How Passion and Creativity Fueled Teneka Williams to Open Royal Petals ATL

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.

From professional librarian to small business owner, our next guest is an advocate for accessibility and inclusion. Joining Bridget in studio today is Teneka Williams, owner of Royal Petals ATL.

Flower arrangement by Royal Petals ATL via Facebook

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Teneka, thank you so much for joining us today.

Teneka Williams:
Thank you so much for having me. This is great.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I touched on your background just a second ago.

Teneka Williams:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
But it’s so different from what you’re doing now, so talk to us about your background a little bit.

Teneka Williams:
Okay. So I was a librarian for 15 years with the state of Georgia. I worked for the Library of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I was a distribution manager, and it was great, I love librarianship. That is my first love, but just like everything else, things changed. My children getting older, I wanted more control of work-life balance and time, and I wanted to express my creativity. So I went to telling stories in a vase.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Very nice.

Teneka Williams:
That’s how I like to say, they actually kind of correlate.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now what inspired you to become a florist?

Teneka Williams:
Okay. So my husband is a master gardener and I give him credit for lots of things, but I have to give him total credit for this. He is amazing. Our front yard is breathtaking. People drive from all over town to see it. And I’ve helped him over the years, we’ve grown dahlias together. We’ve grown things together, but I have to say that he’s cultivated in me, just a love of flowers.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Teneka Williams:
And there was a need in my community. I live in the Southwest side of Atlanta, and it used to be lots of florists. There was Jones Flowers on Cascade, there were several florists around. They’ve aged out and closed the businesses, and so we didn’t have a floral shop on our side of town. And I have nothing against Kroger flowers, but at the same time I wanted to do something that really spoke for the city of Atlanta and filled a need in the Southwest side.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. And if you go on Teneka’s website, you’ll see that the floral arrangements are, they have really cool names that are all dedicated to Atlanta.

Teneka Williams:
Yes, yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Landmarks and things like that. The 404, Dem’ Peaches.

Teneka Williams:
Yes, yes, Dem’ Peaches.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
They’re very creative and they’re great. They’re beautiful arrangements. And let’s talk a little bit about your location. You’re in iVillage, which is a project by Invest Atlanta.

Teneka Williams:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Can you talk to us about that space and how it’s helped you?

Teneka Williams:
Oh yes. This space has been great. The interesting thing about the day that I literally woke up one day and said, I’m going to open a flower shop. And I went to my husband, of course. And I was like, “Hey, I think we can do this. I think this is a good idea.” Now I’m working a full-time job. And my husband says, “Well, how are you going to do this? How are you going to like find a space?” I said, “Well, you know, I’m a Librarian, there’s got to be something to get this started.” Two days before the application closed I submitted my idea for the iVillage. I immediately got a call back, they were interested in a flower shop. There’s the Martin Luther King Merchant’s Association. And the guy who was in charge of that was desperate. He was like, “A flower shop? We have to get them over here.” So he advocated for us. And we were one of the finalists chosen to be the inaugural group in the incubator space at iVillage.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. Timing is everything right?

Teneka Williams:
Timing, girl.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
And what kind of support have they given you since you’ve been there?

Teneka Williams:
Well, the interesting thing is six months after we opened COVID hit. So we are, I guess, a city business complex, you would say. So we were closed, when the mayor closed the city, our gates were closed. The flower shop was able to remain open because we’re an essential business. We service funeral homes. And so initially, the initial support they gave us is, “You can come to work every day. We’re close to the public, but you guys can go in and out. You can run your business, you can grow your business.” The Invest Atlanta received their grant. So there was some subsidy for our rent during that time. And then we have access to all the other things that they offer. We’ve been open officially a little less than a year now, since the pandemic. We are at the H.E. Holmes train station, it’s a very innovative space. The containers are great. It’s a great way to test your idea. And Invest Atlanta has been super supportive of the businesses there. Right now they have the resurgence grant. They have a program coming up with Wells Fargo to help small businesses get land in the city because real estate in the city is, it’s a challenge right now for small businesses. So they’re always thinking of ways to help businesses grow and they’re always accessible to us. So they’ve been very helpful.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay, great. So financially they’ve been helpful as well?

