By Kristin Schultz
Some people choose their careers; for others, their careers choose them.
In a sense, Jo-Ann Mingo of Flowers by Jo-Ann on upper Union Street, was destined to own a flower shop. Starting with her childhood on her family’s farm in Maine to managing and buying for wholesale and mass market outfits, she has had just about every job in the industry.
Now she brings her experience and creative flare to her retail shop, where she has spent the last two years providing the floral backdrops and centerpieces for life’s events.
“We just finished Mother’s Day deliveries,” Mingo said. “Prom season has started and will go through the middle of June.”
Mingo has been in the floral business for more than 30 years, but her farming and horticultural roots reach into her childhood. Her father was a farmer in eastern Maine and grew lowbush blueberries, worked his cranberry bogs and grew Christmas trees. The family also had a large garden that Mingo tended.
“Nana grew flowers,” Mingo said. “We always had fresh flowers in the house.”
She moved to Massachusetts, where she operated a large garden center and flower shop that included three greenhouses. She grew bedding plants, annuals, vegetables, perennials, herbs, hanging baskets and more.
She then moved to Albany where she had family and worked for the next five years as a floral manager in the area.
As she pondered getting back into business for herself, she started looking for space and it was her boyfriend who directed her to the strip of shops on Union.
“There was space available, so we started doing research,” she said. “We watched foot traffic at different times of the day and week. We knew the location would be conducive to the wedding industry, so we went for it.”
Flowers by Jo-Ann is across the street from Ferri Formals and Bridals and Northeastern Fine Jewelry.
“Marylu [owner of Ferri Formals and Bridals] refers business to me,” said Mingo. “The business owners on this street are good people. We are collaborative and really support one another.”
As a new business, she had no summer wedding orders on her books so opening on Mother’s Day and in time for prom season meant immediate cash flow and a better shot at success.
Her boyfriend, a contractor, spruced up the space and Mingo set up computers, installed software and ordered inventory.
Now, with two years under her belt, Mingo says business is good, and she is experiencing incremental growth. Her greatest challenge, she said, is figuring out the best way to use and leverage social media. She placed a Facebook ad for a Valentine’s Day special and said it worked out well. She also tries to tweak her website, keeping it up to date.
Flowers by Jo-Ann is part of three floral networks: Teleflora.com, flowershopnetwork.com and 1-800-Flowers. When a customer goes online and orders an arrangement for delivery in Schenectady, Flowers by Jo-Ann is one of the local shops that will fill the order, creating the exact arrangement the customer ordered.
Her first love, and best talent, according to Diane Hernandez — one of her employees — is designing the arrangements.
“I like to design and create my own arrangements,” said Mingo, who took floral design classes but is mostly self-taught.
She describes her style as asymmetric and unpredictable, non-traditional and modern, incorporating texture into each piece.
“It’s fine to order online,” she said. “But I like it when people call directly and I can ask questions and talk to them and create a more personal arrangement.”
As prom season ramps up, Mingo said she is seeing trends emerge. Instead of a velcro strap that holds a wrist corsage, customers are opting for a piece of jewelry with pearls or rhinestones that can be worn long after the flowers have been dried and put on a shelf.
“It’s a nice keepsake of the evening,” she said.
The shop also offers stem flowers for the Pinterest-inclined do-it-yourselfers. Customers can come in and select individual flowers to create a corsage at home.
Mingo takes great care to make sure her flowers are top-notch and keep their beauty as long as possible.
“She has years of knowledge and respects her product,” said Hernandez. “She is friendly, accommodating and creative. She puts a lot of time into the flowers.”
It is the time, care and creativity that Mingo hopes will keep business blooming for years to come.
Flowers by Jo-Ann is at 1613 Union St. and can be reached via phone at 518-280-3759 or online at flowersbyjo-ann.com or on Facebook at flowersbyjoann.