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Conversations with the Inspiring Mary Simmons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mary Simmons.

Mary, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Flowers have always been in the background of my life and I always knew I wanted to do something creative when I grew up. I studied English and Painting in college, but when I graduated, I didn’t know how to support myself on that. Eventually, I found myself working at a law firm and arranging flowers for friend’s events on the side–a light bulb went on. Once I realized that I wanted to be a florist, it was just a matter of having the courage to do it. I spent a good while doubting myself, but when I had my daughter it hit me that it may never happen. I didn’t want to regret anything, so I decided to go for it.

Rather than go work for someone else, I opted to start my own company so I could keep my schedule flexible. I often pause and think how crazy that decision was, I knew I could make beautiful arrangements but not how to reach clients. It’s been incredible how well it worked out, though, Persephone just grows every day. I can’t express how grateful I am for it; I’m able to spend time with my daughter, I get to be creative, and I get work with the best people (other vendors and my clients).

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
One of my favorite lines of poetry is from W.B. Yeats’ Adam’s Curse. It goes “It’s certain there is no fine thing since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring…” In plainer terms: everything worth doing is hard. I think any small business owner would agree that it’s a perpetual struggle. Starting out is especially hard on you emotionally and physically. You have to work twice as hard and can’t afford to hire any help, while at the same time you aren’t seeing the fruit of your labor yet. But once you’re established, you still have to keep working hard to maintain and continue to grow. I still consider myself at the beginning of my journey, but I’m enjoying more stability in my work now.

Some early struggles were with pricing and not knowing my value. I undercharged because honestly, I didn’t have enough experience with what it would cost me, I just let the client tell me what they wanted to pay. It’s pretty embarrassing, but I know a lot of new business owners struggle with it, especially in my industry. I had to learn the hard way and really don’t recommend it!

Other than pricing correctly, I think for young women just starting their journey, the biggest thing is the set realistic expectations and just keep going. Speak to other more experienced business owners about what starting out looked like for them. How long did it take for their business to be profitable? Did they take out loans? Was a spouse supporting them? What lessons did they learn along the way? Some people won’t want to answer, but most are happy to share their knowledge. I get asked for advice from new florists a lot so I’ve started offering one to one classes that can be tailored to your needs.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Persephone Floral Atelier story. Tell us more about it.
Persephone Floral Atelier is Chicago’s premier florist for wild and evocative design. We provide flowers for special events and editorial photo shoots. Our look is distinct, yet can easily fit into many different settings.

Our main focus is on serving bridal clients. Our couples tend to be looking for something different. They want their wedding to be beautiful and elevated, but also fun and relaxed. Creating designs that capture this mood is our sweet spot.

Our secondary focus is on designing floral arrangements for sets and publications. We have done this for wedding publications, retail shops, and interior designers.

I have built my brand and unique look around sourcing local flowers and using sustainable practices. The easy option is to use imported flowers, they are cheaper and more readily available, but it’s important to me to support local and sustainable farms. I’m proud of that! My clients may or may not be informed about the floral industry’s impact on the environment, but they enjoy discovering the unique flowers that you can only get from a local grower.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
You are in charge of your own happiness. Work can be fulfilling and bring you a lot of joy, but it’s not going to make you a complete person. You have to look inside for that! Life gets busy and as women, we often put ourselves last. Just try to remember that you can be happy (even when life is hard), but you have to make time and space for yourself in your life.

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Image Credit:
Allie Appel Photography, Christian Wilson Photography, Anna Sodziak, Red Fern Photography, Lauren Nicole Photography

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