Tips for opening your own business – Choice’s story

Many years ago, I wanted to be a prosecutor!  I went to University of Maryland majored in Criminal Justice and minored in Criminology.  I worked at Sunset Hills Foliage part time for extra money as their receptionist.  Lesson (1) – Finish school and don’t take a part time job for granted because you never know what it could lead to.  I soon moved to the accounting department and while I was considering going to law school, I was offered a management position to take over the operations of the company.  I loved it!  I worked very hard and many hours organizing, following my employees around and making sure the customers were happy.   I worked there (18) years and I learned a lot!!!!!  I will always be grateful for the opportunity they provided me.

After several years, I thought I might want to own my company one day.  I was a hard worker and wanted to have more control on the ways things were done.   Low and behold, Susan talked me into trying it!  Lesson (2) – Pick  a great partner!  I had certainly heard nightmare stories about partnerships and how it never works out. Susan worked at Sunset Hills Foliage too and we got along very well.  The key is to pick that excels where you struggle.  Susan and I see things very differently but together it is a great balance.  She is very financially minded and looks at long term and budgets.  I see things in the immediate and love to design, inspect and meet with our clients and am not financially minded whatsoever!  There is a lot of paperwork involved with owning your company financials, minority certification packets that are over (100) pages, tax documents, licenses, payroll and I want no parts of any of that stuff.  I still think ten years later we make a great team!

We started Choice Plantings in  Susan’s garage in 2004 and with the help of Rose Jones giving us the opportunity to takeover six of her shopping centers. With our first holiday season coming up within a few short months, we had to look for a warehouse.  We signed a (5) year lease with St. John Property and I remember that being a very scary experience.  It was a big jump and if for whatever reason your business does not work out, you are still liable for the term of the lease.

The first five years were filled with hiring new employees, growing our company, and trying to establish Choice Plantings as a new quality oriented competitor in the industry.  We changed, tweaked and tried to come up with innovative ideas that other companies were not using.  Lesson (3) Don’t be afraid to grow and try new things. We partnered with some great exterior landscapers, and florists so that we could be a “one stop shop” for all flowers and landscaping needs.

It was our holiday décor programs that really grew the company.  This is the part of our business that I really love.  Now, if you were to ask me on December 1st after we have not slept much the entire  Thanksgiving weekend  if I love it, I may have a different answer but now when it is all just getting started again for the next season, I love it!  We now decorate hundreds of buildings each year; we install the largest tree in the metropolitan area at 54’; we convert our offices into a showroom every other year and we continue to try to provide our clients with the latest trends in the industry.  The great thing about holiday décor is it changes each year.  Some years, clients like more traditional themes and other years  it’s all about blues, teals and coppers and that is what makes it fun!

We  are now located in a 12,000 square foot warehouse and are busting out at the seams.  Our company has continued to grow and we now have (18) employees, over (200) accounts throughout MD, DC and Virginia and do almost two million each year between our plantscaping and holiday decorating.

It has been ten years and what I have learned is that it is all about relationships. Lesson (5) Be honest, sincere and trustworthy.

Not only the relationship with our employees to create an atmosphere where they want to come to work and do a great job but also,  the relationship with our clients.  Truly, there are lots of companies that provide quality service at a competitive prices (I like to think none better than us)  but to exceed the expectation of your client, keep your word and maintain their trust, and continue to strive to be better is what keeps our clients at Choice Plantings.  I am proud to say that we have very few clients that ever cancel our service and each year we decorate the same buildings over and over offering something a bit different.

I look forward to the next  ten years and would highly recommend opening your own business.  It is not easy but is worth it!

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