Michele’s Floral

Ahead of the Trends
by Sara Browning

More than a traditional flower shop, Michele’s Floral Events & Decorative Accessories provides complete floral services for every occasion.

Michele Birkner was just 10 years old when she first inquired about working for Johnson’s Floral and Greenhouses in Morton. After learning she was too young, she began babysitting for the Johnsons’ son when she was 13. “They couldn’t keep me away entirely,” Birkner laughs. “After doing some babysitting, the Johnsons hired me to work in their greenhouse when I was 14.”

Of course, Birkner’s success in the floral industry did not come overnight. As a new employee at Johnson’s Floral, her first responsibilities included cleaning and sweeping, but she gradually worked her way into the business. “While working at Johnson’s, the owner’s father passed away,” she recalls. “I was then placed in charge of one section of the greenhouse. I was buying truckloads of green plants—it was a significant responsibility at such a young age. I’m grateful the Johnsons put so much trust in me.”

With an effervescent flare for creativity, Birkner attended Design Floral School in Denver, Colorado, following her stint at Johnson’s Floral. “I was very active in the industry and always open to new ideas.” On Saint Patrick’s Day of 2006, Birkner founded Michele’s Floral Events and Decorative Accessories in Peoria Heights, and after 42 years of experience in the industry, she’s never grown jaded. “The day I become bored is the day I shouldn’t do this anymore,” she explains. “But right now, I absolutely love what I do!”

A Memorable Experience
Upon opening her doors for the first time, Birkner was surprised by the amount of customers the business received. “I remember I had a list of all these things I wanted to do before the store officially opened,” she says, smiling. “When business came, it came suddenly. I was very lucky!”

Offering complete coordination of event décor, including floral arrangements, lighting, draping, linen, crystal, place settings and more, Michele’s Floral Events and Decorative Accessories is more than a typical flower shop. “We are a boutique and much different from traditional stores,” Birkner says. “We carry higher-end flowers and higher-end accessories.”

Birkner credits her success, in part, to her refusal to “blend in” with the ordinary. “I knew that with this business, I was embarking on something different than the traditional flower shop. My decision to veer from traditional floral designs and arrangements appealed to a lot of people.”

She and her talented staff pay special attention to every client in an effort to provide excellence in quality and service. Listening, she notes, is key to offering a memorable experience. “Our staff listens to what our clients are looking for and provides specific services to match their needs. We strive to execute designs and events with absolute perfection.”

The Art of Floral Design
Having spent decades using fresh flowers to add meaning and beauty to weddings, funerals, fundraisers, business luncheons and private events, no one understands the art of floral design quite like Birkner. This experience has helped her remain well ahead of current trends.

“I follow Hollywood fashion and also Europe—in style, color and product,” Birkner notes. Stocking the finest, freshest flowers from international markets, her business emphasizes tasteful, pure design that transcends the ordinary and brings out the hidden meaning in life’s most momentous occasions. “We allow the natural beauty of each individual blossom to show. Our arrangements will always be instantly recognizable!”

Those creative abilities have been highlighted at private dinners for the likes of former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, as well as House Speaker John Boehner and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The company was also requested to decorate for the annual Petals and Paintings gala and exhibition at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign.

“In working with clients over the years, I have learned when to unleash my creativity full-force, and when to harness it based on what my clients want,” Birkner explains. “There’s always a big idea you can use on a smaller scale. Creativity involves always keeping your mind open.”

And when it comes to giving the client what they want, there’s nothing she and her staff can’t handle. “I once had a client who wanted fireworks at one of her events. We do whatever the client wants as long as we can accomplish it. One of the best compliments I receive in thank-you notes is: ‘You listened to us, and you created what we wanted.’ In my book, there’s no higher compliment than that!”

Your Signature Wedding
Through her knowledge and expertise, Birkner considers both the style of flowers and the location of the wedding ceremony, accenting bridal and bridesmaid bouquets to complement brides and their wedding party. With special additions—such as Swarovski crystals to add a beautiful sparkle—her company’s wedding flowers are among the most memorable in the region.

Birkner’s distinctive style can be seen in the personalized flowers handcrafted especially for distinguished guests, including corsages, wristlets and flowers for mothers of the bride. Receptions are also a specialty: Chiavari chairs, mother-of-pearl flatware, gold Murano stemware and tabletop lighting are just a few accessories that accent the beauty of her floral compositions. In addition, her experience purchasing and handling fresh flowers allows her and her staff to provide brides with guidance regarding which flowers to purchase at specific times of the year.

“We are very particular in the process of guiding brides in their flower selection,” Birkner explains. “We always try to purchase flowers of superior quality, which can be more expensive. At the same time, we have done weddings on $300 budgets and up. We work to make all our clients happy.”

A Personal Tribute
With the solemn respect accorded to loved ones who have passed, Birkner’s decorative touch also lifts the spirits of clients who have recently experienced a loss. Her casket sprays, she says, pay a very personal tribute to the deceased and are designed to mirror a loved one’s favorite colors, preferred flowers or beloved hobbies. “I’ve lost the majority of my family,” she notes. “For me, funeral flowers should be a total celebration of a person’s life—fresh and beautiful.”

But good business, she believes, encompasses far more than beautiful flowers. “Business is about people. It’s the people who are very ill or the people who have lost a loved one. It’s the people who have reason to celebrate. Because of my longevity with the business, my staff and I have become very close to several of our clients. I’ve helped [them] when their pets have become ill and have coordinated their funerals. You come to a point when clients come to rely on you for more than just flowers—this is when you know you are truly making a difference.”

Never a Dull Moment
Birkner makes it easy to enjoy the festive spirit of the holidays with ideas for seasonal home décor. Whether it’s Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or New Year’s, her personal touch has “decked the halls” of private residences as well as community events, such as the Opera Illinois Yule Walk.

Birkner and her staff have also witnessed their share of “Christmas miracles.” “Two years ago, two weeks before Christmas, a client of mine passed away. Her daughter wanted to use lavender roses at the funeral because her mother absolutely loved lavender roses,” she recalls. “But it [was] December—not the season for lavender roses. I called one of my suppliers. He had just ordered a full case!”

A willingness to “take a risk” to get the products her clients need sets Birkner’s business apart. “There have been events in my life when flowers have meant the world to me and brought me much comfort, and I’ll do whatever it takes to give this same comfort to others.”

Birkner and her creative team also understand the importance of giving back, creating arrangements for a variety of fundraisers and events. “We’ve done several local events including the Cook’s Tour of Peoria… and the Grand Tour of Homes. We also fully support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria every year for their gala in November,” she says.

From late-night teardowns to 7am photo shoots, Birkners says her business is a mix of rewards and challenges. “There’s never a dull moment here, never a time when there’s nothing to do. But knowing that you’re bringing happiness to people in good times and in bad helps you rise above every challenge.” iBi

Michele’s Floral is located at 1225 E. Samuel Avenue in Peoria Heights. For more information, visit michelesfloralevents.com or call (309) 679-1505.

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