The quaint 1920’s home that sits at the corner of Hagadorn Road and East Grand River Ave. is a staple of the community and has been for some time. While it’s no longer a home in the traditional sense, it is the home of one of East Lansing’s longest standing businesses — B/A Florist.
The “B/A” in the company’s title is derived from the name of its original owner, Barbara Ann Hollowick. Founded back in June 1979, the company had a more basic business model than what’s present today; the store originally focused on providing goods for plant growth and greenhouse development but made the bold decision to expand to providing floral options as well. Today, the next generation of this family business thrives.
Owner, Laura Van Ark, never planned on being in the floral industry, yet nearly 33 years later she’s happy to be here. As a Michigan State University graduate that double majored in Textiles and Merchandising Management, Van Ark originally intended to seek out roles in the once booming automobile industry. When a job wasn’t readily available, she dived into something she knew best, with some uncertainty of what the future would hold.
“I did not have another job waiting at the time of graduation and my mom suggested that I join the business for five years and then decide what I want to do,” explained Van Ark. “That was 1984 and I’m still here! My mother’s example and fierce drive guides me in all I do. I am proud to carry on her legacy.”
Each year, Valentine’s Day brings business in droves, as customers flock in to find the perfect arrangement for their lover. This boom in sales has been a recurring trend for years, but outside of the holiday business, sales haven’t always been so kind.
Over the years, the company has transitioned from being a small business to a successful, established pillar of the local economy and surrounding community. Like many small businesses, past and present, this ascension to notoriety was no small feat. The floral industry has faced a decline in storefronts nationwide over the years, as small businesses are continuously forced to hold their ground against large corporations.
“I ask the consumer to consider what it does to the small retailer when they choose to purchase in a big box store,” said Van Ark. “The one thing we offer the consumer that they will not get in a big box store is professional, personal, courteous and knowledgeable service. Our focus is on quality — not only in service, but in the flowers we sell as well. I am very, very choosy about the grade of product we sell in the store.”
The shop sees its role in the community as something to be cherished; without its customers, it would be able to stay afloat, but it wouldn’t be able to flourish the way it has. The customers of B/A Florist aren’t just the numbers behind the business, they’re also the inspiration.
“One of our favorite things to observe is someone who comes in for the first time knowing little about flowers and over time they get more and more confident in their knowledge until soon they are boldly choosing flowers themselves,” explained Van Ark. “We also learn so much from our customers and it’s always fun to see what they pick out, sometimes things we wouldn’t even think of!”
These observations and the knowledge of nearly 40 years of industry expertise don’t start and end at the register. B/A Florist continues to separate itself from its competitors by acting as an educator. They offer classes on floral arrangements, run a frequently updated blog and more. The company looks to motivate the next generation of florists and lend its knowledge to those around them.
“B/A Florist has always had a very strong emphasis on education. Not only among our employees, but we like to share the knowledge with our customers as well. We like to inform them about the flowers and plants they choose, and how to properly care for them,” mentioned Van Ark. “The most popular class is the private party for a group of friends where we focus on a certain style and talk about the aspects of the chosen design, the flowers and foliage that are included and how to care for the arrangement in order to get the longest possible vase life.”
By building upon its foundation within the community, there’s no telling where they’ll go next. What’s for certain is B/A Florist will be right by our sides as we’ve been right by theirs.
To learn more about B/A Florist, visit baflorist.com.