VOL. 131 | NO. 43 | Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Pugh’s Cites Marketing In 40-Year Success
By Andy Meek
Pugh’s Flowers co-owner Michael Pugh might have seemed out of place a few weeks ago when he stood in front of an audience of marketing professionals to address the Memphis Public Relations Society of America’s Memphis chapter.
Family-owned Pugh’s Flowers is celebrating its 40th year, says co-owner Michael Pugh, thanks to a few things: the family’s willingness to diversify its business and to prioritize the marketing and telling of its story.
Turns out, there’s plenty about running a flower business – and how his family-owned enterprise has lasted long enough to celebrate its 40th birthday this year – that’s relevant to the branding and messaging experts of PRSA. And not just to PR professionals – anyone, really, with a small business to look after.
Pugh attributed some of the success of Pugh’s – which is now part of a collection of sister operations that also include lawn care, pest control and courier businesses – to longtime Memphis adman John Malmo.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to him,” Pugh told The Daily News, explaining why Pugh’s has been able to endure for four decades as of this year. “We met him in ’89, and he came up with a brand that was instantly recognizable.”
It was a task, in fact, that Malmo told the business’ leadership at the time was a top priority. Indeed, that it couldn’t be ignored without affecting the business’ prospects.
“He said, ‘I know you think you can’t afford to market, but you have to,’” Pugh recalls. “It’s the Number 1 mistake small businesses make, thinking they can’t market.
“For us, the flower business has always been a small, mom-and-pop industry. And you have to keep your name constantly in front of the public. It’s not a life necessity that people buy flowers, so we have to give them a reason to and to tell them we’re the best to buy from.”
The business traces its origins back to Bill Pugh – the father of brothers Michael, Mark and Tim who run it today – and his purchase with a partner of a flower shop on Jackson Avenue called Julia’s Flowers. He’d burned out on the corporate grind and wanted to be his own boss. Between 1976 and 1987, Pugh’s expanded by acquiring a few more flower shops.
Today, there are four – on Whitten Road, on Poplar Avenue in East Memphis, on Union Avenue near McLean Boulevard and in Southaven on Millbranch Road.
That’s in addition to Pugh’s Earthworks – the landscaping business, which Pugh said is now a bigger business than the flower side – plus Lickety Split Couriers and Rosie’s Pest Control.
The elder Pugh’s sons bought the flower business when their father died in 1987, and they also bought out the partner. The other businesses materialized over time and grew partly in response to the family not wanting to be all-in on any one enterprise – to diversify and evolve the business into the future.
One of the latest examples of that came last year, when Rosie’s Pest Control became a separate entity and was spun off after having been part of Pugh’s Earthworks.
Pugh said that piece of the operation reflects an attitude that seems to be something of a hereditary trait in his family.
“I don’t think my dad would recognize the business today,” Pugh said, in consideration of how the business has reached such a milestone year by being unafraid to try new things. “I think this is the kind of thing that’s just in our blood. We consider ourselves third-generation entrepreneurs.”