As a teacher, Deanna King (B.A.’94/H&S; M.T.’97/E) found herself looking to fill her summers off with something creative and colorful. A gig at Strawberry Fields Flowers & Finds in Richmond, Virginia, turned into an opportunity for King to grow the business she always wanted.
As a native of western New York, what drew you to Virginia and VCU?
My art teacher from high school went to VCU. I knew I wanted to go somewhere that was away from the cold weather and a real change of scenery. I had to complete a major sequence to graduate high school; mine was art and English. I spent a lot of time with my art teacher, and VCU was one of the colleges I applied to. It just all happened and fell into place. It was meant to be.
You graduated from the School of Education and taught elementary and middle school for 10 years. What led you to owning Strawberry Fields Flowers and Finds?
I cannot sit still. I did not like having the summer off. I lived in the Fan, and I saw this cute shop and I asked them if they needed help and they did. I worked here over the summer and became good friends with the owners. I mentioned that if they ever planned on selling the business to come to me first, and they did. I had wanted to own a flower shop since I was 10. My husband was extremely supportive in making this dream become a reality. He owns a business too, so he was a huge help. It took some time to figure it out, but we went for it. We are celebrating our 15-year anniversary this year.
How many VCU alumni do you employ?
My store manager, Brenna Wilson Tiller (B.S.’11/GPA), and assistant manager, Emily Mondloch (B.S.’16/MC), are alumnae. I have three other alumni who come in and help out and work when we are super busy and on holidays. So there’s six of us total. I am grateful for the amazing people I am surrounded by every day.
What is your favorite flower?
My favorite flower is the gladiolus. Most people associate them with sympathy work because its height and shape work well in large funeral arrangements. I like them because I worked at a farm market growing up and they grew gladioli. I love a huge bunch of gladioli in a vase; the orange ones are my favorite.
What is your favorite part about owning a business?
I love the creative atmosphere and energy that I am around all day. I have more freedom to get involved with charitable organizations and to be part of the community. We are so blessed to be able to donate gift certificates for flowers, plants and centerpieces for nonprofit events such as the SPCA Fur Ball, VCU Sneaker Ball, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Starry Nights Gala and the Fetch-A-Cure Gala. I also support numerous animal rescue groups like RAL, and I am on the board of Hanover Humane Society. Every chance I have to brighten someone’s day is ultimately what I want to do. I feel so happy and fulfilled being able to make this an integral part of my life.
How did VCU prepare you for this journey?
I’m still an educator; I teach and train employees. I teach workshops at the store, and we partner with local businesses like Blue Bee Cider that host our classes. I also go out in the community to do presentations for garden clubs and other organizations.
VCU is a really great place to come out of your shell especially when you are an introvert. It was so amazingly diverse compared to Webster, New York. I grew up and learned so much from the experiences I had at VCU. I was super shy and wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything on my own. I think I went to VCU for a reason: to become more independent. VCU opened up my eyes to a whole new world. It’s been really wonderful to maintain that connection with the university.
What is your favorite small business to support?
Scoop on Strawberry Street is one of my favorite places to support. I am an ice cream fanatic. If you have not had their rhubarb crisp, do yourself a favor and try it. I bring ice cream to all of my friends and family whenever they are having a difficult time in their lives. It always cheers people up because everyone loves it. I have a card [in the shop] that says “Either you like ice cream or you’re wrong.”
I try to support all my friends who own businesses. We made a nice connection with Branch & Vine because the owner, Aaron, is a VCU alumnus. I really try to support small local businesses because that’s how we all stay in business. Some of my other go-to places are Quirk Gallery, Sheppard Street Antiques, Class & Trash, Bar Solita, Tarrant’s, Kuba Kuba, 8 ½, Vitality Float Spa, Pearl’s Bake Shoppe, Chez Fouschee … I could go on…
What advice would you give new business owners who are just starting out?
Don’t give up. It takes a long time to get a business established and profitable. You have to really go all in. I do believe what you put into it, you get out of it. You have to be a lifelong learner and also continue to evolve and adapt as a business owner. I learn new things daily. I think that if you stay stagnant and set in your ways, it’s not going to work.