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May 2004
Cultivating a beautiful arrangement
By Susanne Deitzel

     Nestled rather obliquely near the intersection of Arrowood Road and South Boulevard is a 24,000-square-foot building formerly housing a roller skating rink. The modest brick façade of the building is offset by a large yellow banner which blazes “Wholesale Silk Flowers – Public Welcome!”

     The building’s sign reads ‘Golden State Silk Flowers’ in a rather unassuming style that betrays the aisles and aisles of colorful stems abounding inside. Boasting over 10,000 items in an inventory which changes every week, the store has become the destination and wellspring of inspiration for interior decorators and retailers looking for the latest in floral styles and quality, as well as do-it-yourself floral fawners looking to add some color and drama to their own homes.

     Golden State Silk Flowers is the undertaking of Jack Yang and his wife, Star, who toil together everyday to provide the most unique, diverse and comprehensive artificial flower presentation in the region. Says Star Yang, “People come here from all over the country seeking the variety we offer.”

     The enterprise began as an evolution of Jack Yang’s import business, formerly headquartered out of Los Angeles. Devoted primarily to toy imports, Yang became frustrated with the seasonality of his business and determined to pursue a new product line. Born in Taiwan, Yang also hoped to be able to continue a business that would effectively utilize his business relationships across the ocean. Having some familiarity with a friend’s successful silk flower business, Yang decided to implement his own plan across the country.

     Remarks Yang, “My friend in California created a business that was very successful, which he enjoyed. Of course, I had no desire to compete with his business, so I looked across the United States for the best wholesale markets for silk flowers. I considered Pennsylvania, Florida and the Carolinas before deciding to open a location on South Tryon Street as my headquarters. From there, I could attend all the wholesale markets in the region.”

     Yang’s original location was a mere 1,000 square feet, but it was the seed for a business that would grow like…a weed. Centrally located between Columbia, S.C., High Point, N.C., and Lexington, N.C. (the site of his second store), Yang was able to travel easily between markets. Plus, adds Yang, “The silk floral industry is still relatively young; there is a lot of room for growth and this area caters to that.”

     Star Yang concurs, “Charlotte has grown so incredibly much, and the number of young, style-conscious professionals has risen accordingly. Honestly, I have never seen a place whose people enjoy beautiful things more than Charlotte. We just love to decorate!”

     The Yangs have other secrets rooting them firmly in their niche, not the least of which is Jack Yang’s eastern business connections. Says Jack Yang, “Of course, the most visible advantage is the cost savings by importing products directly from manufacturers in China. But also, there is a very important cultural connection which helps us provide a premium product.”

     Yang continues, “In my culture, business is conducted in terms of mutually beneficial relationships and loyalty. A very high premium is placed on performing for one another. Of course, there are also challenges.”

     Star Yang completes his thought, “For example, many people don’t realize there are over one hundred shades of burgundy. We have to be able to communicate which shade we are looking for, which isn’t easy for an American without the benefit of a translator. Plus, the Chinese ideas of traditional colors differ widely from the American. In China, the color ‘red’ is a deep, blackish, almost maroon hue, whereas when we typically think of ‘red,’ we are thinking of a Christmas red, or a candy apple red.”

     Star Yang says, “Tastes vary widely too. Charlotte is the only region that requests blue flowers. Imagine how difficult it is to explain to a supplier a “Panther Blue” flower! Yet, we absolutely have to stock them for our customers. There is a surprisingly high demand here, but no where else.”

     Jack Yang says that Chinese manufacturers also take orders very literally. “If you send a shirt to a factory and say, ‘Reproduce this product exactly,’ you had best mean what you say. If that sample has a small hole cut in the front by customs agents, you could end up with thousands of holey shirts sitting on your shelves.”

     One can only assume that the Yangs have overcome these hurdles, for the warehouse is a cornucopia of everything from silk lady slippers to faux pomegranates leaking nectar, to small spherical ornaments wrapped in pheasant feathers. In fact, it is Golden State’s ability to showcase its $1 million dollar inventory dramatically, artistically and practically that makes it a wonder to walk through its aisles of neatly displayed wares.

 

Creating a Sense of Style

     Florists travel from all over to view Golden State’s floral displays, which the staff creates after making a careful study of the nation’s premiere designers and showrooms. Jack Yang says that more than the beauty and design of the stems themselves, the industry is increasingly focused on more elaborate and inspired arrangements.

