BABE #111: ASHLEA MCCOOL BLONDEL, Owner @ The Little Flower Bunch
Ashlea is an absolute gem. We met just like every other millennial businesses owner does - via Instagram - and eventually ended up then hanging out on my living room floor, eating burritos and swapping life stories. I could talk for days about what a genuinely lovely human and friend she is, but I'll start here: she has a heart of gold, and a business concept (and amibiton) to match. Little Flower Bunch is changing the game in Jacksonville, and Ashlea is the brains, hands and hustle behind it all. Thanks for chatting with us, lady. You are certainly a BWH.
Babe you admire and why?
At the risk of sounding cliche, I would honestly have to say that all the babes in my life, spread out among friends and family alike, are the women I admire. I feel pretty blessed with the women I have in my circle and each of them truly brings something beautifully amazing to the table. There are pieces of each one of them I aspire to be and I hope that maybe, just maybe, by spending time with each of them, some of their magic babe-dust will make its way to me.
How do you spend your free time?
Chatting with loved ones, sampling any and every dessert around town, lounging at the beach, napping, reading and journaling. Does ending up down a YouTube rabbit hole count, too? Asking for a friend.
Must-have item in your purse?
My phone charger. As the owner of a delivery-based business (and a person who’s hopeless with directions), if my phone dies while I’m out and about delivering, I’m toast—and not just the kind of toast that can have the burned bits scraped off. I would be that completely blackened toast with no hope of recovery.
Go-to coffee order?
My husband is from Australia, so we spend quite a lot of time over there. My go-to order in that coffee-crazed country is a flat white, but stateside I’m currently loving lavender lattes.
Favorite beauty item?
Under-eye concealer. Them bags ain’t gonna cover themselves, am I right?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Oh, I would go all out! I’m talkin’ a giant steak (cooked medium), a side of truffle mac and cheese, and potatoes in every form. I would follow that up with some fried cheesecake, gooey chocolate brownies and warm apple pie with sugary-sweet vanilla ice cream. There wouldn’t be a green thing in sight!
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Kristen Bell. She just seems like a genuine, down-to-earth gal who could simultaneously make me laugh, give some solid advice and lead us in a sing-along of all my favorite Disney tunes. Literal dream come true.
Shameless plug: my ultimate favorite musician is the one and only Ben Blondel (aka my husband) who plays under the name Death and a Cure. I could be a little biased, but I think his music is truly poignant and he’s got such smooth vocals while also being crazy-skilled with that guitar!
“Zoolander” for a laugh, “A Little Princess” for a cry and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for all those moments in-between.
Tell us about your hustle:
I am the proud owner of The Little Flower Bunch, a boutique floral company in Jacksonville, FL. We specialize in a single daily bunch that’s handcrafted each morning, then delivered around town that afternoon. I come up with the “bunch of the day” simply based on what’s available at our local floral wholesaler each morning, meaning that every day there’s something different on offer. As the owner (and currently sole full-time employee) I create the daily bunches, manage the logistics of deliveries, keep on top of the emails and orders, coordinate with my delivery drivers, answer phone calls and inquires, and do a few of the deliveries myself. I also manage the business social media pages, website, finances, marketing and community relations.
What does your typical workday look like?
The beautiful thing about my workday is that although there’s some routine to it, you never truly know what the day will hold. I’m up around 6:45 a.m. and will start most mornings at the floral wholesaler, picking out the blooms and greenery that jump out at me. I then head to my home workshop where I create the bunch of the day, snap a picture, and post what’s on offer on our social media and website. This is when orders officially open for the day! Once orders begin to bounce in, I start prepping the rest of the bunches, monitoring the orders and organizing/coordinating the delivery logistics. I squeeze in some breakfast and lunch, along with a cup or two of coffee to keep me fueled—all of which is typically consumed while peeling petals and cutting stems. The afternoons are spent delivering, attending meetings or catching up on all things admin. My workday usually ends between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., but I sneak in a few more emails after dinner.