Teneka Williams:
Financially, they’ve definitely be helpful that subsidy for the rent while we were closed was great.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Teneka Williams:
I think it was a TIGER grant, if I’m not mistaken, and that covered our rent probably for a year.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Teneka Williams:
And you can’t beat that when you’re growing a business-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Just starting.

Teneka Williams:
Just starting. And now we have access. Now that everybody’s back in the office, everything’s going on, everything’s up and running. We definitely have access to those loans and grants that they offer for small business. And we get that coupled with the fact that now we’ve been open two to three years. So now our businesses, yeah, they are new businesses, but now you’ve got three years under your belt and anybody who knows anything about business financing is, you need at least two to three years under your bet before anybody says, “This is not a hobby for you.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right.

Teneka Williams:
So it’s been great.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay, great. Now we were just talking a little bit before the interview about how you’re doing deliveries now. You don’t need to hire a staff to deliver? Talk us about that a little bit.

Teneka Williams:
Okay. So Royal Petals ATL is on Uber and all the platforms that deliver. They are allowing flower shops to be on there. So that really helps with cost because when those services DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber participate, they provide the driver.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Teneka Williams:
And so that’s been very helpful. We still practice no contact deliveries. I don’t know if it will ever really go back to the way it used to be. Not only have the businesses gotten used to that, but the consumer has.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Right.

Teneka Williams:
So people are really used to, like, “I can see you on my ring doorbell, just put that down and go away.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. You know it’s there, whether you were there or not.

Teneka Williams:
Yes. Yes, exactly. So that’s been really helpful. And then servicing the community that I serve, because I work really, really hard to saturate the Southwest part of Atlanta. That goes back to my names. That goes back to where I grew up. I grew up on the Southwest side of town. So that is really where I want us to kind of sprout from. So that’s been very helpful. Uber helps us get to other areas of town that we may not be like, “Oh, do you know what Atlanta traffic is like?”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I do.

Teneka Williams:
You know, a 15 minute drive up, I’ve had florists call me from Pennsylvania, “It says you’re eight miles away.” Those are eight Atlanta miles, “Okay, it’s not quite the same. It’s not what you’re thinking, sir.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Teneka Williams:
And it’s after four.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Good luck with that.

Teneka Williams:
So sending a Uber driver, we are part of FTD and some of the larger wire services. And now even those services provide, I think FTD, they call it Roadie.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh right. I know Roadie.

Teneka Williams:
So they provide a driver for you too. Everybody’s trying to get into that transportation game because I think everybody realizes that that’s sometimes the culprit for, especially services like mine that need couriers.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right, right.

Teneka Williams:
You can’t be everywhere at the same time.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Yeah. That’s excellent. Now I’m going to shift gears a little bit. I have five kids and five grandkids. I know the balancing act is-

Teneka Williams:
Oh, you do not have five grandkids.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
… real. And I know you have two beautiful children as well.

Teneka Williams:
Yes, yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So talk to us about how you maintain the work-life balance that’s such a struggle.

Teneka Williams:
Okay. So here’s the thing, the shop is open from 11 to 3.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Teneka Williams:
We’re open five hours a day. I was a single mom with my oldest child. I got married when she was 10, and I had another daughter. And the first thing I said to myself was, “I will not work her childhood away.” I will make it so that I can pick you up from school.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Teneka Williams:
I can do activities. I can go and participate, be the room parent. I didn’t experience that with my first child and not to say that it lacked, but I saw that, you know, they don’t stay young very long.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It goes fast.

Teneka Williams:
It goes fast.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It does.

Teneka Williams:
Sometimes the minutes don’t.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right.

Teneka Williams:
But you look up and they’re like, “Bye mom.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. The days are long with the years are very short.

Teneka Williams:
Yes. So I wanted to have more time with her. My husband’s older than me. I wanted us to have more time. I also wanted us to focus on us, so that when the children leave, we’re not like, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” So I said, “You know, I’m going to have to sacrifice something.” But I also realized just in watching other people who’ve done this is, sometimes you don’t, you really can create your own reality. And you really can say, “This is my boundary and I’m going to make this work.” And so that’s what I’ve done. Although the shop is open from 11 to 3, I’m up at 8:00 AM buying flowers. But I usually leave the shop every day around one. I have two people that work for me and they finish the rest of the shift.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, that’s great. Okay. Wonderful.

