By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Photos by Viktor Budnik
With Feb. 14 just days away, chocolates, wine and flowers will be on every sweetheart’s mind. And when you want to “make hearts smile,” Sweet Peas on Johnson Drive in Ventura is one of the first places locals think of for their floral needs. In honor of Valentine’s Day, love and local business, Ventana Monthly sat down with Sweet Peas owner Kasey Kruft to discuss the seeds of her success, blooming where you’re planted, preparing for one of the biggest events of the year and more.
Are you from Ventura County originally?
Yes! My husband and I were both born here in Ventura County and we have lived here on the east end our whole lives. We are all within about a two-mile radius of each other and the shop.
What were you doing prior to owning and operating Sweet Peas?
I worked at Skating Plus when I was in high school. I got married to the love of my life when I was 19 years old — he proposed right here at the shop when I was 18 years old. I had just graduated three months earlier and he came in with my mom when I was working and asked me to marry him! I continued to work here at Sweet Peas for a few more years, and then left to try other business ventures.
A few years later we had our first child and I was loving being a mom. I was always connected here at the shop, helping out at holidays, but now I was pregnant again with our second baby and I stopped into the shop one Friday afternoon just to say hello and catch up on how things were going here. Debbie Alvarez, the previous owner, told me that the shop was for sale. I said, “I’ll buy it!” and she said, “You can have it!” and we laughed and somehow the conversation got a little deeper and my questions were bigger.
Here I am, five months pregnant, and by Monday we were doing up the paperwork and getting the funds together and working out the details. Just like that — I owned a flower shop! I had been here for 13 years but suddenly felt like it was my first day on the job!!
When did you get involved in the flower/florist industry?
I started working at Sweet Peas because my friend Melanie worked here. If Melanie worked at Jiffy Lube, I would have gotten a job at Jiffy Lube! I was 15 years old and I just wanted to work where my friend did. Flowers were not the attraction. It seemed like a fun place to work when I was a kid. I never imagined I would own it. EVER!
I took official ownership of the shop on July 1, 2003.
Did you make any major changes to the shop or operation?
We did not tell anyone that I had bought the shop for well over a year…almost two years, if I remember correctly. People do not like change. I know because I hate change myself! Debbie and Tony had such a good reputation here that a new owner coming in would most likely not be well received, even though I had been here for a long time. We kept it quiet so that I could come in and run the shop as seamlessly as possible and when we revealed it was me all along, people were much more accepting when I was able to say I had owned it for several years. It was a good plan and helped make for a smooth transition. It was hard to keep it quiet!
Technology was changing at that time, so a major change for us was the Point of Sale (POS) system. Doing everything on a computer was a huge change that has evolved over the years. I can’t believe we used to hand write every order! Even the cards were hand written.
As far as changes to the shop…Sure, I put my own spin on a few things. A shelf here or there. But in all honesty, the shop has always run like a well-oiled machine and it did not need any changes at all. I was set up for success.
Describe a typical day for you.
We open at 8:30 a.m. and I generally get in pretty close to then, as well as my shop manager, Amy Johnston. My mom, Barbara, gets to the shop early and does all of my paperwork and office stuff. She also has my coffee ready every day when I come in. I am very spoiled. She takes incredible care of all of us! We love Barbara!
We generally chat about the day and then start our orders as the rest of the crew shows up. If there is anything we know about the floral industry, it’s that there is no such thing as a “typical day.” Every day is new and different than the last. We have people that order weeks and months in advance, but that is rare. We normally have same-day orders that come in and it can be challenging to be prepared for that. We are lucky that we have an amazing group of growers that come by every day and we can get fresh product at all times.
We do not “take a lunch.” Lunch is on the fly and whenever it happens, it happens. We close at 5:30 p.m., but we are rarely out of here before 6:30 p.m. with closing and cleaning. My average week is always about 56 hours — but none of this applies to holiday times! That can be a 24-hour shift and easily near 80 hours or more.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have to confront in your line of work?
We deal with a lot of different challenges. Dealing with a perishable [product] is one of the hardest parts of this industry. Knowing what to buy and how much. If I buy it and do not sell it, it goes in the trash. If I don’t buy it, then I don’t have anything to sell. It’s a delicate balance!
We deal with weather — and not just our weather. We are affected by weather all over the world because our product does not just come from local sources.
We are affected by politics — and not just our politics. If Ecuador is fighting with their government, which happens more than we would think, they will protest and not harvest the roses which are where we get all of our roses. If there is a hurricane in Thailand, we can end up with no orchids.
There are a lot of factors that I had not anticipated when I took over here. Getting hard goods has been an issue since COVID. We carry 14 different styles of everyday containers here for Valentine’s Day; last year we could get three of those styles! We make adjustments, of course, and we can use other vases, but it means making those adjustments and having to account for what that does to our bottom line.