     Golden State boasts the talents of in-house designer Jennifer Weber who is responsible for setting and sharing intricate floral designs with Charlotte’s creative set. A veteran of the industry for over twenty years, Weber’s designs are recognized by some of the best names in the business. From the latest and greatest natural-grass arrangement, to the ornate flourishes of a wedding trellis, Weber’s talents are admired and emulated by just about everyone who walks through Golden State’s door.

     Golden State is also unique in the regard that Star and Jack encourage their customers to take photos and duplicate the arrangements they display on the sales floor. “A lot of florists insist that you buy an arrangement before you can duplicate it, but we don’t see much sense in this. Part of the joy of what we do is sharing the beauty, and by sharing the ideas to display them attractively is an extension of that.” To accomplish this, Golden State also offers floral design classes every other Saturday that Star has dubbed, “Make It and Take It.”

     This conceptual generosity also allows the couple to showcase Golden State’s constantly updated inventory. Remarks Star, “People literally feel like they need to come visit us every month to see what’s new.” In addition to the large warehouse space, Golden State has makeshift ‘satellite warehouses’ adjacent to the loading dock – seven additional trailers packed with merchandise.

     The Yangs make large semiannual buying trips, and as wholesalers, get to eye the freshest looks of the season well in advance of retail buyers. Says Star, “It is great to anticipate what new looks will be coming around the corner. January, February and March we display our spring/summer merchandise, and finish the season with a 50 percent off sale on April 15th. Then, in July, we start with our Christmas merchandise. Honestly, it is really nice being in wholesale – you stay ahead of the curve, and come November, we can enjoy the holidays.”

     Golden States’ major customers include retail flower shops, gift stores, interior designers, real estate offices, individual craftspeople displaying at traveling shows such as the Southern Shows, and what the Yangs call, ‘jobbers,’ floral salespeople who operate traveling displays from city to city. Says Star, “We try to stay away from major shows or any venue where we would end up competing with our customers. They are largely responsible for our success, and we are committed to honoring those relationships.”

 

A New Arrangement

     Despite spending countless hours creating arrangements, managing all aspects of the business, unloading merchandise, and stocking shelves with everything form floral stems to East Indian vases, artwork and design accoutrements, Jack Yang also has a ‘side gig.’ Mr. Yang is a twice-patented inventor!

     A soft-spoken and genial man, Yang has a definite sense of immediacy, impatient to find better tools for use in the trade. He was particularly dissatisfied with the mammoth industrial metal pick installer, one of the more frequently used tools, too cumbersome to accommodate his needs. So Yang designed, patented and had manufactured a hand-operated tool he dubbed the “Handy Pick®.” The Handy Pick® slightly resembles a heavy hole-puncher. It one swift action, it cuts a stem and attaches a metal pick, allowing the stem to be immediately inserted into the styrofoam of an arrangement.

     Yang has recently attained a patent for another practical idea, the “Tombstone Topper®,” an improved plastic ‘saddle’ for floral arrangements set in gravestones, which significantly reduces scratches and rust, has no hooks and is more stable than its counterparts. Star Yang says the product is very popular, giving great piece of mind to loved ones wanting to keep an attractive floral tribute and remembrance for those who have passed on, because it is easier and more practical in usage, especially for those who want to do-it-themselves for a more personal touch.

     As you might expect, Jack Yang’s inventions have added a new dimension to Golden State’s business. The Handy Pick® and the Tombstone Topper® have found their way into mega-retailers like Michaels and Hobby Lobby and have had a very successful feature on HGTV. Last year it was also honored in Michaels’ listing of the Top Ten Craft Accessories.

     When asked about the inspiration to undertake these projects, Yang says modestly, “If you see a need, there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to fill it.” His wife adds, “Much of it is cultural, too. Jack’s mentor at the Soochow University of Taiwan said, ‘If you want to be successful, you have to create something that nobody else has thought of. If you invent something, you are secure for fourteen years (the life of an unrenewed patent).’” So it is not surprising that Yang spends much of his free time making wood prototypes looking for the next bright idea.

 

Perennial Care

     In the meantime Jack and Star Yang work long, but satisfying hours preparing for the next design season. Having recently hosted an open house attended by such artists as Brad Schmidt (floral designer to personalities like Bruce Willis, Pam Anderson and a premiere designer for FTD), and industry favorite, Robert Della Barba, their showroom is bedecked with the latest floral trends.

     Now joined at Golden State by their children, Jack and Star Yang are cultivating their business for the next generation. Says Star, “When you are surrounded by such beauty, when you enjoy your work so passionately, and when you are surrounded by family all day, you really have a winning arrangement!”

 

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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