MINT HILL, NC – A quarter of a century ago, living in Florida and working in health and annuities, Suzanne Wolf was looking for a change.
“I really wanted to get back into floristry,” recalls Suzanne, who started in the industry when her daughter Libby was just four years old, “because once it’s in your blood, it’s there.” Financially backed by her mother-in-law, Suzanne began looking for a flower shop in the Carolinas, a location that would put her halfway between family in Florida and the Northeast.
Originally drawn to the mountains, Suzanne set her sights on Asheville, but she unexpectedly fell in love with a shop in East Charlotte. “At that time, East Charlotte was lovely,” remembers Suzanne. “The shop had brick pavement and ornamental lights hanging, and it was huge and beautiful.”
The existing shop’s already stellar reputation – as well as discovering she was acquainted with the shop’s current owners, who had operated a flower store in New York State where Suzanne grew up – sealed the deal. Suzanne and her husband not only bought the shop but moved into the previous owners’ old home, and a new chapter began.
“I was in Florida in college at the time,” adds Libby DeYoung. “I was 19, going on 20, and I’d had a bad breakup. And my mom said, ‘Why don’t you move up here and finish your degree at UNC?’” Libby followed her mom to Charlotte four or five months after she purchased Abbey Rose, just before Mother’s Day.
A history major, Libby had no intention of entering the floral industry at the time. However, she soon found herself hooked. “Nothing gives you more hands-on experience than being thrown into a holiday!” she laughs. “I worked through the summer and decided it was my calling.” Libby chose not to return to school and started working in the flower shop, taking over as manager within a few years.
Meanwhile, Suzanne was witnessing the area she’d fallen in love with changing rapidly. Multiple bad experiences in East Charlotte, including being robbed at gunpoint more than once, told Suzanne that it wasn’t ultimately the right place to settle her business or her home. In 2001, she bought a home in Mint Hill’s Farmwood subdivision, and when her lease was up on the flower shop in East Charlotte in 2003, it made sense to move Abbey Rose to Mint Hill as well.
“It was a scary decision,” recalls Libby. “It’s not a far distance, but it is a totally different community and totally different clientele.” Originally located in Fran Harris’ building next to the Historical Society, Abbey Rose eventually moved in 2009 across the street to the bungalow two doors down from McEwen Funeral Home, where they would remain for ten years.
When Chick-fil-A purchased the property on which they were located, Suzanne and Libby had a difficult decision to make about the future of Abbey Rose. Ultimately, it was the changes Suzanne and Libby had witnessed in the floral industry during the early 2000s that made their path forward clear.
“Back when I was little, people went to a flower shop to shop for gift items – candles, plush animals, other stuff besides flowers,” explains Libby. “Over time, that aspect of the floral industry changed. If people want candles, they go to a candle shop or a box store. We found even when we were right on 51, people weren’t coming in to browse for gift items; they were just coming in for flowers. And then, over time, people weren’t coming in to buy the flowers. They were calling in and placing orders on our website.”
With the majority of their business now coming from phone and internet, Suzanne and Libby decided to construct a small studio next to Suzanne’s house in Farmwood, which they officially opened in March of 2019. Although the studio is no longer a “gift shop,” Suzanne and Libby still welcome customers to drop in for consultations or to pick up flowers.
The move would prove unexpectedly fortuitous a year later when COVID forced most local retailers to shut down temporarily and ultimately put many small, family-owned enterprises out of business. “We were so fortunate,” recalls Suzanne. “Because we were not retail and because we were able to develop a hands-free delivery system, there was one point during COVID when we were the only flower shop in Mecklenburg County that was open.”
Another big shift Suzanne and Libby have seen in their 25 years in the floral industry is a change in the way wire services like FTD, Teleflora and 1-800-Flowers operate. “When I first started, FTD and Teleflora were our helpmates,” explains Suzanne. “They gathered orders and sent them to us. Somewhere around 2000, the company sold,” she continues. “When the corporation took over, they started that direct advertising to our customers.”
The system didn’t fundamentally change, but the cut for florists who filled the orders did. “If you call them, they charge you to turn around and call that order to a florist,” says Suzanne. “When I first started out, they would take a small charge for handling that order. f you filled an order for $100, you’d get $93. By the time we got out, it was down to maybe $50. A lot of shops found themselves doing big volume without any money coming in. And I said, look, Libby, I’d rather take a hit and put out ten profitable orders a day than put out twenty like this.”
Today, Abbey Rose operates 100% independently, a system that ultimately benefits customers as much as it does Suzanne and Libby. People often assume that ordering online from a “big name” is cheaper and easier, but in the floral industry, that’s simply not true. “A customer that pays $100 for an order should get 100% of that value,” says Libby. “When you call wire services, it’s like paying someone to order a pizza for you. You’ll always get more bang for you buck when you call a local florist.”
Today, with 25 years in the business under their belt, Abbey Rose is known for their innovative designs (always named after starlets) that continue to evolve with trends in the floral industry. Suzanne and Libby embrace the opportunity to incorporate new and unusual flowers, and they’re proud to support local farmers by purchasing as much as possible from within two hours of Charlotte during growing seasons.
“You’re not going to find the same flowers here that you’re going to find if you go into Harris Teeter,” says Suzanne confidently. “Some of our red roses for Valentine’s day are going to be five inches across when they’re open with a bright green center that poofs. We’ve also got some that are two-tone red swirl, and a variety called ‘The Blues’ that is white one one side of the petal and red on the other.”
Abbey Rose is also known for its customized, made-to-order arrangements. “Every single one of our designs is made individually for that person,” says Suzanne. “When somebody orders something this Valentine’s Day, I don’t go to cooler and just yank one out; I actually get greens and I do the arrangement for that person, and ultimately that means that they get to enjoy it a lot longer.”
Twenty-five years down the line, Suzanne and Libby are grateful to be a part of the Mint Hill community. “Moving to Mint Hill was the best move,” says Libby. “We both live in Mint Hill, my son goes to Mint Hill schools, he’s involved with Mint Hill athletics. We’re just so thankful that Mint Hill has been so good to us for over 20 years and that the Charlotte area has been good to us for twenty-five years. We’re very happy with where we’ve landed.”