When Kansas State graduates Matt and Bronwyn Douglas left Manhattan and their part-time college jobs at Kistner’s Flowers, they never expected to come back. After they graduated, the couple went to Alaska and a number of other places until 2006, when they received a phone call. Kistner’s Flowers was for sale.
“We had to go and get all our kicks out,” Bronwyn said. “We went and had some crazy adventures, then we bought this place in 2006.”
Bronwyn said it was not a difficult decision to make. She and Matt came back to Manhattan from Montana, where they had been living at that time, and “held hands and leaped into the decision.”
Eleven years after the leap, Bronwyn and Matt are continuing an over 70-year-old business in Manhattan as owners and designers. According to Kistner’s Flowers’ website, the shop has been open since 1946, and the Douglases are the third family to own it. Each family has changed the flower shop a little bit over the years, and the Douglases said they expect more change to come with community support, even after they leave the business.
“It’s pretty remarkable if you think about it,” Bronwyn said. “Without the support of Manhattan families, we wouldn’t be here… We’re kind of in this elite club and we want to keep going, but without the community, we can’t.”
Bronwyn said the founders of the flower shop, Ray and Marie Kistner started Kistner’s Flowers as a hobby, but it grew to be a full business. It went from Marie Kistner growing flowers in a ditch to Bronwyn and Matt ordering flowers from all over the world, keeping different varieties in stock, even in the region’s off-seasons. The business has grown under Bronwyn and Matt, doing more weddings and other big life events, the Douglases said.
The Douglases past experiences in customer service, as well as their studies at K-State, help them keep Kistner’s Flowers moving forward, they said. Bronwyn studied psychology and art, and Matt studied horticulture. That, plus their experience in customer service in an Alaskan lodge.
“That really allowed us to hone our hospitality slash customer service skills, just being super comfortable talking to people, just listening to people’s stories,” Bronwyn said. “I think that’s a huge part of what separates us from big box stores that sell flowers or plants. We’re actually really real people engaging with real people.”
Bronwyn and Matt had also worked at Blueville Nursery Inc. before Kisnter’s, working with plants before they knew they would be owning a flower shop later in life. They met at a fertilizer convention.
“He walked into the room, and I noticed him for sure,” Bronwyn said.
“To this day, fertilizer makes my heart speed up a little bit,” Matt said.
Bronwyn and Matt have been able to work together in different settings since then. They describe themselves as “a well-oiled machine” at this point in their lives and do not have to worry too much about stepping on each other’s toes while helping their customers.
Matt said taking the time to know the customers is important. The Douglases work with people with different life events happening such as funerals, weddings or births. They get to know everyone that walks in.
“We’re taking the time to know what we’re selling, names of house plants and names of customers, at times, sometimes even sharing tears with them when they’ve lost a spouse or celebrating with them if, ‘hey, you’re having your first grandbaby,'” Matt said.
Betsy Bean, customer service and designer at Kistner’s Flowers, said she has worked at the shop for five years and has enjoyed the positive environment.
“There are a lot of perks to this job: the crew here, the family, the family atmosphere, the shenanigans,” Bean said.
Bean said the people at Kistner’s Flowers try to keep everything fun, which might mean letting off steam by doing a primal scream or having everyone sing whatever song they are thinking of at that moment, sometimes.
Despite keeping things fun, Bean said she still sees more serious moments, especially when families come in to plan funerals. She said these moments are discreet and personal, and she tries to help these clients by “turning an emotional experience, whether positive or negative, into an ephemeral piece of art.”
Bronwyn said the designers at Kistner’s Flowers are artists working with beautiful things.
“I think the fact that we love what we do, it comes through in what we’re providing people,” Bronwyn said.