Company: About 70 years ago, Ruth Messmer and her husband Jeff moved from Pennsylvania to Fort Myers to start Ruth Messmer Florist Inc. While Ruth took care of the business, Jeff grew the flowers. The business remained in the family when they died, passing the baton to their daughter, Heather Messmer, 69, who still co-owns the business, and son, Richard Messmer. That was until Richard, a local firefighter, was ready to retire about 13-14 years ago. Then Jessica Gnagey, 43, Heather’s daughter, ransomed her uncle.
One of the first business challenges Ruth Messmer Florist had to face was something it no longer has to deal with today: marketing. “They had to work hard to get the florist known,” says Gnagey. “They didn’t have the internet facility.”
One of the marketing techniques they tried was called Doghouse Insurance. Heather Messmer says Jeff would keep a list of birthdays and anniversaries for customers in the area. When the day approached, he called the client to call him back so that he would not find himself “in the niche”.
And the shop has stopped growing its own flowers, instead working with farms that grow higher quality flowers that last longer.
Succession plan: The florist wasn’t exactly part of Heather Messmer’s or Gnagey’s future. Messmer intended to be a veterinarian until his father fell ill. She dropped out of college to help out with the store.
And Gnagey was in the restaurant business before returning to the now third-generation store. “I wanted anything but to be in the business,” she says. But Gnagey ended up enjoying the creative part of design work with flowers. “You work with flowers every day. So it’s a very good job.
Gnagey has children, but she’s still not sure if the florist is part of their future.
“At the moment, we are still a family business,” she says. “They are still young and realize that.”
Her daughter, 18, currently works part-time at the store. “I wish it would continue,” Messmer says, adding that her granddaughter wants to be a lawyer. “Things can change. It would be cool to be a fourth generation company, but it will depend on her.
Challenges: While growing up with the family business, Messmer says she enjoyed working alongside her mother for those 40 years. Although it wasn’t always his cup of tea.
“I didn’t have much freedom because I had to work,” she says. His father took him fishing from time to time for a break.
But the holidays were also a challenge. “To see our parents during the holidays, we had to go to the store,” she says. “Every day was a working day. It was just the way we grew up.
The shop, while being a playground for Messmer, also became a teaching lesson. “If I got in trouble, my punishment was to curtsy,” she says. Even to this day, she hates doing bows.
“It takes a lot of dedication to run a florist shop,” she says. “Sometimes you don’t always agree with the other person.”
That’s something even Gnagey can agree with.
“I work with my mother,” she says. “We work very well together. But like any other family, we have our moments.
What will the company look like in five years: Currently, the mother-daughter team is in the next planning stage of their five-to-ten-year plan, so they haven’t set anything yet.
Gnagey hopes the store will see some growth, and she plans to hire more employees, to add to the current payroll of six people.
But they will also focus on adapting to long-term challenges, like supply chain grunts. Rising gas prices have also weighed on the business, which depends on deliveries. Gnagey expects to feel the effects of supply chain delays for a few more years. And even then, it won’t be what it was.
“I don’t think things will go back to how they were before COVID-19,” she says.
And if not, she says they’ll need to assess how the store handles those price changes.