Flower Power: Success blooms for florists

Published on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 23:29 - Written by Jacque Hilburn-Simmons, Contributing Writer

HAWKINS — If you visit the town of Hawkins, don’t expect to get the cold shoulder.

The Wood County community, population 1,281, may seem small by some standards, but it is big on warmth and making folks feel right at home.

It’s that welcoming spirit that allowed Marshall floral designers Ray and Sharon Thompson to settle in a few years ago and grow their new business, Hawkins Flowers, into a mainstay of the community.

“What we do is more of a ministry than a job,” Thompson, 63, said, working simultaneously on a funeral spray and tabletop arrangement. “Mother and Daddy gardened, and I just really got into it as a boy. I grew up growing gardens and loving God.”

Thompson said he enjoys the floral business because it allows him to connect with others through blooms and benevolence in response to occasions ranging from homecomings and weddings to funerals and holidays.

Hawkins Flowers, surrounded by colorful curbside blooms, is at Farm-to-Market Road 14 and U.S. Highway 80. The location served as a florist under different owners for several decades before the couple purchased it three years ago.

As it sits today, the shop offers not only flowers, but also unique gifts, snack bouquets, lotions, soaps, silk arrangements, jewelry, Circle E Candles and silky-soft stuffed animals for a variety of occasions.

Ever-changing window displays generally feature a variety of cast-off items — old wooden doors and shipping pallets — repurposed in new ways.

“This is a very busy corner,” he said. “It’s a well-known stop for people. I enjoy small towns, the friendliness of the people. … They really get to know people.”

The Thompsons, married for 44 years, first met in the shoe department of a Ben Franklin store in Marshall and were instantly smitten, tying the knot about six months later in borrowed clothing with homemade bouquets.

“I guess it was love at first sight,” a grinning Mrs. Thompson, 60, said as she fashioned a spray of flowers, a puddle of petals at her feet.

It was in the early years of the couple’s marriage that Thompson decided to complete his vocational agriculture degree at Stephen F. Austin State University. Within days of graduation, he approached his wife about purchasing a small Nacogdoches florist that was for sale.

“I was eight and a half months pregnant at the time,” she said. “He just said it (owning a florist) was something he (had) always wanted to do, so we decided to do it.”

The couple quickly scrapped up the cash to complete the transaction, opening the doors on a Saturday and then racing to the hospital on Tuesday to welcome a son.

“We kept a bassinet in the flower shop,” Thompson said.

Along the way Thompson also would pursue his gift for cooking, incorporating tasty salads, sandwiches and desserts into the mix before selling the first florist and opening a second in Marshall, as well as a restaurant, the Salt Lick Ranch Steak House.

They sold out a few years ago and moved to the Hawkins area to begin a new chapter.

Florist employee Carol Harrell, who worked at the location under previous owners, was quick to join in.

“We have a lot of fun,” Mrs. Harrell said. “Hawkins is a place where everyone looks after everyone’s kids. Back in the oil boom, this was a really booming place.”

It’s much more subdued these days, she said, so people can easily get to know and care about their neighbors.

One might assume a small town florist might not do much business, but word-of-mouth and technology allows the Thompsons to fill orders placed from around the state and elsewhere in their 900-square-foot shop.

There is so much demand, the couple decided to open a second location in Gilmer at 220 W. Tyler St., which features 2,400 square feet of flower and gift opportunities, plus a small menu of treats.

Their business shows no signs of slowing.

On a recent visit to their Hawkins location, the trio was racing to fill a series of orders for an afternoon funeral while responding to deliveries and walk-in orders.

Amid the hustle-bustle, longtime customer Brenda Sharp tip-toed in to hand-select a small bouquet from the freezer. She loves the personal touch.

“For such a small community, what can you say about this place? It’s special,” she said. “I just pick out what I want … and if I call ahead, I can order to go.”

Thompson said brightening the lives of others is what the flower business is all about.

“I don’t want to retire,” he said. “I want to be cooking and working with flowers as long as I can.”