“Elevate Your Voice” Entrepreneur Spotlight: LaWanda Hines

This article is part of a 12-part profile series that seeks to capture the thoughts and ideas of entrepreneurs in Inkster, Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, and River Rouge. This series is made possible through the New Economy Initiative’s “Elevate Your Voice” campaign, designed to help inform entrepreneurship support, and amplify authentic voices in the small business ecosystem. This profile features LaWanda Hines, co-owner of Now and Forever Flower Boutique, based in River Rouge, Michigan. 
Can you share a little bit about your business?

We started off in my mother's home when I was about the age of three. My mother took her first floral design class because she was pinning a boutonniere on one of the ministers at the church and it completely fell apart in her hands. She didn't make it. Someone else did. So she said, okay, if I'm going to be doing this, let me take some classes so I can just do this myself. And eventually she was the florist of the church, and was doing all the weddings, the funerals, the celebrations. And she just dragged me along with her pretty much my entire life. I never wanted anything to do with flowers because it was just always there. I wanted to do something completely different. Fast forward, I go to college, I'm majoring in psychology, and then I start realizing how much of a business this could be for my mom. So I started taking business classes, and eventually I said, if we're going to do this, why don't we make this a real business? And my sole purpose was literally just to be the business side and she'd be the face of the business and the designer, but then I decided to take my own flower class from a very prominent designer that's well known throughout the US, and I fell in love with flowers. So it started off as Henrietta's Flowers and Gifts, and, about almost 40 years later, we have Now and Forever Flower Boutique.

What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the River Rouge community? 

There were no florists. There was no one in River Rouge that was selling flowers. And we saw the need in the community. We thought that we could be an asset to the community because there are, unfortunately, so many dispensaries in River Rouge, where it was like where are the restaurants and the flower shops and the things that just brightens a community? Another big factor for us was that it is a diverse community. We wanted to be someplace where we could resonate with a lot of different people and cultures. You're close to Detroit, yet you're close to Downriver such as Wyandotte and Allen Park, so it was a good location for what we wanted to do, and where we wanted to start. The other factor was it was down the street from my church where I grew up, which was also a big plus because a lot of the people we were servicing were also church members, so it was easy for them to find us, to shop with us, to come visit us. 

How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business?

It hasn't been easy at all. I've applied for quite a few grants and I was able to obtain one, but a lot of the capital for us has gone through loans. Before we opened up the shop, we were already sitting on a small gold mine because we were putting everything back into the business and just sitting on it. We weren't actually getting paid, so a lot of the capital needed came from us and loans. 

What are your current business goals?

We're definitely looking for another location right now. We want to be able to hire more people at more of a full-time position. Right now we hire people for special events, so we're able to bring other people's talents to help build through our business. And then also really streamline our process when it comes to online service. We have a lot of people who don't want to travel Downriver to see us, or they just can't get a schedule booked with us for deliveries because we are so busy. So we want to start a delivery and mailing service for flowers, so people can still enjoy them at their homes without having to come to the shop or trying to schedule a delivery time with us. And lastly, we started a class called Popping Petals with a Twist, where, pretty much, you come in, you have a relaxing time with you and your girlfriends or meet someone new and we play with flowers and you go home and take your own centerpiece for you to keep or to give to someone else. And we literally pop sparkling cider and play with flowers. So we've got quite a few things going on at the same time. But what we're excited about the future, our main thing is to really open up multiple locations because our designs are unique and people want to enjoy them and, unfortunately, Downriver sometimes it's just not accessible for them.

What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?

Capital is big. We all need funding. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get those things without having to sacrifice something else or to put yourself in this long binding contract of sorts. I would also say people. It's a challenge. And I would say my biggest thing is time. Unfortunately, no one can give me that but God, so it always feels like running out of time because at least for us, with our business, we do a lot of our own in-house things. So social media and emails and advertisements are all in-house aka me. So time is huge. It would be awesome to be able to have the resources or services because a lot of times, a lot of people who are running a business, they're the talent of the business. They're managing the business. They're the janitor of the business. They're everything, all hats. And we all need help, but we all need to be able to make sure we can pay for that help. So, resources that I feel like I would need to achieve my goals are time.

If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?

