Landmark Martin City Business Cultivates Broader Vision for Success.
Sidelines Custom Floral owner Karyn Brooke was well known as a pioneering entrepreneur and creative icon before the pandemic hit. Now people are seeing her as a survivor too, and an inspiration for small retail businesses everywhere.
“It’s been a long, difficult year, but now just look at the calendar,” says Brooke, with confidence. “Spring and summer are packed with weddings. Even Administrative Professionals Day took on new significance. People are reconnecting with each other and things are really looking up.”
As an entrepreneur, Brooke’s always been sensitive to change, but the pandemic forced her to fully embrace it. And now it’s becoming nothing short of a lifestyle she finds herself thriving in. “Every day is different. It all just feels like growing pains. And that’s what we’re doing — growing. There’s just so much going on.”
Martin City’s hometown florist has flourished on 135th Street in the heart of our community for decades. The business is emerging from the pandemic on a steady stream of orders coming over the phone, from the web, and through the front door. At a time when you would expect all local flower shops to be wilting, sales at this one are perking up. Customers are finding the boutique one of the safer places to shop because it’s not made for crowds. And if you’re still a little unsure about stepping inside, curbside pickup is just a phone call away.
Green plants are flying off the shelf at Sidelines as people invite the sustained, hopeful presence of nature into their homes. And Brooke’s famously artistic floral arrangements are finding new value as we all crave more joy and beauty in our lives. Sidelines’ redesigned website is also drawing new attention, as well as the new companion merchandise website HeyHootie.com. The original business idea that sprouted long ago from the happiness Brooke crafts with flowers has blossomed into an enterprise that goes farther than ever to recognize and celebrate life’s more meaningful moments.
“I never would have imagined we would be in the place we are now,” says Brooke, looking back over one of the most pivotal periods of her 37 years in business. “I couldn’t be more optimistic about where we’re headed.”
Uprooted and Replanted
Rewind to early 2020. Sidelines was humming along mainly on the momentum of floral arrangements for event crowds. The company’s website, HeySidelines.com was online but showing its age and stagnating, and HeyHootie.com was only a thought in the back of Brooke’s mind. Then, news of the pandemic hit, and Brooke is focused on just one thing: protecting her people.
“Both my employees and my customers,” she recalls. “I immediately shut everything down, even before Sidelines was deemed a ‘non-essential’ business. I wanted to protect everyone’s health. I certainly feared for my business but all the people it touched became my highest priority.”
Brooke kept paying her employees’ health insurance but urged them to stay home and take care. Meanwhile, she personally worked to process a few low profile orders out the back door while she did the unthinkable out front. “I couldn’t stand the thought of watching fresh flowers waste away in my cooler. That’s just not who I am. I started making bouquets and just setting them on the sidewalk free for the taking.”
She mentioned it on Facebook and people started showing up. Then they began lining up. “People really wanted the flowers. They needed them. So much bad was suddenly happening that we were all desperate for a bright spot. That’s what the bouquets were, a bright spot. Flowers speak a language all their own and people were really listening.”
By the time Brooke realized she could reopen with appropriate safety measures and contactless deliveries, she was already scrambling behind the scenes. April was a blur of rescheduling, adjusting, and taking hit after hit of cancellations. “I was watching my future fall off the calendar,” says Brooke, almost hesitant to even talk about it now. “Meanwhile, I could see the entire industry drying up. Growers from here to Holland started destroying flowers destined to waste away anyway.”
But as other struggling businesses started rallying to save their own operations, opportunity sprang up. Martin City Brewing Company (now known as the Coast to Coast Pub) and Nick and Jake’s restaurant were transitioning to curbside service and looking to make it as appealing as possible. Both businesses wanted to add flowers to their Mother’s Day meal packages and turned to Sidelines for help. Brooke called in favors and pulled strings to wrangle a supply of flowers despite a collapsed supply chain. While big online floral retailers were closing down and leaving customers high and dry, Sidelines was providing scores of arrangements for two local restaurants.
And then other orders started coming in. One week before Mother’s Day, Sidelines was suddenly busier than ever. People were lining up at the curb, Brooke’s entire staff was back in action and there were so many delivery orders that customers volunteered to help out.
“Just amazing. People were so happy that we were back. It was so heartwarming. Mother’s Day is always special but 2020 was historic. It was just something people wanted to get behind. They wanted it to matter despite the terrible conditions. We couldn’t hug our mothers, but we could drop off flowers for them. And husbands really wanted to put something beautiful in front of their wives because the world had just turned so ugly. It was the best Mother’s Day Sidelines ever had.”
Add in Easter Lily orders from local catholic organizations and Sidelines harvested what it needed to pick itself up and get growing again. Brooke’s panic gave way to optimism and eventually enthusiasm. She had a good feeling about Sidelines’ future, but her entrepreneurial instincts were warning that long-term survival would require sharpening her strategies.
