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SMALL-BUSINESS MAKEOVER

Arranging retail space to match Planet Florist's designs

Two experts help the shop reflect the upscale creations of its green- and budget-minded owner.

January 05, 2009|Cyndia Zwahlen

A glance through the front window at Planet Florist in West Los Angeles reveals a flower shop packed with furniture, fixtures and flower vases.

The concrete floor has old paint spattered on it. Fluorescent lights beam down and a rusty, broken neon sign tops the bulky awning out front.

It's a far cry from the upscale design that owner James Underwood specializes in for clients that include the luxury Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica.

"I spend a huge amount of energy and creativity making space and flowers beautiful for other people and just never seem to have the energy and resources to make it happen here," says Underwood, 44, who bought the Westwood Boulevard shop a little more than a year ago.

He doesn't even use a photo of the store on his website, at www.planetflorist.com. Instead, visitors will see a generic shot of a flower shop.

"It's been an obstacle in that respect: What we do and how we look aren't matching," says the Pasadena native, who has worked at a meditation retreat, taught English in Brazil and served as director of a free healthcare clinic in Pasadena. He designed interiors and events and worked at a high-end florist in Pasadena before running across the flower shop for sale and making the leap into first-time business ownership in November 2007.

Underwood recently invested in a new graphic design for his business cards and painted and decorated his cash register area. But he says he's been stymied in overhauling his long, narrow shop. In addition to a lack of resources, he can't decide on a single style.

At the same time, he's determined to run a green business, so he has used cabinets from a client's home and bought used brass and glass display shelves and used chandeliers, which he admired for their beauty but now worries might be too energy-demanding. He's even hoping to move to local, organic flowers.

"One of the reasons that talented people end up hiring designers to help them is, when you run a business, it's just overwhelming to have to run the business and do everything, and design your space," says interior designer Jon Andersen-Miller, who co-owns Andersen-Miller Design in Culver City with his spouse, architect Matt Andersen-Miller.

After a visit to Planet Florist, both men were impressed with the quality of Underwood's floral design but underwhelmed by the retail space.

"When you walk in the door, you are just hit with tons of stuff," Jon says. "Things were a bit disorganized, the displays were chockablock full and you were just not sure where to look, where to put your focus -- that's the biggest thing."

The team created a list of low-cost, easy steps Underwood could take to create a retail presence that matches his design sensibility.

* Divide the space. "He wants a really kind of upscale, high-design look to sell clients on his talents and so he needs a kind of initial gallery space to show that," Jon says.

They suggest that Underwood divide the long, narrow shop into three bays: a front, gallery-like space; a middle section with flowers, merchandise and the cash register; and a back work space for floral design, deliveries and storage.

They recommend tall curtains as relatively low-cost, flexible room dividers. The right fabric could also support the "big Dorothy Draper, sort of dramatic hotel style from the '50s" that Underwood favors and that matches the style of his custom floral designs.

"Matt and I came up with this idea of making a huge curtain backdrop that separates the first bay of his shop from the rest," Jon says. "If you could do a big, white curtain, kind of like a stage curtain, and you could put a single, big spray of flowers or whatever his floral design is of that day or week on a pedestal in the middle of this window, it would just simplify the whole thing and give an immediate sort of communication that this is a high-end floral designer. "

Underwood could also use an existing marble-topped table in the front space to set the floral design on, and as a meeting space for clients, the consultants say.

Lighted at night, a single, beautiful floral arrangement framed in the shop's picture window would be a great billboard advertisement that would give people a concept of the type of work he does, Jon says.

"That's going to have the greatest impact and let the neighborhood know a real change has occurred," he says.

* Enhance shop's physical assets. The shop, a middle unit in an older Spanish-style building, has a large awning that the consultants recommend he remove.

"Aesthetically, it's a real negative," Matt says of the big awning. "We talked about taking it off and putting on a thinner, lower-profile awning."

All or part of the broken neon sign could be used as the basis of a new sign, Jon says.

The designers also agreed that Underwood should check with the landlord about painting a design on the stucco facade above the shop, possibly incorporating the iron balcony above and the shop door and window, to help highlight the store and extend its graphic identity.

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