Teneka Williams:
Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
You made it work for you and your schedule, and setting those boundaries is so important. Setting your boundaries, and then the time that you need to do, whether you have children or not, it’s so important-

Teneka Williams:
This is a lot going on.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
… to set time, “This is when I’m going to do this, and this is when I’m going to take some downtime.”

Teneka Williams:
It’s lot going on. I have to keep this gray hair colored. I need time. I need time.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So I know that you are taking advantage of social media in a big way. Can you talk to us about how that’s helped your business?

Teneka Williams:
Social media has been my business. I don’t know any other way. I’ve had several people ask me, “Well, how did you pivot? How did you pivot when the pandemic happened?” I was totally naive and I was fresh out of the library, like out of a office, into a business, six months. I didn’t know that that was a pivot. It was either we do this or we have to close the doors and I have to go back to the library. And I was like, “No.” So.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It was motivation to keep it going.

Teneka Williams:
So we really made it work. I use Facebook, I use Instagram and I use TikTok. I’m mastering TikTok. It’s been really great for me. I use it as an educational tool. I’ll build the bouquets on time lapses, put it to some music and people have really responded to it. They really like it. I do a segment on there called blooms and banter. Where I actually talk about flowers, talk about greenery, talk about the different varieties of lilies. My friends like to tease me and they say, “You think you’re Martha Stewart.” No, Martha ain’t got nothing on me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Teneka Williams:
So social media has been great. It is the way of the future. I mean, it’s a great way to build your audience. I have fans and people who respond to me from Europe, Italy.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, that’s great.

Teneka Williams:
I’ve had people buy flowers from the Netherlands for people they know that live in the states because they saw something on social media 10 months ago, let’s say 24 months ago. You wouldn’t have thought of that. And definitely two years ago, a small business wouldn’t have thought, “How can someone in Netherlands impact my business?”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right. The reach is incredible.

Teneka Williams:
Yes. It is incredible.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now as a business owner, myself, I’ve struggled, there’s been certain challenges that I’ve faced and didn’t know what to do, or didn’t know if I was going to handle it the right way. And really came out of it on the other end and was really proud of myself for the way I’ve handled things. Can you talk to us about a specific challenge that you may have dealt with in your past that you’re proud of the way you handled it?

Teneka Williams:
Oh, definitely. When I started Royal Petals ATL, there were three of us. I had two ladies that I went to Georgia State with, go Panthers.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Teneka Williams:
And I was working full time. So I reached out to people that could kind of supplement and help me get the idea. As we started working together, because I really, really, really have a vision for my business. I know exactly what I have to do to get this to the place I need to get it as quickly as I need to get it. My husband said, “You have three years-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Good times, deadlines are good.

Teneka Williams:
… I want to retire sometime soon, you can do this for three years and we can see where you’re at.” And as I started working with them, I love these ladies. These ladies are like sisters to me, but it got to a point where our visions weren’t aligning. They weren’t aligning with marketing. They weren’t aligning with finances. They weren’t aligning with our revenue streams. And I had to really, there’s a saying that when you’re given a vision, that vision is given to you. I had to stay true to that. So it was very difficult for me to have these conversations with these ladies and say, “Look, I want to keep you as a friend.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. I’m sure it was difficult.

Teneka Williams:
But now on the other side, I can pick up the phone. I still call them. One of the partners has gone on to open up her own flower shop, Indicator. She’s totally talented, but we had different visions. And so it ended up making us stronger because those tough conversations are hard, but they really do, if you have a foundation, make you stronger. And we have a lot of respect for each other instead of letting it deteriorate to the point that, you know.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That sounds like communication was key there.

Teneka Williams:
Communication was key. Communication was key. So I was really happy. But on the other side of it, I’m really proud of myself because I’m sticking to my vision and every day I think I get a little bit closer to, “Hey ladies, come back. I’ll invite you over, this is Royal Petals ATL. You want to come work for me?”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s so exciting. Now in the morning, I listen to a lot of motivational speakers while I’m getting ready for work. A lot of high performance coaches like Brendon Burchard. Is there anybody that you listen to, or anybody that inspires you?

