As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped an anxious nation, local florist Jim Whitehead worried that “saying it with flowers” might be subject to its own restrictive mask, silencing and shuttering his Dowdeswell Street floral business.
“When COVID-19 broke out in March last year, I was worried like everyone else, especially with the lockdowns, but I thought everything would be back to normal in about six months – likely September or thereabouts,” said The Nassau Florist owner, Jim Whitehead.
But it wasn’t over and wanting to make sure his staff had money each week, and to protect the bank account to keep them in business, he reduced working hours by 65 percent.
“I had seven staff then and still do. I managed to keep us all going,” said Whitehead. “Henry, the delivery driver, came in every day, and the other six staff members took it in turns to come in three or four days a week. It was better than just closing, which was a possibility because, often, with no sales at all and a supply shortage, it seemed at times, likely. Thankfully, we managed to stay the course, albeit with a bit of private funding.”
This year, Whitehead said there has been a distinct improvement.
He said it was their regulars who kept them afloat and boosted sales since the beginning of this year.
“One of our primary regulars who kept us afloat and who continues to contribute to our success is Sandals Emerald Bay, Exuma. They advertise themselves as providing exotic luxury and consequently need only the very best florals and arrangements. The same applies to the high-end marinas and many super yachts we service year-round. This also goes without saying, of course, for our regulars at Lyford, many of whom who have been my customers for over 20 years.”
The Nassau Florist is in its 70th year. It was established in 1951 as “The House of Flowers” by Stella Amoury. Whitehead has been the owner for more than two-and-a-half decades.
Whitehead said that it’s in trying times that a business’s brand and operational reputation are tested.
“I’ve been here for 26 years, so people know me, trust me, and know my work is always appropriate for the occasion. I’ve established customer loyalty and a noteworthy, enduring brand with a reputation for beauty and excellence in all matters floral. We have fresh flowers and décor trees and plants.”
Whitehead said that as much as they appreciate their blue-chip clients, the personalized service and interaction they have with their Bahamian clientele is always heartwarming and rewarding.
“We have a good local Bahamian following; Bahamians love flowers and love gifting them. And what is nice is that they come into the shop, and we enjoy the interaction. They take pleasure in selecting the flowers they want to give to a loved one and will often stay and watch us make up baskets or bouquets. It’s nice for us; it’s satisfying.”
Bahamian weddings, too, always a cause for excitement and a flurry of activity are plentiful although somewhat reduced currently to the newly favored micro wedding to fit the pandemic safety protocols.
Whitehead said he is very grateful he is still open for business and hopes things will steadily pick up to his pre-pandemic business level.
“Honestly, at times, it was scary, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep all my staff, but we made it. So far so good. I’m feeling very optimistic for the future and looking forward to building our sales to a pre-pandemic profitable level.
Jim Whitehead is a member of the Bahamas Bridal Association and works with professional and community associations and the Ministry of Tourism.