When and how did you get the idea for LFB? What has the journey been like?
The idea was inspired by a similar business I saw while living in Australia. I quickly fell in love with the concept of an affordable, simple, delivered daily bunch and knew I needed to bring it to Jacksonville. I really started thinking seriously about opening Little Flower Bunch at the end of 2016, and, after months of dreaming and planning, made it a reality in February of 2017. The journey has been incredible, filled with many wonderful challenges and victories alike. I definitely would say that for all of the moments that feel like you’re battling uphill while starting a new business, there have been so many more moments of encouragement, support and joy along the way.
Have you always had a love for florals? Where do you think that stems from? (Pun intended.)
First up, 10 points for the pun. And second, yes! I’ve always had a healthy heaping of love for flowers. From picking “flowers” (a.k.a. weeds I thought were flowers) when I was younger to trying my hand at rearranging grocery store bouquets as I got older, they have always been something that held a special place in my heart. I can’t pinpoint when my love affair with pretty blooms began, but I do know that I’ve always been captivated by nature and the beauty it parades daily.
Similarly, what's your plant knowledge like now as opposed to before you started Little Flower Bunch?
Well, let’s just say, I looked back at some of my older Instagram posts from the start of Little Flower Bunch the other day and realized I totally called certain flowers by the wrong name. For a long time—repeatedly. But you know what? I’m embracing it! I have learned so much about greenery and flowers since I started this little business of mine, and I’m totally okay with the fact that I didn’t quite have it all figured out in the beginning.
How do you juggle the day-to-day duties your hustle requires?
I juggle it with a little bit of clumsiness, a lot of grace and a good amount of patience. Not every moment is picture-perfect, but I strive to become more and more efficient with every passing day. I block out certain hours in my schedule for specific tasks (emails, quotes, invoices, arranging, etc.) and try not to multitask as I find it doesn’t fully allow me to focus. It’s challenging at times to wear so many different hats as a business owner, but I am beyond grateful for my amazing customers who have been so loyal, patient and kind while I figure it all out. As tiring as it can be, I really do enjoy getting to be both a florist and a marketer, an accountant and a customer service rep. Balancing the many different aspects of a small business truly does create such a depth to my experience and a richness to my role.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I feel lucky to be a woman in the community that I’m in. There are so many fellow girl bosses in Jacksonville who have rallied around me to support, encourage and push. There’s an underlying bond that’s there—a nonverbal we’re in this together, if you will. The women in this community are strong and fearless, but also vulnerable and kind, and I can’t believe I get to be in the mix of things.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
A lot of people think floral work is glamorous. Although the end result is always quite swoon-worthy, the process is often a messy one. If you were a fly on the wall while I was making my daily bunches, you would see piles of leaves on the table, a tornado of torn petals everywhere, cut stems on the floor and a cup or two of half-finished coffee laying around. Glamorous this job is not, but rewarding and life-giving it is.
What’s something anyone wanting to start a business should know?
No matter how many Instagram “courses” tout it, rarely are people an overnight success, or hardly ever can you grow your social media following to 10,000 in a day (unless you’re paying for those followers!) Growth and success will take time—and that’s okay. Have patience, don’t lose hope, and hustle your little butt off to make things happen. If you’re putting in 110 percent, there’s no way success won’t follow.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Ever heard of impostor syndrome? It’s a very real fear that you’ll be perceived as a fake or fraud. When I first started out, I had to work hard to fight that feeling. Because I’m self-taught, I often felt like I wasn’t worth it. When I made my first sale my draw dropped because I couldn’t believe someone would actually want to purchase my arrangements. Months into the business I still had to shake feelings of not being “good enough” or “talented enough.” Surrounding myself with people who speak truth (both constructive and uplifting) into my life was super important for this. I’m also slowly learning how to value myself and truly appreciate what I bring to the table.
How much of your everyday work involves using creativity versus logistics or business?