Teneka Williams:
Okay. So here I will tell you, when my daughter graduated from college, I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was wrapped up into motherhood. I went through a tremendous, like, who am I? What am I doing? My life is over. And even though I have another child, I was like, “What am I going to do with this block of time?” And so I started going to sound baths.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, nice.

Teneka Williams:
And they have really centered me and grounded me and given me that kind of meditative space to like, I guess, I don’t know what happens with being, I love being a wife and a mother, but I had to get back to, “Who was I before?”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Now for those that don’t know what a sound bath is, can you share?

Teneka Williams:
Yes. So they play the different sounds on these bowls, but the woman I go to, she does gongs.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh cool.

Teneka Williams:
She has about seven gongs and she plays the gongs, and plays them about an hour. We lay down on yoga mats and it’s the most amazing experience. I don’t have words for it. I love it, like I will drop everything to get to one.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Does she do the bowls too as well?

Teneka Williams:
She does not do the bowls-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay. Because I’ve seen the bowls.

Teneka Williams:
… but the woman who introduced me, her name’s Shana Nunnelly, she does bowls still. And she actually does her sound baths virtually, they’re great.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Wow. Nice, nice.

Teneka Williams:
So I don’t listen to anyone per se, but the sound baths, I go to twice a month. And to the point that even my husband will be like, “Isn’t this your sound bath night? Don’t worry. I’ll cook dinner.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
He knows you need it. He knows you need to go.

Teneka Williams:
Yes, yes, yes.He’s very supportive of sound baths.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. That’s great. Now, switching gears again, talk to us about what qualities you think it takes to be a good entrepreneur?

Teneka Williams:
Oh, it takes a lot of patience, but more than anything, I think it takes faith in your idea. Like, I still talk to my friends that work the library. I just renewed my Librarian license. I always say, “I’m going to go back and be a Librarian.” But I really know that this is a good idea right now. And I really know the community that I’m trying to serve is desperate for this need. And I actually believe that the city of Atlanta, once I do the whole project will say, “Wow, that’s one of our own.” You know what I mean? And I just am so true to this idea, taking a couple of years off a librarianship to do this is important. But faith, patience and sweat equity, you got to work. I definitely work harder than I worked as a librarian. You know, there’s that little sound. There’s a trending sound where I was like, “I didn’t want to work my nine to five. So now I work all day.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s the trade off.

Teneka Williams:
Yes. That’s the trade off. But I love what I do. I do work 24/7. I mean, doing my own marketing and everything. If I’m laying there asleep and I’m like, “Wait, this will be perfect for Instagram. I need to put a label on this flower and stream the reel together and add the sound.” And my husband was like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “If I don’t do it now, I’ll forget about it.” And I need this idea. I need to do it. But it’s exciting. You know what I mean? It’s so exciting. It gives me so much energy, and I can’t, and now imagine my life any other way. Like, I can’t see myself in an office right now.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Well I can see the way you’re talking, your passion is definitely contagious. I can hear it in your voice that you love what you do.

Teneka Williams:
Yes, I love it. I love it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now, going back to when you first started the Royal Petals, do you have any advice that you would give to yourself then, that you might have learned over the last few years?

Teneka Williams:
It doesn’t happen overnight. Customer service is the only way, I don’t care how good your product is, I don’t care how fast you can turn it over. If people don’t like you, I actually sell myself.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Teneka Williams:
That’s true. I think I make the world’s greatest flowers, but if my personality and if the spirit wasn’t behind it, it’s not going to work. So just believing in myself, believing that this passion will translate. This creativity will translate.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great advice.

Teneka Williams:
And so yes, yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. All right. Let’s look to the future. What is next for Royal Petals ATL?

Teneka Williams:
Oh, I’m so excited. I’m so excited. And I have a deadline on this and I’m working so hard on this. The future is Royal Petals ATL, I’m finding a spot in the city, a acre or less, putting a nice container with a rooftop patio on it and getting my husband to landscape the grounds around it and bringing that to the city. So it’s Royal Petals Flower Shop and Gardens.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Well, I have no doubt that will happen.

Teneka Williams:
It’s going to happen.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I have no doubt. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

Teneka Williams:
Thank you so much. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Please check out Teneka Williams at Royal Petals ATL, RoyalPetalsATL.com. Thank you so much.

Teneka Williams:
Thank you. Thank you.


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