North Woods Bloom
Like a garden filled with flowers, a small business needs nurturing to grow and survive.
That’s the message Andi Gretzinger, founder of North Wood Blooms, shares with students in the entrepreneurship training program hosted by Langlade County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC) in cooperation with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The series of classes, made possible in part through continuing support from The Suick Foundation, is designed to teach potential business owners how to use their time, money, and resources wisely. Gretzinger is among its most successful graduates. The next class will get underway in spring. Watch the EDC website at langladecountyedc.org for the orientation date.
“I really don’t think I could have done it without the knowledge I learned through the program,” Gretzinger, who completed the nine-week class in 2019, says. “It gave me the ability to know what questions to ask as I moved forward.”
“Andi is a true entrepreneur and continues to innovate and grow her ideas,” Angie Close, LCEDC executive director, said. “She has become a mentor to other entrepreneurs by giving back and sharing her trials and successes with the students. She is a motivator and continues to wow all of us here at LCEDC and the SBDC.”
Gretzinger received another boost from the Main Street Bounceback Program, also supported through EDC. That provided a $10,000 grant that helped her transition from her basement studio to an office, design, and display facility. The building, at 630 Industrial Park Road, previously housed Suick Lure Company, which moved to much larger quarters in the former Spring Valley School north of Antigo. The space “went from very masculine to very feminine very quickly,” Gretzinger said.
“I am not just a one woman show anymore,” Gretzinger stressed. “It’s not just a hobby or side gig. We are a company here to serve our clientele and are now able to make an even bigger impact than we could ever dream of from the basement.”
The seed that blossomed into North Wood Blooms was planted in 2016 when Gretzinger was introduced to wood flowers after a friend ordered the product for her wedding. Wood flowers were also featured on the television program, “Shark Tank,” which brought increased exposure to the process. Gretzinger, a formally trained artist and licensed art teacher for the Antigo school district, was intrigued.
“As an art teacher, I was always on the lookout for new mediums to work in,” she said. “As soon as I saw wood flowers in person, I knew I wanted to add them to my arsenal of crafting skills. I have always had the inherent desire to create, so as a self-proclaimed craft-a-holic, this was no different.”
Then, her sister became engaged.
“I knew I could make her wedding florals as a gift, and she accepted,” Gretzinger said. “Prepping for her wedding meant a lot of trial and error. There weren’t many blogs, videos, or tutorials to reference because wood flowers were just starting to gain traction in the U.S. I started posting photos to my personal Facebook page and many of my friends and family began ordering small gifts and arrangements.”
A few months before her sister’s wedding day, another friend lost her wedding florist and Gretzinger was brought in to create her florals as well.
“Within two weeks of one another, I watched two North Wood Blooms brides walk down the aisle carrying wood flower bouquets made by me.” Gretzinger said. “I had an instant portfolio, and the rest is history.”
Gretzinger’s “shop” moved from her dining room table, to a guest room, and finally enveloped her home’s basement.
“My husband gave up his basement area where he was planning to put a pool table,” Gretzinger said. Later, she took over even more of the space.
Her husband, Dillion, was supportive in other ways as well. A financial service representative, he stressed the need to learn the business end of entrepreneurship, as well as the artistic.
“He said he couldn’t even talk to me about managing the business unless we could speak the same language,” Gretzinger said. “If I was going to be serious about moving forward, I had to educate myself…I was a new mom, a new teacher and a new business owner all at the same time.”
As Gretzinger completed the entrepreneurship training, she realized North Wood Blooms could be something more than an ancillary business. As well as financial terminology, she learned to write an acceptable and realistic business plan, make connections with markets and suppliers, and strategies to market her product
“It moved me from just doing designs to determining what I wanted to do with a business,” she said. “Making pretty things is just part of it. I had to ask myself what my business stood for besides just being a product that I made. I knew what I wanted after that making that business plan.”
As the world wrestled with the COVID pandemic, Gretzinger found herself burned out from teaching. She was, she recalled, spending time in the classroom with other people’s children while paying for childcare for her own. That didn’t seem to make sense, so she crunched the numbers.
“I was able to do the math with the knowledge I learned in the class,” she said. “I knew I could do it, so I decided to take a leap of faith.”
In February 2020, she resigned her teaching post to focus time on her family and grow her business.
“It was like, ‘boom, I chose the right path!’ I was gifted time with my family,” she said. “It was a blessing.”
First with her enlarged basement location, and now with her offsite design space, and coupled with her ability to work full-time, business soared. North Wood Blooms posted growth of 456 percent between 2019 and 2021.
“When I really gave it my all, it paid off,” she said.
The medium that is key to North Wood Blooms is Sola wood, made from the root of the tapioca plant, also known as the shola plant. The plants, easily grown in rice paddies and waterlogged lands common in India and Thailand, have a spongy, supple, and lightweight core.
“Shola is a lot like balsa wood in the way that it is so light, but it is much more flexible and softer,” Gretzinger explained. “The root of the plant is shaved into rolls which then become the sheets of wood that the flowers are made from. It is a renewable resource and a natural material.”
Gretzinger imports sheets of the wood to create her custom flowers, supplemented by unpainted blossoms made by artisans in Thailand and India.
“All of my flowers are handmade,” Gretzinger said. “I personally hand-make special requests that I can’t order wholesale because you can’t source every flower. I have wholesalers that I order handmade flowers from. Many of these come from overseas and are shipped to the United States where they are then distributed to wood florists like me.”
Whether she makes her own blooms or uses those imported from overseas, she handles the painting and stemming of the blossoms and the individual arrangements.
“We are a lot like a real florist,” she said. “We take materials and use them to create one-of-a-kind bouquets and arrangements. I pride myself on stunning color schemes and arrangements that are not only beautiful, but unique. I always request inspiration photos for large events, but I will never copy the design of another florist and believe in the artistry of floral arranging,”
One important difference is longevity. With proper care, wooden flowers can last for years and even through generations, becoming family heirlooms.
Prices start under $20 for small displays and single stems and move upward for larger bouquets and arrangements, complete weddings, and large arches.
“We are very comparable to fresh flowers depending on what we are creating,” Gretzinger said.
The business continues to grow and evolve. North Wood Blooms is completely booked out for weddings through 2023. It sells individual arrangements through seasonal collection launches which are released at a specific date and time listed on the website and will expand to offer a variety of permanent decor collections in January. That will make pieces available to purchase at any time for the gifting and giving needs of clients as life events pop up for congratulations, condolences, housewarmings, birthdays, anniversaries and so much more. Gretzinger is also beginning to offer do-it-yourself classes and kits, sharing the artistry that goes into creating one-of-a-kind wooden floral displays.
“We’re happy to share the artistry and fun,” she said.
North Wood Blooms also participates in February’s Random Acts of Kindness Week, inviting people and businesses to sponsor single stemmed flowers that are donated to those who go above and beyond in the community. In 2022, Gretzinger created 1,274 stems, each sponsored for $5. She hoped to do the same or more in 2023, with the focus on healthcare workers along with residents and staff of local assisted living facilities. Stems will also be sponsored for education staff during Teacher Appreciation Week.
Like a garden path, Gretzinger’s journey to creating her own, successful business has meandered. But she remains true to that mission statement she developed in that entrepreneurship class back in 2019.
Flowers bring people together and I am in the memory-making business,” she said. “My mission is to spread beauty and joy through wood flowers.”