It’s February, love is in the air, and the florist industry is gearing up for its busiest time of the year. On a recent episode of Elite Achievement, I decided to stop, smell the roses, and learn from Itika Oldwine, owner of Oldvine Florals in Los Angeles and Oldvine Fragrance. I’m excited to share some of our conversation, including what it is like to design floral arrangements for A-list events and celebrities, how the pandemic required her to revolutionize her business model, and what it’s like to launch a second business as a new mama.
I start our conversation by asking Itika what inspired her to begin her floral business, Oldvine Florals.
“I was inspired to start my own business when I needed to get a new job,” Itika says. “I was leaving one job, going into another, and speaking with my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband. He definitely earned that title because he promoted the thought of being an entrepreneur. He was not someone that ever really believed in working in corporate America – working your way up and getting that 3% salary increase every year if you get the right feedback from your boss. He thought that I had the experience and also the personality. He said, hey, why don’t you start your own business? And I thought to myself, hmm, maybe if I have a little help, like, would you be down to take care of the bills if I can’t pay them? And he said, yes! That’s really what inspired me to start my own business.”
I find it fascinating that entrepreneurship wasn’t on Itika’s mind, and it was her husband who planted the seed. I know many people want to be entrepreneurs and get so worried about the financial aspect. By being able to ask for what Itika needed, it gave her the space to launch her business. Itika agrees that many times, being an entrepreneur is wondering how to take care of yourself when a check isn’t coming in every two weeks anymore.
This is one of the challenges I faced in my own business, moving from a corporate role where you get paid regularly. It’s learning to manage the ebb and flow, and thinking about money and how it’s earned differently.
“It’s very different,” Itika confirms. “It’s also having patience because, in the beginning, I wasn’t certain where the money would be coming from and how much would come in. And if I was charging the right amount, if I would have return clients, or if it would be a total flop. It became really a waiting game until we got some level of consistency. And it’s like, okay, this is how much I can expect to make monthly or annually, but it takes a little while to get to that space.”
I know there are a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners who are very challenged with that belief in consistency. I ask Itika what inspired her to keep persevering during those inconsistent times.
“You know, every time I was like, nobody’s ordering flowers, then I would get a big order,” Itika explains. “Or nobody’s calling me, and then I would get a call from the Soho House. So, I feel like if you listen to the universe and you obey, you know, what is happening energetically, I think you can see that I’m making progress. It might not be at the level that I thought it would be. Or I might see a few hiccups here and there, but there really is consistent progress.”
I think that’s incredibly important. When I first started my business, there was a lot of pushing and control. And that was the way that I learned how to work, how to grow a business, how to achieve goals. Part of my growth journey is learning to embrace the flow, trust my intuition, lean into the universe, and blend both styles together.
“I would celebrate what you’re doing,” says Itika. “Because as high achievers, it can be very difficult to respond to something outside of you, or to allow things outside of you to be in control. You’re like, I’m a high achiever. I have to make these benchmarks. I can do it. But then you’re not doing it. And you’re like, hey, I have to look outside of myself for help. And sometimes that help is just pushing this energy force through to get you to where you need to go.”
I’m curious to learn more about what inspires Itika as she creates these beautiful masterpieces. I ask her how often she relies on energy and intuition to inspire floral designs. Itika explains that it’s all intuition. As a creative, she follows what she feels.
“I went, and I bought flowers today for several clients,” Itika says. “And it’s really looking at the flowers, touching the flowers, looking at colors, and having this creative experience. It’s very tactile, so you’re touching, and then obviously you’re smelling, and imagining what it’s going to look like in the end. And it’s kind of fun because it usually turns out pretty beautiful.”
I love that we’re in Los Angeles, where there’s a lot of glitz and glamor. We’ve got Hollywood! So, I ask Itika what it is like to design for A-list events and celebrities.
