Faces of Home
Denis Guerin: flowers on the go
Photo by kc kratt
If there’s anything Western New Yorkers like better than an ex-pat returning home, it’s luring a newcomer who not only falls in love with our city, but also endeavors to make it a better place. Denis Guerin, who moved to Buffalo after eighteen years in New York City, didn’t expect to grow a flower service from a pedal-cart, especially within two months of moving here in June 2015—but sometimes things just work out. In less than a year’s time, Guerin has made Petrichor Flora a multi-service floral resource.
Buffalo Spree: What brought you to WNY?
Denis Guerin : My partner, Luke, is from Clarence, so I’d had the suburban experience for fourteen or fifteen years, but on recent visits, we started coming into the city more, and I just fell in love with it. One of my biggest heroes is Frederick Law Olmsted, so learning about his contribution in shaping the city was a big part of me falling in love with it. The history and the arts are incredible in terms of what started here, so that made me feel even more passionate. We’d been in New York eighteen years and had grown tired of the city; once we started considering Buffalo, it kind of grew into something we both agreed would be best at this point in our lives. We worked so hard in New York for not much reward; we were yearning for a quieter life and with everything going on in Buffalo, we just wanted to be part of that.
What is your floral background?
I have a background in the arts and studied piano and managed advertising for Disney Theatricals; most recently, I was an elementary school principal because I was just not happy in my occupation in the arts and not finding a passion. I did a good job and was able to make as much change as possible, but I realized I was really not having a good time, was not happy with life in general, so I left. I took a year off from working, and was doing a lot of things but spending most of my time gardening and with plants and flowers, making things for friends, and it was so satisfying in a way that I never experienced professionally. I was talking to a friend about how much I like it, and [that friend connected me] with a floral designer in Manhattan. Within a month, I was arranging for her; it was that easy. I worked with her for a year and a half and, at that point, Luke and I decided we were going to move.
What was your plan to transfer that training when you moved here?
I thought I’d take the route of onsite floral design—private, corporate, commercial flowers in homes, offices. That’s not necessarily an easy vision to accomplish anywhere. In New York, it’s common, because you go into any office building and there are floral arrangements; it’s kind of a requirement for any major real estate situation. Here, it’s present, but it’s more like the management company takes care of it, so the challenges in that was how to find entry and get some visibility. I was working for a furniture dealer when I first got here and I was introduced to [Buffalo Rising editor] Newell Nussbaumer, and he said, “We need somebody biking around and selling flowers.” I was like “Whoa,” because in New York, they started doing this, a food truck kind of thing for flowers. It triggered something in me; I looked at Newell and said, “Oh my god, I’m going to do that.”
What was your route?
I’m in North Buffalo so I went across Hertel to Elmwood all the way to Canalside, and that’s basically what my route is—it’s no more than four or five miles, but the cart carries about 200 pounds. It’s a great workout, I love it. I loved weaving in and out of all the different neighborhoods; it’s got such an old world feel. Invariably, I’ll have a conversation with whoever I’m selling to, and I really enjoy the social aspect, the environment. The neighborhoods are so beautiful.
What was people’s reaction?
People couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They almost didn’t understand, it was so out of their traditional mindset of the florist or Wegmans or Dash’s. The two most common things people say to me are “Are they real?” and “Are you selling them?” They’re so taken by it; they don’t know how to process because they’ve never seen it before. It’s so out of the norm that they have to ask those questions. I’m definitely doing the right thing.
Where did the name come from?
I was going through all these things, trying to incorporate my name and nothing was making sense, and so I went through a botanist dictionary online and came across “petrichor,” a word invented by two British people in the sixties or seventies, and it means the smell of the earth after it rains; that’s the definition of it. The word is beautiful and, despite the objections of people around me, I stuck with it, especially because it’s not the easiest word. It’s such a good word that it needs to be known.
Where do you get your flowers?
I go to Toronto once a week, where I can handpick what I like and negotiate the prices myself. The most common feedback I get about my flowers is that they are unusual and that they last really long. It’s not unusual for some of my bouquets to last more than two weeks; that tells you the difference in freshness.
How did it grow once you got out there?
Word of mouth. People started posting photos on Facebook and not long after, it was like “You’re the flower guy.” I didn’t have to do much to draw attention or interest; social media kind of took care of that. And I started getting some press, and a lot of other little things were going on.
When do you stop for the season, and what did you do in the off season?
My last run in 2015 was in early October. Even while I was doing the cart, I was working on building another business. What came hand-in-hand with the cart was delivery; people wanted me to deliver to them, not necessarily on the cart, so now I have a full delivery service. I’ve also done a number of events; people need flowers and I adjust to whatever scale they need. I’m really excited because I just got my first large scale event for 500 people. Something that’s really great: the last two events I’ve done, the client has come back to me and said people at the party recognized my flowers; I was really touched.
I also am working on a retail plan to sell through different vendors at various locations instead of me having a brick and mortar establishment. I’m currently at Ashker’s on Elmwood, Sarah Danielle in Ellicott Square, and Parker Pharmacy on Hertel. The cart is about twenty percent of what I do as it’s adjusted.
What is it that appeals to you about this business?
I just want people to engage with flowers in a way that they don’t. I want them to think of flowers as important as the art on their walls or their décor. I don’t think people do that because flowers are disposable, but to value the physical beauty and the natural element is so giving; I get so much out of it. There’s a lot of room for people to bring flowers back into their lives.
Denis is back out on his cart, so watch for him or visit petrichorflora.com.
Donna Hoke is the editor of Spree Home.