More time, more of me. And that's just not going to happen. Why? Because it's a lot. You’re already showing up at your business sometimes seven days out of the week and you're already not sleeping because you're already doing the work. So I find it a bit unrealistic for people who don't have a team to say, okay, cool, I'm gonna go to this workshop or I'm going to go and talk to this consultant, and they're going to tell me what I need to do. But I don't have time to do it. We're in the age of technology and, unfortunately, it takes a whole different set of skills to be able to communicate with the average consumer. When you're running a business, it takes a lot more than just cutting that one sign on sometimes. And, for me, because we're a service-based business that also sells products, we pretty much can set our own hours. So, sometimes for me, I find I make the most money servicing my customers by not even cutting on the sign, not even waiting for people to walk in the door. You have to be able to service people on their phones, on their computers, at their homes. A lot of times businesses, they don't know what they need or who to hire other than what's directly in front of their face, which is whatever they're selling, they don't understand. You have  to understand social media, you have to understand SMS marketing, you have to understand guerrilla marketing, and a lot of them just don't. 

Fill in the blank: ____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why. 

I would say the SBA (Small Business Administration) has been a good resource, and Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. They have an app and a YouTube channel. And then, also, my little circle of entrepreneurs, and my little community who I can always call on. The SBA has been a good resource because they will actually send someone out to your business to pretty much evaluate what you need. They teach you how to network. They put you in those circles of people, and they really work with you hand in hand. The Verizon Small Business Digital Ready program has online classes and workshops that you can attend and view, and it teaches you pretty much A to Z on a business, but it's at your own pace. There's no one that's going to hold your hand or call you or meet with you. But the app itself is really good and self paced, and then once you complete so many courses, you can apply for their grant program. And YouTube, my goodness, you can always access it from your phone 24-hours a day. You do have to be careful who you're listening to, but there's a lot of great teachers there. And then I do have my little circle of event planners and florists and designers, all over the world, that I've met through different workshops and networking opportunities and online Facebook groups, and we’ve just become flower friends, and we teach each other and we help each other build and grow. 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business? 

Sometimes every day feels like a challenge. But I don't think I look at challenges the way most people look at challenges. It's more like, okay, it's another hump. Let's get over it. Let's keep moving. Let's keep going. So. I think the biggest challenge, honestly, is staying motivated because although you get to do something that you love and enjoy and feel passionate about, it makes other people feel happy, which is also part of the passion of it all. It takes a lot to run a business mentally, physically, emotionally, because it is your baby. Everyday it’s another challenge. I don't think there was anything that was too challenging to overcome. Other than myself, my own mental mindset of saying, okay, we got this. That's what I find a lot of people struggle with, especially when I listen to other people's problems or even think of my own. I'm like, it's really just you. That's your own challenge. Because sometimes we make things problems that’s really not that big, and it's just a matter of staying motivated. Keep pushing yourself, not waiting for everyone else to do it for you, and get up and do it yourself and figure this thing out. 

If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?

In the city, I would connect them to the City of River Rouge. River Rouge doesn't have a Chamber of Commerce, but I've had businesses in other cities that did, and the Chamber of Commerce has always been so beneficial to whatever we do because they kind of lead you in those areas. But for River Rouge, in particular, the City of River Rouge. Going to those council meetings, introducing yourselves to the community, and then allowing them to forward you to the local newspapers, the small business organizations that's probably already been established in the community. Downriver has a couple of associations, and when I go to those meetings and I meet with other owners, they're so supportive. They want to pour into you because they know that the more businesses that you bring to the community, the more customers come with it, the more clients that come. So that would be my first thing I would say, connect with the other businesses in the city. Rather it is through the city council, through a Chamber of Commerce or business association. All cities don't have those things, but find what your city has and connect with them.

What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?

I think we would all agree that the lack of funding for small businesses that are not dispensaries is a big issue, a huge issue for Downriver, unfortunately. I don't know how much money they make, but I know the city makes money. More money from dispensaries opening than they do from flower shops opening. So, unfortunately, there's a lot of dispensaries, and there's not that many restaurants. We don't have a movie theater or a grocery store. Some of the everyday basic things that a group, a community, needs we don't have. So I would say that the biggest issue is there's more support for non-family friendly businesses than there are for family-friendly businesses. And I think a lot of people thought that if you allow the dispensaries to come in, it's going to bring in the customers. But unfortunately, a lot of those people that go to dispensaries, they already don't have a whole lot of funds that they can share with other businesses outside of the dispensaries. And then the other ones, they come in through the city and they leave right back out. 
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Read more articles by Chrishelle Griffin.

Chrishelle Griffin is a consultant to organizations and entrepreneurs. Since 2018, she has worked with Issue Media Group as a contributor for Metromode and Model D, social media manager for special and multi-market projects, event coordinator and project manager. Contact her at [email protected].