Websites Seeded to Grow Like Vines
As many business owners have learned during the pandemic, a rare interruption in business gives you a rare opportunity to reexamine operations. It’s been a chance to take a hard look at what’s working and what’s not, and deal with problems that are long overdue. For Brooke, one problem was HeySidelines.com, the online component of her floral business. She knew it needed an overhaul and she had been meaning to get around to it for a long time. 2020’s slowdown gave her the chance to dive right in.
“You have to evolve your business or you won’t last,” declares Brooke. “A big part of that for me was my main website. It needed to work harder for my business. I broadened my vision for what I wanted it to be and then worked closely with a website designer to make it happen.”
The new HeySidelines.com is rich in bold, floral imagery and carefully organized in ways that make it easy for customers to use. It’s very closely tied to Sidelines’ social media properties and brings the whole experience more directly into the lives of Sidelines fans. Perhaps best of all is what you don’t see upfront.
HeySidelines.com has been dramatically retooled under the hood, where smarter digital processes now closely coordinate products and transactions. Customers now have a clearer understanding of what’s new and what’s out of stock as it happens. All information, pricing, and availability more accurately reflect circumstances in real-time.
“Florists especially, really need flexibility online. Our products change with the seasons and then there are supply and availability fluctuations all the time. HeySidelines.com now rolls with all of it so much better.”
Brooke had long wondered about creating a website specifically for all the non-floral treasures she discovers and turns around as Sidelines exclusives. So, while in the groove of overhauling HeySidelines.com, she also created HeyHootie.com, a retail merchandise website that extends her delightful style beyond flowers to other bright ideas ranging from bath and body products to books, games, and jewelry.
“Our customers have learned to trust us as a partner for enhancing all of life’s occasions, and we’ve learned that sometimes there are moments that deserve more than flowers. Now you can complete the experience with a fuller array of options. You might want a little Easter candy to go with your Easter lilies or a whimsical onesie to go with your bouquet celebrating a newborn’s arrival. There are so many combinations and they’re all so much fun.”
HeyHootie.com is still fresh to the web and a work in progress. Brooke is fine-tuning which products are a perfect fit and getting used to the unpredictability of retail supplier timelines, especially during a pandemic. There’s a lot to learn and she already knows one thing for sure. “Puzzles are huge during a pandemic. You wouldn’t believe how many we’ve sold!”
From a business standpoint, the best part of the overhaul of HeySidelines.com and the birth of HeyHootie.com is that both websites are strategically integrated with retail operations inside the Sidelines store on 135th Street. The store and the websites work together wonderfully to package and process the colorful ideas Brooke champions. Why would you order from online retail giants when you can have merchandise hand-picked by local experts with delivery options that might even make those online giants jealous. “We’re already all over with floral deliveries so we can have drivers deliver retail merchandise as well.”
A Special Arrangement in Martin City
In one year, Karyn Brooke has watched her business go from shutdown to expansion. She’s chasing Sidelines’ potential, branching out further into personalized retail arrangements of flowers and plants that splash good feelings through homes across Kansas City. She’s exploring retail merchandise like never before and cultivating new ideas at the brick-and-mortar store she’s built into a landmark Martin City business.
“No community in all of Kansas City has more charm than Martin City,” says Brooke, offering an insider’s perspective on our neighborhood’s pride. “Many of us who have businesses here just can’t see ourselves anywhere else. It’s our home and we share something special.”
That ‘something special’ in Martin City is hard to pinpoint, but it has to do with gritty determination. The eager fight to survive no matter what. It’s a relentless drive to solve your own problems and help your neighbors solve their problems too. And it’s about the persistence of a unique passion to make things better, richer, and flat out more fun in your neighborhood, even when life hands you lemons.
“We’ve overcome so much,” says Brooke, reflecting on a long community history challenged by recessions, tornadoes, painfully long road closures and other gut punches. “And we’ve banded together to chart our own course into the future. That’s what a community does. There was a time when there weren’t even curbs on 135th Street and now we’ve got wide sidewalks with visitors strolling through and seeing what a great neighborhood we have.”
Martin City certainly is a great place. No doubt about it. You can shop, eat and have fun here in a variety of ways, and stop in for essentials like dental care, pet care, and car repair too. Brooke believes it’s pretty much everything you need, and changes on the horizon will grow into even better days ahead.
“When the new residential developments get going and you see people who live here walking along with visitors to dinner, sitting on patios listening to live music, and just browsing the shops, you’ll really see what Martin City is meant to be. I’ve been here a long time and I’m really excited about what’s about to happen. And I give the Martin City Community Improvement District credit for sticking with it. A vision takes time to realize and a lot of work.”
You personally deserve credit, too, Karyn. More of it than we can squeeze into this story. What would Martin City be without Sidelines? Here’s to an even brighter future, together.