Spiro Palmer, a Greek immigrant, transformed Palmer’s Flowers from a small downtown shop to one of the premiere flower stores in Northern Colorado.

Spiro Palmer’s love of flowers paying off 2001 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Fort Collins

FORT COLLINS — You gotta love what you do to work long hours seven days a week, year after year after year. Spiro Palmer, president of Palmer Flowers, Palmer Decorating Gallery and Palmer Properties, has been doing just that.

“Clearly, he’s built Palmer Flowers into the premiere florist business in Northern Colorado,´ said C. Gerard Nalezny, president of Community First Bank in Fort Collins. “You can drive by or drop by, and there’s Spiro watering flowers. He’s there, constantly redoing it, remaking it, staying in front of the industry trends. He’s continually refining, looking out for the future.”

Greek immigrant

Palmer immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1973 and immediately went to work in his family’s floral business in Boulder, a business begun in 1912 by uncles in Chicago and a business that continues to operate there today as well.

After a couple years working in Boulder, Palmer, in keeping with family tradition, was ready to pursue his big dream: a flower shop of his own. He moved to Fort Collins in 1975 and opened his business a year later in a 1,000-square-foot shop downtown.

He started the business with $10,000 of his own money and a $15,000 bank loan. “I knew it would work from day one,” he said. “I loved the city and the people, and even though there was a lot of competition, I knew I could compete with them because I had the good location and low overhead. We had a good first year.”

Cash and carry became a dominant part of the downtown business and customers kept coming back because of good service and beautiful flowers. Palmer, his wife, Angela, and two other employees kept the shop hopping, with annual sales reaching $600,000 in 1982. Typical annual sales for a florist shop 1,500- to 2,000-square-feet in size is between $350,000 and $500,000, he said.

Daring move made

But the downtown location became too small. Palmer started searching for a larger location, but found nothing to suit his needs in what was then the heart of the city. So he looked south, and bought land at South College and Horsetooth. It was a daring move on his part, since this area was, at the time, undeveloped. He persevered and the 15,000-square-foot store opened in 1983.

The store was large for Fort Collins’ population in the early ’80s, then about 60,000 people. “It was way too big for Fort Collins,” Palmer said. But he built for the future, not for the present. As time went by, not only did the business grow, but so did Fort Collins in both population and development. His store, now in what many consider the retail heart of the city, brings in annual sales of $3 million. His business is ranked among the top 100 Teleflora shops in terms of sales and is one of the 25 largest shops in terms of square footage. Teleflora includes 26,000 florists nationwide.

Part of the growth in sales came as a result of the expansion beyond selling flowers. “We started focusing more on the interior-decorating business.” In concert with that, he built the first phase of the Palmer Design Center, anchored by the Palmer Decorating Gallery, which specializes in artificial silk trees, flowers, plants and art work.

A year later, phase two of the Design Center was built. Tenants, carefully chosen by Palmer to complement one another, include Expressions Custom Furniture, of which he is part owner, The Floor Store, Lighting Designs, Pella Windows, Elite Appliance and Schroll Cabinets.

“In terms of real estate, he’s very strategic,” Nalezny said. “The whole idea of the Design Center is something Fort Collins hasn’t seen. It’s a simple idea, but executing it takes time. He’s very strategic. He’s planning today what’s happening in his business five or 10 years down the road.”

Design school opened

One such business strategy may be to return to downtown with a second location, Palmer said. In the meantime, he opened the Palmer Design School in January. Angela Palmer oversees the school, which has six to 14 students enrolled for five-week sessions to learn flower design.

“We always had a lot of requests,” Palmer said of his decision to make such classes available. “Our industry, as a whole, has a hard time finding employees. Quite a few of the students are working in floral shops throughout Northern Colorado.”

It doesn’t bother him, he said, that he’s training future employees of his competitors as well as for himself.

Palmer now has 35 employees and as many as 100 during the holidays. Holiday sales account for 40 percent of his annual sales of both artificial and fresh flowers and plants. Valentine’s Day is the biggest day of the year, however. Employees prepare for a week to make 1,110 deliveries on the sweetest day of the year.

Weddings are a mainstay year-round, with flowers arranged for eight to 10 weddings a week, slowing down only in the fall before the Christmas rush.

In addition to delivering flowers, Palmer is a firm believer in delivering good will. He supports such organizations as Respire Care, United Way, Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation, Foothills Gateway, Colorado State University and Poudre School District.