Alba Mendez, owner of Flores by Alba is one of the Elevate Together Grant winners that took home a $10,000 grant. She describes her business as where quirky meets classy and is inspired by Mexican and Korean culture, yet budget-friendly. Her business is home-based, which started in 2018 and flourished during COVID. She designs everything from bouquets, and customized floral arrangements, to large balloon designs used on your front lawn.
How did you get started?
I started working at a flower shop on 26th street in Little Village where I worked part-time translating and cleaning. I never thought about flowers in my life other than gardening in my house. My boss taught me the flower arrangement design and I enjoyed it and learned from her but after the season started slowing down, she didn’t need me anymore. After that, I started looking for a job and I tried getting a job at Jewel, specifically in the flower department. With the little experience that I had, they gave me the opportunity to work in their flower department and I loved it there, I had so much freedom.
I took pictures of everything and posted them on social media. Then I got pregnant and I got moved to another section in the store where I didn’t have to carry heavy boxes. Eventually, I had my son, and I started working at an optical place, but then that shut down completely because of Covid. They ended up giving me a 6-week severance and I invested that money to sign up for balloon classes. Many of those classes were rescheduled or canceled, so then I started looking at YouTube and learned about balloon design there. COVID happened and yard balloon decorations were very popular since people started doing caravan celebrations for birthdays and graduations.
After that, my business took off and every weekend I had customers placing orders. That’s when I realized that this could become a great business because people liked my designs and they kept ordering from me. My husband’s friend asked if I took orders on social media and at this point, I didn’t even know how to price them. I ordered materials from Amazon and started Googling everything. I started trying new things, showing up at different venues and I had a friend that started a website where customers would book my services. I had customers in Chicago, Berwyn, and Cicero, and eventually, everything was falling into place.
The balloon business is an art-form
People often ask why I charge so much when they could be getting the same products from the dollar store. I love the dollar store and I believe that it’s efficient for some things, but not for my business. I stand behind my products and what you pay for is for the quality and for the design because I spend a lot of time creating these designs and making sure you’re getting the best quality product. It took me a lot of hard work and effort, hours and hours of training since I had to take classes and learn about the designs that I do. It’s an art form and that’s what you’re paying for because if anyone could do it, then I wouldn’t be in business.
Environmentally Friendly Flower Business
Educating our clientele to maintain the flowers alive longer is very important. We all deserve flowers and teaching our customers how to care for them is a way to encourage their future purchases. We thrive to develop one-on-one relationships with all our customers because a satisfied customer is a returning customer. We purchase from our local neighbor gardens. Our vases are locally sourced, donated, and repurposed, intended to be resourceful and eco-friendly. When time and weather permit, our product is delivered by bicycle, lessening our carbon footprint. We carry flowers from the most common to some rare flower species. We have flowers wrapped in a traditional Korean wrap and flowers bought from Latin America.
What is something you still struggle with?
Sometimes as a first-generation immigrant and being a small business owner, finding the right help or the right mentor whether it be financial advice or to guide me through to the right resources could be hard to find. I know that nowadays we have all the information in our hands but nothing tops connecting with people in person and this will always be the best way to learn and thrive. I also struggle with people taking me seriously, especially because I’m a mom and a woman. I’m a Latina and I’m younger and people are like, “oh look at her little business.” It’s not. They think it’s a side job and doubt my capabilities, but even though that makes me feel bad, I’m not giving up. I’m tired of working for other people and I want to give back to the community, have my own hours, and make my own rules.
I got the courage to apply to Berwyn Shops. Berwyn Shops: A Homegrown Project. It’s a retail incubator for the City of Berwyn designed to support emerging entrepreneurs, artisans, and makers who are committed to taking their businesses to the next level. [It will be located at 6931 Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, IL, and will feature twelve 12’x15′ cottage-style shops. The shops will be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June to mid-December.]
I did the business plan and a presentation for Berwyn Shops in front of 12 jurors and I was super scared, I was really nervous, but God was on my side. I was chosen to have my shop starting in June. This will give me the opportunity to get out there and not be stuck at home which will be great to put my name out there.
Find yourself a support system
A lot of people don’t have a team, I see a lot of my friends that are single and don’t have that support from their families. I feel that this should push you to find a community of like-minded individuals. Honestly, with the popups, I feel like it’s a community within itself, so you’re never alone and whenever you need something, someone is always there to help you. I’ve met a lot of friends who I didn’t even know a year ago and a lot of times those are your biggest supporters, strangers, instead of your own family. So don’t even worry if your family doesn’t support you because most likely it will be a stranger that purchases your merchandise or services.
Elevate grant winner
A week after landing a spot at the Berwyn Shops, IHCC notified me that I had won the $10,000 grant prize with Elevate Together. This will allow me to finally get the tablet that I need to have my POS system installed so that I can take orders. Plus, the rest of the money will help me with the down payment of a storefront that my husband and I are planning to buy instead of renting or leasing a space. I’m really grateful for winning this grant money because I know it will help me grow my business.
Working with IHCC can help you grow your business
I’ve never worked with a chamber of commerce before. I read about the grant on Instagram. I ran into this because I saw a post on Instagram. I looked at it and I fit the criteria and I’m not going to lie, I almost didn’t do it. I wasn’t feeling well that week and I was so busy and nothing was falling into place. I was running back and forth and it was around 7 p.m. and I just decided to do it. I put some lipstick on, I went into my room and I decided to do a cute Tik Tok, which is trending right now. Silvia Bonilla, Illinois Small Business Development Center Director who picked the grant winners said she liked the video because it was on Tik Tok. It was a lot of information to fit in under one minute but it worked and I am so grateful that I did it. I am also looking forward to the counseling in addition to the $10,000 grant, which I know will benefit my business.
Follow Flores by Alba on Facebook and Instagram @floresbyalba.
Check out her video application here.