I would definitely say this is a 50/50 split. Although so much of my time is spent designing flower bunches and coming up with creative new ideas, another significant chunk of time is spent keeping up with all of the logistics and admin aspects that make said creative work possible.
What makes Little Flower Bunch stand out from other local floral businesses?
Little Flower Bunch fits nicely into a cozy little niche of the market here in Jacksonville. Rather than offering a wide selection of arrangements, we offer only one bespoke flower bunch a day that changes based on what’s available at the wholesaler that particular morning. We only make a certain number of bunches per day, so when they sell out, they sell out! Every bunch is same-day delivery guaranteed, and although the bunch is a little smaller than what you would find in other florist shops, it’s a little more on the affordable side. Because we only focus on one type of arrangement a day, we’re able to fully dedicate and funnel all our time and creative energy into it.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite thing by far is my daily early-morning trips to the floral wholesaler, while my least favorite aspect is the accounting side of things. Props to accountants, because when I open my laptop to start working on business finances, it takes all my mental energy to stay focused.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
Customer service has been a passion of mine ever since my days of working at The Ritz Carlton. That passion has certainly bubbled over into this business venture, and I would say it’s got to be my biggest strength. I will go to the ends of the earth and back again to make sure my clients and customers are 100 percent happy.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
There are so many amazing women doing incredible things in the floristry field. I seriously feel as if I have a different flower crush every week. I’m currently obsessed with The Dainty Lion out of San Diego; everything about her style, technique and the personality that shines through her work resonates with me big time.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
On a flower-related note, my dream would be to have several Little Flower Bunch locations spread out across the South. This would afford me the chance to take on a more broad, oversight type of roll and would allow me to delve into my passions of mentoring, teaching and leading. On a totally non-flower-related note, I’d love to be a mystery shopper for high-end hotels, restaurants and spas. An inquiring mind (aka me) wants to know how one would go about securing this type of gig.
What does success look like to you?
Being able to look at my life and know I’ve helped make the world a little brighter and people’s lives a little happier by the work I do and the words I say.
How do you find a work-life balance?
I don’t even know if a true work-life balance is possible when it comes to owning your own business, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Having people in my life hold me accountable (literally taking the laptop from my hands) is a big help. That and planning little day or weekend trips to force myself to turn off and slow down keeps me from turning into a rolled up, hunched over, stress ball.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
I’m a verbal processor, so when I’m stressed there’s nothing I love more than grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting away with a friend. Naps, warm baths with Lush products and glass of wine, getting lost in a book and taking some time to be with nature also help when I need a breather.
What’s next for you?
I can’t wait to start hiring on some helping hands, and I’ve recently been dreaming about moving into a shared workspace with someone. No brick-and-mortar plans for me at the moment, but who knows where the future will lead.
How can Babes Who Hustle help you succeed?
Babes Who Hustle is a truly amazing platform for any and every babe out there. By keeping up with stories from hustlin’ women across the world, reading amazing interviews and insights into the work of others and combing through beautifully written blog posts, BWH is a daily inspiration to me. By continuing on doing what you’re doing, you give some brightness into a world that can sometimes be a little dark.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
In business and life alike, there will be losses and there will be gains. Remember to not count one greater than the other. A loss doesn’t knock you down five notches and a gain doesn’t necessarily elevate you up five, either. Take the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet. Celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. When a failure comes along (because inevitably it will), don’t shy away from it—stare it straight in the face. Allow yourself to feel those emotions that come with a loss, and when you’re ready, figure out a way around it. Allow that moment to refine you, make you stronger rather than weaker. You’ve got this, girl! You were made for it.
In partnership with: StringStrangStrung
Owned and operated by Brandy Brong, StringStrangStrung is a modern string art and decor company right here in Jacksonville, FL. Check out our interview with Brandy here, browse the collection here, and use offer code 'BWH15' at checkout for 15% off your purchase!