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December 21, 2004 > Lori Mei Florist & Gifts

Lori Mei Florist & Gifts

A small shop with a big idea

Oanh and Phong bought a flower shop in the Mission San Jose area two years ago. Along with many others, the downturn of the high tech industry forced the couple to look for other opportunities but as Oanh says, "we didn't know anything." Opening a restaurant was considered, but the long hours and high overhead was prohibitive for a couple with limited resources, so they looked for another business venture.

After two decades in the high tech business, starting something new was a huge and frightening challenge. Oanh says that the thought of working without the assurance of a corporate salary was daunting but, with the promise of assistance by a friend who excels in flower arrangements, they took the plunge into small business ownership.

Asked about her preference for a flower shop, Oanh responds with the basic statement, "I like flowers and plants." Armed with no experience but a lot of energy and determination, the intrepid entrepreneurs continued to serve customers. When the business was first purchased, she thought it would have a single focus of floral arrangements, but over time, began to mold it into something more than just another small shop sandwiched between others in a strip center.

As a fresh convert to the entrepreneurial life, Oanh was open to new ideas. A contact in Florida who also runs a florist shop, told her of the power of networking. Oanh's business world expanded as she began to consider connections to other services. Why not include businesses that needed an outlet for their wares, but lacked a storefront? Customers could benefit from the additional items and Lori Mei would become a conduit for a wide variety of products, many unique and unusual.

A move to a larger space on the opposite side of the shopping center expanded floor space which quickly filled with gift items. In a case by the cash register, locally made jewelry is displayed along with ceramic figurines. Oanh says that home-based artisans have come to her shop asking if Lori Mei would display their merchandise. She thought, "Why not?" Oanh reasons that if customers appreciate the variety in her shop, the space used is worthwhile. She adds that these items can be less expensive than through other means since the overhead cost is low.

On a recent visit to Lori Mei, while admiring prepared gift baskets displayed on a tiered stand, Phong was busy behind the scenes customizing baskets for a local business. The large basket that held his attention at the moment took shape with additions of flowers, fresh fruit selected by Oanh from local stores, sweets, toys and a book from another networking connection, The Book Locker. Oanh says that basket customers benefit from shopping trips she makes to local markets to be sure that fruits and other perishable items are fresh and presentable. At times, customers may see a basket available on their internet site from one Lori Mei's vendors but there isn't time to ship it to a local recipient. In that case, Oanh says they can create something similar and deliver the basket on time.

Cara Elness, owner of The Book Locker stops by to replenish racks of new and used books at the front of the store and explains the connection between her business, Lori Mei and Pizza Italia on Peralta Boulevard in Centerville. She says the idea is to unite "family-oriented businesses that believe in literacy." Oanh agrees with the concept and explains that her children love books. She feels that the ability to supply new and used books adds another facet to her business and gives customers another reason to come by and browse through her store.

Connections to other businesses abound at Lori Mei. It is hard to believe that within this small shop is the portal to a myriad of products and services including Shari's Berries, gourmet dinners, Mrs. Field's cookies, pasta, Hawaiian Leis, fruit direct, cakes, aromatherapy supplies and sugar-free confections. Oanh says that her connections with additional businesses are constantly expanding. One that is especially successful is a small family-owned business that makes cheesecakes. "They make great cheesecakes," Oanh says with a bit of awe in her voice. "I get a lot of orders for them!" She says that all are welcome to visit her store and see the variety of items available or visit the Lori Mei at website at

Oanh invites local entrepreneurs who have a product and want to display it in a retail setting to come by and talk with her. "If I think people would like the product and it will sell, I am interested in putting it in the store." She emphasizes that her merchandising philosophy at Lori Mei values quality and customers can depend on her to offer items that meet a high standard.

Lori Mei Florist & Gifts offers a unique program of "Petal Power." The Petal Rewards Program credits "petal points" for purchases of flowers or gifts. Oanh explains that petals are the beauty that creates a flower. The more petals there are, the more luxurious the bloom. According to petal power rules, petal points can be redeemed for cash savings, traded for merchandise or donated to a charity or local school of a customer's choice.

After two years of transition to managing her own business, Oanh admits that she made more money and had fewer problems when working as an employee, but even with the difficulties of small business ownership, she is enjoying herself. Owning and managing the business is difficult, but she says, "It is very different. I miss my co-workers, but I like it. I was getting bored with my high tech career and now I am my own boss." She talks about the wonderful feeling of managing her own business and her "great" customers concluding, "We are happy."

Lori Mei Florist & Gifts
39947 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 656-9122

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