The Dialogue with Roger H. Wilhoite

This feature is a question-and-answer session with a new Blount County Chamber member. So here we go with our 101st installment visiting with Roger H Wilhoite, Owner | Designer | Consultant of Gather and Blüme events & floral which helps people gather for all things – from small social events to large annual fundraising events; corporate retreats to group experiences.

Describe what Gather and Blüme does. First, we help people gather. In all ways, for all things – from small social events to large annual fundraising events; corporate retreats to group experiences. We work hard to make sure that every detail, and every result, fits you, your budget, and your aspirations. That’s why we listen hard, and work harder – to inspire, to design, to plan, and to manage every aspect of the events we do, not just so that you don’t have to, although that’s important, but so that we can make sure that you get what you want, without hitch or hassle.
 
Tell me more. I recently relocated to Maryville from Washington state – “coming home,” as so many in the South do, place and people never fully out of us, and always tugging. In Washington, I spent the last several years planning and managing fundraising events for local nonprofit organizations. Helping to build the capacity of organizations “to do good” and volunteering myself has always been something I’ve done and been thankful for wherever I’ve lived. Giving back to the community is important for all of us. I see that same opportunity here, and that’s a big reason for starting this business. And while I also do private and corporate event planning selectively, helping put together successful events to support a purpose I believe in remains a life joy. Why floral design services? That comes, first, from a love of flowers I get from my grandmother. I will have the opportunity here to use fresh cut flowers most of the year from our own fields, which gives me the ability to offer the widest, freshest selection of flowers, with a unique design aesthetic, at reasonable cost to the customer.
 
Second, we help others bloom. We provide floral design services to people, events, and businesses. We are not a retail flower shop (yet), although we do pop-up shops at local businesses and markets throughout the year and plan to have a flower stand on-site at “Hugh’s Garden” later this summer! Our specialty is creatively and thoughtfully designed occasional and special event flower arrangements and flower subscription services (we grew up with fresh flowers always in the house, no matter how simple the arrangement, and strongly believe that flowers inevitably bring hope and joy to the spaces we inhabit).
 
How did you get started? Does the time I planned my aunt’s baby shower from start to finish as a 15-year-old count? Actually, I worked for a while before college at a flower shop, and in college I studied horticulture and floriculture, earning an undergraduate degree in landscape design from North Carolina State. I also studied design at graduate school in Massachusetts. Early on in my professional career, I worked at Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington, North Carolina in set design, including floral ( a few acting spots). And then, as a master gardener, having the good fortune (and supply) of our own gardens, I have always provided flower arrangements for the house, friends, family and local events. I came to doing event planning and management more informally (although I did work early in my career as a corporate event planner). My partner was the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization in Bellingham, Washington, and he convinced me to “volunteer” my services as its event coordinator, where, among other things, I produced and secured sponsorship for its annual art auction, garden parties, a five-day film festival (complete with red carpet arrivals with VIP’s, music concerts (both national and local artist), bingo nights, and board retreats. From there, I worked for a private philanthropical family doing all of their social and corporate events, and moved on to work on other nonprofit fundraising events.
 
Who is your mentor? A supportive family is essential to any truly successful business – if not, one or the other suffers. I’ve had that my entire career. Add friends, and it gets even easier, and always better. How? As a sounding board, and a thought partner – no matter how good or crazy the idea, it helps to get it out of your head and in front of someone else you trust completely and unequivocally. As a calming presence or helpful backstop during the frantic times inevitable in any business. As a kind word or a stern prod, and knowing when each is needed. And sometimes, to see you through.
 
Describe your customers. That’s a tough one. We build our business on hard work, attention to detail, innovation and creativity, integrity of purpose, mutual respect, honesty and fair dealing, and humility. Maybe that sounds lofty, or simplistic. But we mean it. So, I would describe our customer as someone who thinks the same way. We have the privilege of engaging people at some of the most important times of their lives, doing some of the most important things any of us will do. That’s something quite a bit more than a business transaction, it’s a commitment. Our customers get, and expect, this.
 
What impacts your business environment? Again, with the tough questions! There is a line from a Pierce Pettis song that says, “everything matters if anything matters at all.” That’s certainly true about the business environment, where context is everything. When I think about fundraising, for example, both the social and political environments are fundamentally impactful. The work of most human and social service organizations is necessary in the first place because something about our social construct is broken or inefficient. And these are problems we often lack the political will or ability to fix. At the same time, this important work is made possible in no small part by the generosity and support of members of the community and local businesses. That’s both the challenge and opportunity of our social environment. Technology, I suppose, has the same duality. On the one hand, it has been one of greatest drivers of change, knowledge, capacity and prosperity in history, bringing a ruthless efficiency and effectiveness to much of what we all do every day. We, like almost everyone, depend on technology to do our work well and affordably. At the same time, technology has been one of the great disrupters of the modalities of business we have ever seen. I wake up several times a week wondering about how to engage the customer. And as we begin to plan and think about growing our own flowers and nursery stock, and the ethic of grow and go local, we are becoming more aware of the environmental (and economic) footprint we leave in the business we do, and more interested in doing something about it. Again, for us, coming home, this is about more than a business and maximizing profit, it’s about enhancing the place we live, and leave behind. We are just now stepping into the legal and regulatory environment of Tennessee. Ask us in a year!!
 
Name three things you wish you knew when you started?
1) Tax accounting- That way I would not have to pay someone else to do it, yet it does give back to the community.
2) How to manage my expectations- Rome was not built in a day yet we all yearn for instant success or financial freedom.
3) How to celebrate /embrace accomplishments and setbacks- We are our own worst critics and I am humbled by kind words or critique as it is always a learning/growing experience.
 
What do you enjoy about your business? Aside from the work itself, which is no small thing (as they say, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life), being an owner. Not just because. It’s a bracing responsibility. At the end of the day, the decisions made, the work done (or not done), and the impression left, come back to me, and iterate upon themselves. It’s something I must answer for, be proud of, and believe in. That will get you up in the morning, and keep you awake at night. As it should! Oh, and the flexibility.
 
Additional comments: As people have asked, a few words about Gather & Blüme. “Gather & Bloom” is a name that we liked from the beginning (and thought of independently!), but as with many other entities, what we are called depends in no small part on the domain name that is available. And Gather & Bloom” isn’t (a women’s clothing store in Texas). But my mother-in-law is German, and a woman who still has a fresh bouquet of flowers in her house every week. And “blume” is the German word for flower – except it’s blū : mǝ. Now you know.
 
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