Just a year and a half after Christy Hulsey took over a long-established Statesboro business in Colonial House of Flowers, her company was saluted as one of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or led by University of Georgia graduates.
The awards are called the Bulldog 100. A UGA Alumni Association staff member nominated Colonial House of Flowers, and Hulsey followed up by submitting financial information. The association has Warren Averett CPAs & Advisors review the companies’ financial records. Hulsey said she was surprised when a follow-up call for tax returns meant she was still in the running.
Christy Hulsey and her husband, Brian, attended the 2014 Bulldog 100 celebration Jan. 25 at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta. By then they knew she had placed, but Christy says Brian was ready to take her picture as the 100th or 99th-ranked business operator.
In fact, Colonial House of Flowers was recognized as the 62nd fastest growing business from more than 800 nominated.
“I think we just have been working so hard and so fast — we work seven days a week most weeks, we work holidays into the night — that we really didn’t realize how much we were growing,” Hulsey said.
She didn’t grow up in the flower business or set out to become a florist. But she did grow up in Bulloch County and knew about Colonial House.
“They had an established reputation that was fabulous,” Hulsey said. “I mean, when I was a child, the Colonial House was the hallmark of flowers. You knew if you got something from the Colonial House, it was the nicest in Statesboro.”
Elmer and Carolyn Phillips established Colonial House of Flowers in 1968 in a Colonial-style house on Savannah Avenue. But today, Colonial occupies the corner building facing Fair Road at 100 Brampton Ave., near East Georgia Regional Medical Center. It moved there several years ago, before Hulsey became the owner.
Then Christy Griner, she graduated in 1993 from Southeast Bulloch High School, as did Brian Hulsey, although they didn’t date until meeting again several years later. She went to the University of Georgia, where she studied journalism with advertising as her major, graduating in 1997. Afterward, she worked in billboard sales and for a printing company.
The Hulseys purchased Colonial House of Flowers from the Phillips family, relatives of Brian’s, in July 2012. Christy is 51 percent owner, while Brian owns the rest. They also own his electrician business together.
Hulsey went into the florist business hoping that all the employees would stay and that she could do marketing work for the company, handling social media and advertising while “learning wedding flowers in the back — you know, so relaxed,” she said. But she quickly learned that wouldn’t work. The company retained its brand appeal but had been struggling financially.
“I guess the hardest thing to me is I didn’t just have to come in and learn how to arrange flowers,” Hulsey said. “I’ve had to learn how to manage people, and how in the world we have been growing is, like, amazing. It’s a miracle.”
She surrounds herself with people who are more talented than she is and pushes them to do better at whatever they’re best at, Hulsey said. She sends her shop’s designers to gather fresh ideas from famous designers at events sponsored by organizations such as Georgia State Floral Distributors.
Colonial House of Flowers employs just a small group of full-time designers. Besides Hulsey, these include Betty Martin, who is known for her dozen-rose arrangements, Tonia McElveen and Michelle Chastain, who also does bicycle deliveries.
But the shop calls on a legion of part-timers, freelance designers, interns and others for weddings, large funerals and holidays. This week, Colonial will enlist something approaching 200 helpers for its busiest day of the year, Valentine’s Day. These include an entire sorority, members of a Sunday school class and members of Hulsey’s family from out of town.
And Hulsey has pushed herself to learn flowers. She is a member of Chapel Designers, a national organization, and attends its workshops in New York.
Locally, Colonial House hosts workshops with garden clubs and at the Garden of the Coastal Plain. Hulsey also teaches a basic flower arranging class at Ogeechee Technical College. The shop has a blog and is interactive on social media, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Hulsey said she is proud to win the award for carrying on the Phillipses’ legacy.
“Being about to keep an almost 50-year-old local tradition alive means the world to me. To know the dream is thriving and growing is a dream come true. I love it,” she said.
Information on the Bulldog 100, including the complete 2014 list, can be found at www.alumni.uga.edu.