SMALL BUSINESS PROFILE: JP PARKER CO.: Business blooming for specialty florist Flower farm, retail shop feed green thumb’s growth

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JP PARKER CO. Business blooming for specialty florist Flower farm, retail shop feed green thumb’s growth

More than 300,000 sunflowers are in various stages of growth on Needham, Ind., farmland, where a third generation carries on the family tradition with a modern twist.

These tall summer annuals follow a spring where 1,000 blooming peony plants yielded at least 11,000 stems for a Chicago broker. Smaller plots of delphiniums, larkspur, zinnias, coneflowers, mints, herbs and other greenery also dot the farm.

The specialty crop operation is the creation of Pamela Parker, who lives on the 130-acre farm where she grew up in Johnson County, about 10 miles east of Franklin. Most of the farm is devoted to traditional crops, with Parker’s cut-flower operation occupying about 10 acres.

“She has flowers with larger bloom size and deeper colors and she’ll allow me to customize” the length of stems, said Scott LaPlant, vice president at Everflora Chicago Inc., a floral broker in Elmhurst, Ill. “Her service stands out. If I need something in the next day or so, she’ll cut them, load up her van and drive here for me to have them right away.”

The development of JP Parker Co. is the culmination of a career in the business, said Parker, the former Pamela Van Namen. Under the JP Parker moniker, she has pulled together all of her business interests: a retail floral shop in Franklin, the cut-flower farm and distribution center in Needham, interior floral design and consulting for commercial, residential and special-event clients at her office in Indianapolis and her teaching about floral design at IUPUI and Franklin College.

Parker’s interest in the floral industry blossomed while she was a student at the University of Minnesota. She left her classes for a job in a flower shop, making corsages, bouquets and funeral arrangements for two companies for 13 years, ending up as general manager. Her first foray in growing her own was planting 5,000 Asiatic lilies and waiting three years to harvest them.

Now in her 50s and back in Indiana, she’s sticking with peonies and sunflowers because they are easy to grow and the demand is great, she said. She started her consulting business in the mid-1980s, and used those funds to finance the farm, which started in 2004, and the flower shop, which opened in 2005.

Although she founded her business without a written plan, she had to get all her records in order for the arduous process to be certified as a Women-Owned Business Enterprise, which she recently received from the state. A WBE designation opens up the opportunity to bid on bigger jobs, including those with government ties.

“Maybe we can decorate Lucas Stadium,” she said.

So far, everything seems to be working.

“We will do 40-plus weddings this year alone and [we’re] booking many for next year,” she said. “I think one area of comfort for our customers is that I have been around for so long.”

JP Parker Co.’s revenue was $109,000 in 2004, $206,000 in 2005 and “we will have that rate of growth in 2006,” she said.

The company is named for herself and her older sister, Janet Harris, who worked with Parker on the holiday decorations at Union Station in its heyday. She markets her services by word-of-mouth, through her longtime participation in the Indiana Flower and Patio Show and other similar events.

“Her dedication is incredible,” said Donell Heberer Walton, executive director of HSI Show Productions, which puts on the Indiana Flower & Patio Show. “She works seven days a week, 24 hours a day to ensure the success of her cause.”

Parker also gets high praise from Jerry Hinchman, who oversees 1.6 million square feet as facilities director at Roche Diagnostics Corp. in Indianapolis. Parker has been providing holiday decorations at the Roche campus for 17 years.

“Pam is a first-class person who would do nothing but what was the very best for her clients,” Hinchman said.

Probably the most challenging aspect of the business is the florist shop. All over the country, traditional mom-and-pop shops have closed-something she expects to continue-as supermarkets and big-box retailers sell more flowers.

To counter that trend, her European-influenced shop in Franklin has buckets of blooms. Housed in the old Studebaker dealership, her shop is next to Richard’s Kitchen and Provincial Garden Landscape Design and Garden Center. They all benefit from great foot traffic, especially the Saturday breakfast and brunch crowds, she said.

“I know if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere,” she said of her shop.

Parker doesn’t let the competition worry her. She knows customer service and attention to detail will set her apart.

“I never look at the competition. Oh, sure, I have to be aware of what’s going on, but if I focus too much on that and change accordingly, I’ll lose my concentration for my own business,” she said.

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