When Richard Ramey opened Flower Cottage on Main in East Point there were eight florists in the area. Today there’s only one. That was 27 years ago, and since then a lot has changed, but Ramey’s business is still standing.
Situated along Main St. in East Point’s historic downtown, Flower Cottage is one of two businesses that Ramey owns, The Atlanta Eagle being the other. The latter has become a staple in Atlanta’s LGBT community with both businesses exemplifying Ramey’s brand of spirited and ‘people first’ entrepreneurship.
Speaking of people, Ramey’s gift as a florist has landed him on the contact lists of such celebrities as Queen Latifah, Tyler Perry and the late Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. He served as The King of Pop’s personal florist for two years and was responsible for beautifying parties inside Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. He was also chosen to provide all of the flowers for the homegoing service for Coretta Scott King, wife of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a vocal LGBT rights advocate.
Georgia Voice caught up with Ramey on a cool Thursday morning in East Point, and like Flower Cottage, he was charming, accessible and eager to share the story behind his journey as a successful gay business owner for nearly three decades.
Georgia Voice: What motivated you to open Flower Cottage on Main?
Richard Ramey: I opened this business on June 5, 1989. My first landlord was Maynard Jackson. We go back a long time. He was a great guy. The love of flowers and the love of the industry came from high school. I was always a class officer or president of the class—so I did a lot of proms and dances—just organizing events. As I got older, I realized that this is something I wanted to do.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of running Flower Cottage on Main?
It’s a very challenging business. I don’t think people realize that there are a lot of deadlines in this business. People will call and say, ‘Oh I need it there by 12 or by 1 or by 2.’ My main objective is to keep my customers happy every day. I think being in any business for 27 years gives you an idea of how much I love it—because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here. I enjoy the community, the opportunities and I love people. I think that’s where the two businesses come together: a nightclub and a florist. I have an opportunity to always be around people and that’s what I love most of all.
There’s two companies: FTD and Teleflora and they’re both national companies. I’m in the top 100 in the nation of about 17,000 shops. Being in the top 100 says a lot about our company; not only do we have the volume but we also have the quality. There’s guidelines that you have to meet to be a part of one of those companies. It also enables us to deliver flowers all over the world. We go through FTD to get the flowers there.
What sets Flower Cottage on Main apart from other flower shops?
If you go up front [in the store] you’ll see very few arrangements pre-made. We like to custom make each piece. Unfortunately, with the internet today we get a lot of orders where people say, ‘I want what’s in the picture,’ so we have to follow the guidelines in the picture. And then we have many customers that say, ‘You know what I like, make me something beautiful.’ This business is really an art form. We enjoy being able to put together something different and not just what’s on the internet. But whatever you want, we can do.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your business?
Tough question. If you go to bed at night and you didn’t learn something that day then you really had a bad day. I listen to people and I pay attention to my surroundings and I’m always very happy when I learn something new in a day.
Overall, I’d say the amount of dedication you have to give a business for it to be successful. You just can’t open the doors and they will come. You’ve got to be a part of the business and you’ve got to be willing to put your whole self into that business or you won’t be here. I feel that I’ve done that.