Wisconsin Flower Shop Blooms Thanks to EDA-Funded Revolving Loan Fund
Debbie Hillary, owner of Busy Bee Floral in Monroe, Wisconsin, received a loan from an EDA-funded Revolving Loan Fund to help her business during the pandemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic kept families and friends apart, sending flowers became an appealing option to show loved ones that they were missed.
At Busy Bee Floral in Monroe, Wisconsin, demand for flowers – roses, hydrangeas, daisies, among other varieties – has remained high, with orders coming in from across the United States for delivery in southwestern Wisconsin.
“The business model for flower shops is already set up perfectly for something like this,” said Busy Bee Floral owner Debbie Hillary. “We deliver. We don’t have to rely on foot traffic. There are days when we have one person come in the store, but we have 15 flower arrangements going out the door.”
Busy Bee is doing well now. Its first brick-and-mortar store opened in October and Hillary has since hired five new part-time employees. However, the flower shop exists now because Hillary was able to pivot her business with the help of a $10,000 low-interest loan from the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWWRPC).
In July 2020, SWWRPC received a $500,000 EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to capitalize its Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to support small businesses in Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, and Richland counties. They have successfully distributed all the funds to seven small businesses, which, in addition to Busy Bee, include restaurants, a cheese store, a meat locker, a grocery store and a youth services organization, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $200,000 to help them navigate the pandemic.
“The EDA has long been a partner to southwestern Wisconsin, and their strategic investment during the pandemic was critical to injecting the right capital at the right time,” said SWWRPC Executive Director Troy Maggied. “There were lots of businesses who struggled and didn’t make it this past year, and this funding helped support those with the vision and ability to position themselves for greater opportunity despite the chaos of the pandemic. This is what business is about, and we’re glad to support in whatever way we can.”
The loan helped Busy Bee transition from a floral wedding and event planning business to a flower shop.
When the pandemic hit in spring 2020, three big weddings were canceled. These three events could have covered Hillary’s salary for the whole year. It was devastating for her at-home business that she ran solo for about a decade.
“Essentially the summer was dead. The events were gone,” she said.
Debbie Hillary stands outside her business, Busy Bee Floral in Monroe, Wisconsin.
But Hillary kept getting calls for flower delivery. She did do flower arrangements for events, but her distributor doesn’t sell flowers in small batches.
“I had to turn down a lot of orders,” said Hillary, who is also trained in traditional floral design.
The small town of Monroe, Wisconsin, may be known for its international award-winning cheesemaking, but the region has few flower shops aside from the Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
This was an opening for Busy Bee.
The SWWRPC loan helped Hillary rev up her operations as she moved into a new building in quaint, historic downtown Monroe. The money helped purchase inventory, a delivery truck and two coolers, as well as hire part-time employees.
She also received a boost by being selected for the Main Street Monroe’s Project Pop Up, which provided her with three months of paid rent, free business counseling, free advertising and assistance negotiating a lease.
“It could have been way worse for me, but it wasn’t,” Hillary said. “I think the timing worked out.”
Thanksgiving and Christmas were a huge boom for Busy Bee. Their sales quadrupled their projections. And the entire floral industry appears to have been impacted.
“Wholesalers were running out of flowers,” she recalled.
With each flower delivery, Busy Bee will handwrite a card – just for that added touch.
“Everyone is like, ‘We wish we could be together. See you next year,’” Hillary said.