Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn’t that long ago since it was a piece with large deco beads, lights and Alstroemeria with the river of diamonds around it.  When I first saw that webisode we were getting ready to go to a bridal show and I actually tried to make it.

Describe your IDEAL wedding/event that you would love to design. (flowers, colors, style, etc.)

My ideal wedding or event would be to have a bride without a budget so we could actually do what she wants. I would love to be able to work and fill a room with Phalenopsis orchids hanging from everywhere! We are in a low to mid-range area, so most of our brides keep to simple things, or if the venue does silk centerpieces they use those for the night to keep costs down.

When you aren’t designing flowers, what are some hobbies you like to enjoy?

I use to really enjoy playing video games with my kids & I love gardening outside (I only wish I had the time for that now!) One of the down sides to owning my own business is there are days I feel as if I live there.

Presenting roses at a senior center luncheon

Name a goal you have set for yourself personally and one goal you have set for your business.

As for a personal goal…it is to just try and let things go. By this I mean I normally hold on to things for a long time.

A goal for the business is to start drawing a paycheck from it! Seriously, we have only been open about 2 ½ years and are growing by leaps and bounds, so I know most say I should be taking a pay now,  but,  I am old school and for now it goes back into the business.

If you recieved $500.00 to spend on your business, what would you buy?

If I had an extra 500.00 I would probably put it towards my goals of improving the building we are in by installing at least one nice bow window for decorating and Holiday displays…and to attract new business.

What was the last “Splurge” item you purchased?

Last splurge item was probably my computer (laptop) so I could work from home on bridal quotes and use it for other research when I am not needed at the shop.

What is on your “floral bucket list?”

My floral bucket list is probably too long to list here…but to summarize…it would be to have a job like J and be able to travel from grower to grower and learn from them!

Sharing our dogs (my dad's & mine) at an assisted living center

Name your favorite flowers you like to use in designs.

Roses and I love gladiolus. I can remember as a child my granddad bringing them home wrapped in newspaper, leaving some at our house and taking the rest to my grandmother. Love using stock in the shop. I like mardi gras aster, but love the more seasonal fillers like rice flower.

Last question.  What advice do you have for individuals who may be thinking of getting into the floral industry?

If it is something you love and love being around, go for it! Learn old school form then tweak it to new ways of doing old.