What do you find most rewarding about being a florist?
We are there for people’s most important moments in their life. We are in the hands of a bride as she becomes a wife. We are on the desk of a friend or colleague to celebrate their milestones or accomplishments. We are also on the top of the casket of a loved one as we let someone we love go and to celebrate their life. These “people,” though, are not just people…this is my community. These are my people. I certainly do not know every single person we deliver for, but in my heart I feel like I do!
This is my hometown and these are my people and I want them to have the very best we have to offer. Having someone share their memories with us of “times we were there” means the world to me. “You made my corsage for me for my prom!” “You did our wedding flowers!” “You helped us when my Grandma passed away.” We get to be there for our community when they need us the most. It is an honor.
Are there any events or holidays that you particularly enjoy?
NOPE! Haha. Just kidding. Holidays are not the same when you work in this industry. Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Christmas…We are the busiest during these times, so celebrating them is not the same for us. We are “on” for six months and off for six months. Starting in November with Thanksgiving and ending in May with Mother’s Day. Those are our holiday months.
The other six months are weddings and events. I love fall. The change in the season and the flowers we get to use is such a nice change of pace at that time of year. I love the warm fall colors.
As far as designing goes, I think funeral arrangements are the most satisfying to create. We get to make large pieces with lots of flowers that are big and showy. They are the most rewarding for sure.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and it is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year for florists. How busy do you expect to be? How do you prepare for it?
Oh Valentine’s! We have such a love/hate relationship! Having done this long enough I am finally no longer afraid of Valentine’s Day like I used to be.
I keep detailed notes about every holiday and make adjustments for all of them based on the notes I keep. There is a big difference for us if it falls on a Saturday versus having “VDay” on a Monday or a Wednesday. We never have a “slow” VDay. We are never bored, that’s for sure!! We expect to be very busy this year.
We eventually cut off orders, which is why we always encourage everyone to order early. There is only so much you can do to prepare in this business. You can order the flowers, have the vases, cut the ribbon, prepare the cards, have candy on hand and teddy bears — but you can’t start making arrangements until it’s go time! It is still like waiting to be in a bar fight. You can stretch and jog in place and prepare yourself the best you can, but you are still going to get punched in the mouth! There is only so much you can do ahead of time.
What are some tips for people looking for the perfect floral arrangement for their Valentines?
Order in advance. Do not call last minute. Give us time to help you!
Don’t limit us to something you have seen online. We are not robots and cannot create an exact picture you have found that has absolutely been photoshopped. Let us be creative and give you what we have that is best.
We can work with your budget. Tell us what you would like to spend and let us do our magic. You get the most that way. Let us pick what looks best. We are only here to make you happy and put a smile on your sweetheart’s face. That is our #1 goal.
Weddings are another big event for florists — how many do you handle every year?
We are the exclusive florist at Wedgewood Sterling Hills in Camarillo and they keep us VERY busy! We do not take many outside weddings because of that. Last year we did 143 weddings…that is a lot considering there are only 52 weekends in a year! I am exhausted just reading that!
What advice do you have for couples selecting a florist for their wedding celebrations?
Be happy with all of your vendors; there are a lot of us to choose from. Inquire early; there are only so many weekends in a year and it fills up fast. Use Pinterest as a guide…not a rule: 90% of everything on there is filtered and cannot be recreated and half of it is artificial. It makes for a disappointing experience if we have to tell you that you can’t have everything you like on there. Look for real, un-photoshopped, unfiltered pictures and stay clear of Etsy! Everything there is artificial!
Do you have a favorite flower?
I get asked this a lot and it changes daily, but if I had to pick one flower that always speaks to my heart it is, hands down, a gladiola. I know. I am as shocked as you! But for sentimental reasons (my Grandma always had them in her yard) and for the fact that they are a slow bloomer, they come in a million different colors. They can be so tight, showing absolutely no color, and then reveal the most stunning flower. I think they are great!
Any future plans for Sweet Peas?
After 33 years in the same location, Sweet Peas will be moving this year! We were the first business here in the Gateway Village Center and it is time for us to move on. We need a bigger space and as the businesses around us continue to grow and do well, we find that we need to stretch out in a space with more room and more parking. We will be moving across the street to the North Bank Plaza shopping center. We will be around the corner from Anytime Fitness, next door to F. Morton Pitt Co. We are excited for the change and nervous at the same time. I hate change but we are definitely up for the challenge!
As a lifelong resident of this beautiful city, I am honored to be here for all of your floral needs. Thank you for shopping local, supporting small business and for making each day a joy to come to work.
Sweet Peas Flowers and Gifts
2855 Johnson Drive, Ventura