“It is pretty cool,” Itika begins. “It’s super validating, you know, that people who are on a certain level are trusting you to represent them. I mean, if we have a celebrity sending flowers, they’re essentially trusting me to present a gift on their behalf to this very special someone, sight unseen. They don’t say, hey, for the most part, send me a picture before you send it out, or I’m going to come and check it out before it goes out the door. They’re really trusting that this item will be beautiful, and they’re spending a premium. So, it’s very validating, and it makes you feel like, oh my gosh, I’ve done it. I’ve arrived in a lot of ways because this is the top here in L.A. essentially. So, it feels awesome.”
Trust is such a critical component of many aspects of business, and I ask Itika how she builds trust with her clients and customers.
“I think one big piece of it, which people say in business, is when you’re looking for people to fund your small business, they are really funding you, they really believe in you,” Itika says. “And I think that first and foremost, I know that people depend on me. And so, I personally don’t want to let them down. And that is where everything starts from. It’s my own reputation. It’s being able to look at that person and say, I did the best I could for you. It’s promising that if you hire me to do your wedding, you’re going to be happy. And sometimes things happen. I have not always satisfied every client, but it’s about going behind that situation and asking, how can I make it better? What can I do? Should I resend that arrangement? Heck, do you want a refund? Whatever I can do to make you, to make my client happy.”
It sounds like events are a big part of Itika’s business. And we went through a period in time where all of that changed. The pandemic forced us to think differently about events, and many were canceled. I ask Itika how she revolutionized her business during the pandemic. She explains that she actually introduced a strategy she had wanted to try but hadn’t previously been able to do.
“I really wanted to do more gifting, more arrangements that are sent every day, whether it’s sympathy, whether it’s thinking of you, I love you – I wanted to do more gifting. But we were so inundated with events. We’re in L.A., so we’re getting everybody from places like Netflix, Facebook, and Nike hiring us. And I just never really focused on those one-on-one kind of gifting experiences with flowers. When the pandemic happened and events shut down, I was like, how am I going to stay above water? And I said I need to let everybody know that we are also a gifting service. So, for the pandemic, people started to call on us because suddenly they couldn’t see their mom and wanted to send her something to tell her they were thinking of her. You know whether you want to celebrate an anniversary and can’t go to dinner, or can’t go on that trip to Cabo that you do every year. You can say you love your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend with flowers. So, we really started promoting using our flowers to bring people together at a time when it was really needed.”
I ask Itika if her second business, Oldvine Fragrance, also came out of the pandemic or if it was something that she had been working on prior to 2020. She explains that it did come out of the pandemic in many ways. She wasn’t looking to expand into another industry, but there was a movement to help small black-owned businesses. Because of that, they were approached by a company called Firmenich, one of the largest scent makers, which led to that unique opportunity to move into perfume. This leads me to ask if she’s done anything differently with Oldvine Fragrance than with Oldvine Florals.
“What is different is we are now expanding outside of Los Angeles,” Itika confirms. “So, we want to be in everyone’s home from L.A. to Liverpool, if we could. But how do you do that? I don’t have a lot of training in this. So, I’m trying to hire some people that are really good at it. And we’re getting there, getting a sales team. With Oldvine Florals, I really leaned into my friends and family, my network, former colleagues, telling them, hey, I’m opening a floral business here in L.A. If you need flowers, I’m your girl. So that was very one-to-one. I was able to call people, email people, text them, and show up with flowers on people’s birthdays. But with fragrance, it’s a larger push, so we’ll see how it goes.”
What Itika has said is such a powerful message. Because I know before I launched my own business, I would follow other small business owners, entrepreneurs, and I would look at their Instagram posts or their ad campaigns and think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s just not the case. It’s a lot of trust in your gut, testing things out, learning from mistakes, and doing things differently. And that’s, I think, both the blessing and the curse of entrepreneurship.
“In the biggest way, it’s a blessing,” responds Itika. “Because what do they say? Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat forever. I’m learning so much, and I’ll always have this information. And, I mean, obviously, failure is not an option for me. So, we’re going to get to what we have to get to to make sure that everything is successful.”
