John Pelzer of Busch’s Florist and Greenhouse shares the challenges of starting a second career as a small-business owner and how to have fun while playing in the dirt.
Ask John Pelzer, owner of Busch’s Florist and Greenhouse, about owning a small business, and he’ll probably say it’s no walk in the park, even for someone such as him with a strong management background. Having spent 12 years as a city manager for four different communities, Pelzer also served as commissioner of the Office of Administration for the State of Missouri under Gov. Kit Bond and Gov. John Ashcroft. Additionally, he has held executive positions with both the Missouri Petroleum Markets and Convenience Store Association and the Missouri Restaurant Association and is currently president of his governmental consulting firm, John Pelzer and Associates LLC. Then again, he’ll tell you that running the florist shop is also his greatest joy.
Married for 14 years with four grown children, Pelzer and his wife, Gwen, who works for the Missouri Hospital Association, purchased Busch’s in 2001. Located in Old Munichburg, also known as the Southside District, the shop first opened in 1890 and is the oldest retail business in Jefferson City. Surprisingly, the Pelzers are only the third owners.
“When we bought the business, I had seasoned professionals and experienced designers already here who were instrumental in teaching me about the business,” John Pelzer says. His past business experience working with the Missouri Legislature on small-business issues was also a plus because many subjects such as regulations, taxes and fair competition apply to every small-business owner.
But Pelzer soon discovered that owning a small business is not as easy as it sounds. “I was an advocate for small business and thought I knew the challenges,” he says. “But until you actually are one, have to meet weekly payroll and are dealing with live product and inventory, you really don’t understand everything that’s involved until you are knee-deep in it.”
Problems such as delivery vans that won’t start, broken coolers and leaky roofs can’t wait until tomorrow. In the same respect, managing cash flow in an industry that relies on holidays for its bread and butter is a bit tricky. “We have three big holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day,” he says, which provide a significant amount of their yearly revenue. “The real challenge is making that revenue last 12 months.” Equally challenging is finding the right combination of people who have good chemistry and work well together. Then of course, there is fierce competition from the big-box stores and online competitors.
Owning a small business can often be an uphill battle, so Pelzer works hard to offer his customers a more personal experience that keeps them coming back. “We take great pride in our accountability to our customers, something you can’t always count on with big-box or online sales,” he says, adding that if a customer is not satisfied for any reason, Busch’s will take care of it promptly. “We want to do whatever it takes to create customer satisfaction.”
Five years ago, the Pelzers opened a second location in Columbia, and in 2013, Busch’s was selected Best Florist in Jefferson City Magazine City’s Best poll. Honored at being selected, Pelzer says this recognition not only significantly increased the store’s social media visibility but also its presence in the community, But they aren’t resting on their laurels. “We strive every single day to excel in customer service, great floral design and to provide the freshest product available to the customer,” he says.
Running a small business might be the hardest thing Pelzer has done in his career, and like many small businesses, Busch’s has weathered some hard economic times over the past few years. “Every day we come to work and open the doors, it’s another victory,” he says. But he whole-heartedly recommends it to others if they have a good idea, are not discouraged easily and don’t mind the long hours.
“When you get it figured out, carve out your role in the marketplace and make the business profitable, the personal rewards are enormous,” he says, “just seeing all you have accomplished with so much stacked against you.”