How The Uprooted Flower Truck Is Reinventing Floristry (On Wheels)
Ice cream, cupcakes, and tamales are all things you can get from a truck — but what about a gorgeous bouquet of flowers? Ashley Custer and Kristin Heckler opened Uprooted Flower Truck last year with a mission to make beautiful high-end flowers available on the streets of New York City– and now, they are achieving that mission from the back of a bright turquoise truck that is changing the concept of floristry, one vase at a time.
Custer first fell in love with flowers when she was a 14-year-old working at a floral shop in Wilmington, Delaware. The young and energetic duo met working in Social Work Foster Care Case Management in Philadelphia, but Custer was longing for a career change, and after she and Heckler had moved together to NYC, she returned to her original passion (flowers) and started working at a boutique floral shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Inspired by the simple beauty of flowers, Custer soon discovered one of the a major drawbacks of these boutique shops: they’re tiny. Their small size discourages people from browsing and asking questions. Stepping into a store like this, people feel intimidated and a more pernicious obligation to buy.
The idea for the flower truck came about in 2013.
With a passion for business, Custer took on the operations and management role, or, as she describes it, the role of CFO (“Chief Flower Officer”). She and Heckler launched a Kickstarter campaign that year, and, with the aid of friends who helped them create everything from a logo to business card designs, they were eventually on the road– the Uprooted Flower Truck launched just over one year ago, in May of 2015.
I met with Ashley and their team member Chloe one overcast Saturday in Chelsea while they were collaborating with This is Story, a quirky theme-based shop that completely revamps itself every 6-8 weeks.
“I wanted people to feel like they can stop by, check out the flowers, ask questions, and not feel pressure,” Ashley told me about the truck, as she cut the ends of a stems that would eventually make their way into arrangements. “Flowers should be fun.” That playfulness shines through in all aspects of Uprooted, from the design to the arrangements to the flowers themselves.
“We also wanted to have a low price point option so that what we do could be accessible to younger people,” Kristin said. The truck’s three sizes, creatively named Studio, Loft, and Penthouse cost between $12 to $40.
When I asked Kristin what was most surprising about creating and operating a flower truck, she told me it was all the invitations they receive to collaborate with companies like Loft, Soul Cycle, and Lululemon. “We didn’t know there was a need in the market, but we found that where we’re most wanted is in the marketing realm. Small bunches of flowers that are high quality are the type of things big businesses and corporations want for a surprise and to delight either their employees or their customers.”
Uprooted has also collaborated with NeueHouse, a community of several hundred artists and representatives of artists working in Murray Hill, where they parked outside and gave away bouquets. “It seems to be something that no one else is really offering,” Kristin recalls.
For Ashley, a favorite aspect of these kind of collaborations is getting creative with the duo’s flower choices— creating bouquets of bright yellow ranunculi for Soul Cycle while designing a more formal and subdued look for Loft.
The Uprooted flowers set aside for This is Story flew off the truck by the time I arrived. Meanwhile, at their loft in DUMBO, the team was preparing 2,000 bouquets to be distributed in 10 Loft stores that next day.
Some of the flowers on the truck on the Saturday that we met were cape greens, vernaculars, rainbow eucalyptus, grape hyacinths, peonies, clematis, and bupleurum, many of which aren’t available in the city’s typical bodegas due to the high maintenance they require.
A longtime florist, Ashley is enthusiastic about people taking care of their flowers in order to preserve them for as long as possible. “A little care goes a long way,” she adds. (Custer recommends cutting flowers daily and includes a little instruction card for every customer.)
As Ashley and Chloe prepared the bouquets, she shares one of Uprooted’s most unique tricks: sending the bouquets home pre-packaged in water. “I’ve found that people will buy flowers, but by the time they get home they could already be starting to wilt,” she said, wrapping saran wrap around the bouquet to create a pouch to hold water, enough to carry the flowers over until they arrive at the respective homes.
“Seeing the truck is delightful to people. It brings joy,” Kristin says. Even if tourists might not buy the flowers, but they’ll pause to take pictures. Others will simply stop by and ask questions about the truck. “Or people stop and do a double-take,” she said.
Their success and popularity speak to a perhaps overlooked desire for New Yorkers to connect with nature in a playful, joyful yet simple manner. As passionate young entrepreneurs, they bring a new lens to a flower world that has historically been intimidating for some, out of reach for others, or too convoluted for onlookers to understand.
The bright and bold turquoise truck from which Uprooted operates is hard to miss, but you can catch up with them through their online calendar or Twitter, which they use as a form of roving alert system, updating it regularly with their latest happenings and collaborations.
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