Starting two companies, I’m sure Itika has faced some failures and challenges beyond just the pandemic. I ask her to share some of the other challenges she has faced and overcome when launching her business.
“One of the challenges, honestly, has been with financing things,” Itika explains. “I was able to overcome them in a lot of ways, but there are still a lot of challenges. People say, oh, you can get a small business loan. But there are a lot of entrepreneurs like myself that may not have great credit or might not have had a certain amount of money that they require you to have sitting in the bank for months before they’ll give you the loan. You might not have a cosigner, so there are many non-traditional ways that you have to go about raising money to support your business. I would say fundraising, raising money, and crowdfunding are challenges that you have to overcome because you do need money to support your business. If you want to expand, hire employees, do marketing, have PR – everything costs money. So, that would be a challenge that I would definitely list. And I guess the other challenge would be the competition. You really need to know who your competition is and how to set yourself apart. L.A. is such a big city. There’s room for tons of floral designers here, but I was very impatient. I want to know who the competition is, what they’re doing, and what sets them apart from me. And then, how do I set myself apart from them so that I can get my piece of the pie.”
I ask Itika if she has ever found herself distracted or even distraught thinking about her competition. There are many coaches out there, and I will fall victim to comparing myself. I’m really working on this abundance mentality that there are enough of the right clients out there for all of us. So, I’m curious if Itika has found herself in a similar place as she understands her competition. She says that yes, it is often difficult to know that there are certain events, like the Grammys, that she would love to do but are a challenge because the organizers have their trusted florist they have been working with forever.
I encourage her that we are putting it out there in the universe for someone from the Grammys to hear about her desire and make magic happen! I am curious how Itika manages her time with so many things, including being an entrepreneur, running two businesses, being married, and being a mama to a young child.
“It’s really a juggle,” says Itika. “But I will say, I have an extremely supportive husband. And I have an extremely supportive group of friends that are here locally. My family is actually from the San Francisco Bay area, so I don’t have a lot of family members here, unfortunately. But I have an extremely supportive group that if at any time I need to vent or need someone to step in, even at my store, they will help me if I ask. I have girlfriends that have literally become florists because they’re my friends. Like, literally, there is no other reason in the world that they’re designing flowers, except for the fact that I decided to create a floral company, and I need help at the last minute. And so, I think I’m not stretched thin, because I also ask for help. And I think a lot of times, people don’t ask. They have this assumption that they will be bothering people or people aren’t going to do it or aren’t going to do it well, but I asked for a lot of help. And so honestly, I’m not stretched as thin as one may think.”
That is such an incredible message. I know there have been so many times in my own business journey where I thought, oh, I should ask for some help. But no, I want to look like I have it all together. And I love how straight up and honest Itika is to say, ask for help! Which leads me to ask what her future goals are for Oldvine Florals and Oldvine Fragrance.
“Honestly, Oldvine Florals has done more than I could have ever imagined in such a short time,” Itika begins. “We started in my kitchen in 2017. We went into our own space in 2018 in downtown L.A., and now we have everyone from Beyoncé and JAY-Z to Netflix, Google, and Amazon ordering from us. So, the next thing I would love to do is expand to another city. Our type of design, and the type of service that we give the people that we’ve been able to touch, I would love to do that outside of L.A. And for Oldvine Fragrance, we are making history. I am the first African American woman and floral designer who has her own luxury fragrance. This is definitely bigger than me. We have the fragrance in a bottle, and now we’re moving into stores. I want people to know that if you have an idea, you’re passionate about something, you work really hard, and surround yourself with great people, then whatever you want to accomplish, you can do.”
I close by asking Itika where people can find more about her businesses, and she suggests online at oldvineflorals.com and oldvinefragrance.com, along with social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She also goes another step to say that they pick up their phone! So, if you want to design something and talk about it with a real, live person, the phone number for Oldvine Florals is 213-212-4760.
And with that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned, and identifying your priorities for the next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.