To celebrate small business week, FBA sat down with Allison Ludema from Ludema’s Floral and Garden to understand their small, family business story and what makes them tick. Read on to learn how their business has blossomed over five generations.
Where it All Began
Ludema’s Floral and Garden, a fifth generation, family-owned business, has been on the same land since they opened in 1907. What is now a busy commercial area in Kentwood was once an agricultural area filled with greenhouses and family farms. Allison’s great, great grandparents began the business by selling their extra produce on a road-side stand, and they would drive their products to the East Side Market in Detroit and other local markets. Then, their focus was mostly fruits and vegetables. They eventually evolved into indoor plants and other garden crops.
Over time, subsequent generations began infusing their passions into the business. As Allison explained, the fourth generation, her mother and aunt, started moving the business toward floral sales.
“My mom was the one who developed the department from nothing…It’s grown by leaps and bounds, even in the last 10-20 years.” When Allison was a teenager, they began offering wedding services again and Ludema’s continues to expand and connect within the West Michigan Community.
In addition to weddings, corporate partnerships and events sales have continued to expand as they grow their reputation in this space within the community. For example, Ludema’s partners with the Amway Grand Hotel Downtown Grand Rapids to provide fresh, beautiful floral arrangements throughout their lobby.
“Our quality of work has pushed other people to recommend us,” says Allison. The family business also works with Corewell Health through a concierge service, and Allison’s goal is to continue developing these relationships and community partnerships in coming years.
Although the fifth-generation business leader manages the strategic direction of the company, the fourth generation is still involved behind the scenes. “We of course talk to each other about everything that’s going on,” and her parents still reside on the property where she and previous generations grew up. In addition to the strategic direction, Allison manages the retail operations and, like many family business owners, wears many hats. She is thankful to have a great team of managers and coordinators to help her day-to-day. Year round, their team consists of fewer than 20 employees but employs as many as 50 employees during peak seasons.
Allison never anticipated joining the family business even though she grew up on the property that has been in her family for over 100 years. “We always had to help growing up, even as little kids.” From learning how to serve customers, to tying bows for arrangements, she has been involved in the business for as long as she can remember. Wanting to pave her own path, Allison majored in Hospitality & Tourism with an emphasis in Event Planning. Although she didn’t know it at the time, it came in handy for her role today.
Today, it is the legacy and history that makes her most proud. She explains it wasn’t until COVID-19 created so much uncertainty for the business that it dawned on her just how special Ludema’s is to her and the community.
“It lit a fire under me. I did so many things I never thought I would have to do or explore. I’ve always been proud of it and love it, but the fear of losing it heightened it even more.”
Another point of pride is the relationships with her customers. “We have a lot of regulars who know a lot about our business and our family. That we know them by first name, and when they walk in we can greet them that way is a really special thing.” Maintaining that for more than 116 years is no small feat, and they have worked hard to do so. Allison explained that their cohesive team culture is part of creating this customer experience and welcoming atmosphere.
Aside from the customer connections, Allison feels that locally owned business are important “because we understand the community, how it changes and we can evolve with it.” Not to mention the passion and quality of their products, which has been passed down for generations.
“We care about the quality, and we care about what we are sending out the door, and I think that’s the difference with a small business.”
What’s Next For Ludema’s?
When asked what she is most excited about in the future of Ludema’s, Allison expresses, “I am very passionate about continuing to build our floral department and continue to let people know that we are here all year round to get a beautiful floral arrangement or help with an event. We put our hearts into everything that we do and when we do it, we do it well.”
As they continue to move forward, Allison acknowledges that without “that family connection from the beginning” and the foundation it provided, “we wouldn’t have the other unique parts of our business.” Like any family business, Ludema’s has transformed and evolved over the generations yet maintains the shared roots of generational passion and expertise.
Experience with Family Business Alliance
As a small, family business owner, the Family Business Alliance Peer Groups have been valuable for Allison. “Being in a room with people that have the same sort of struggles that I do is very comforting but also mind-blowing.”
“To hear people from corporations that I have known my whole life dealing with similar issues to my own is so comforting. No matter how big or how small, or what the struggles have been within you family company, to know that someone else is experiencing something similar that can provide insight, is what I appreciate.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Written by Aislinn Teachout
Family Business Alliance strives to help family businesses with the tools, resources, and connections to help businesses succeed. Learn more about our resources including Leading Forward, Succeeding in Succession, and Navigating Governance that help to advance family business in our community.