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Generational Business: Beautiful blooms are the language of love at this North Bay business

Jackman's has remained on leading edge of age-old flower industry

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” — Lady Bird Johnson

Hope, compassion, love, sympathy, care  — Erin Pond has witnessed a range of sentiments conveyed through her shop's floral arrangements over the years, as customers seek a personal way to connect with loved ones near and far.

“We do this to make people happy, to spread happiness, to spread good feelings,” reflected Pond, about the service provided through her North Bay flower shop, Jackman's.

“Flowers are really just the way to do that.”

It's hard not to feel your spirits lift as you enter the downtown shop where the scent of fresh blooms and a rainbow of hues enfolds your senses.

Here, skilled florists piece together elaborate arrangements and simple bouquets, in traditional or modern styles, all destined for the doorstep of someone who needs cheering up or cheering on.

Pond is the second generation in her family to lead the business. She took over from her parents, Barry and Marcia, just over a decade ago.

Yet Jackman's didn't start its life in the business of blossoms.

When its creator, an Englishman named Walter Jackman, first set up shop in downtown North Bay in 1908, he was selling furniture.

Over time, he added funeral services and an ice cream shop to his repertoire, before transitioning into flowers.

“There may have been a need to provide several different things that were more of an interest and more of a need at the time,” Pond chuckled.

Upon his death, Jackman willed the business to a long-time employee, who relocated the shop a street over to its present spot on Worthington Street.

That employee then ran the store for several decades before passing it on to a new owner, who also ran it for several decades before passing it on, and its proprietorship continued in that manner through numerous owners.

“It's always been a couple of decades in each person's ownership, which is also a nice stewardship of a business,” Pond said.

Before her parents took over in the 1970s, they were living in Toronto, but looking for a way to return to their hometown, and decided to search for an existing North Bay business they could purchase.

On one fateful trip north, they were feeling frustrated at not having found anything to their taste when they ran into the Bains, who owned Jackman's at the time.

As it turns out, the Bains were planning to sell the flower shop, but hadn't yet listed it for sale. After talking it over, Barry and Marcia decided it would be the perfect endeavour for them to take on.

“My parents didn't have any flower shop experience, but they did have some business experience, and new energy and ideas,” Pond said. “So, that's it. They decided to go ahead and buy the flower shop and they continued in the business.”

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With a shared background in business, her parents set to work introducing innovative ideas to stay ahead of clients’ changing needs and expectations.

At one point, they expanded the enterprise to seven locations and introduced a Discount Flower Market to the city.

Under one of their biggest initiatives, the Ponds approached Sears Canada with the idea of a Sears-branded flower program — introduced under the “Flowers by Sears” banner — which enabled customers to order flowers through the chain and have them filled and distributed nationwide by local florists.

Pond said the idea took off and, at its peak, 100 independent dealers across Canada were licensed under the program, which was managed through a 44-seat call centre to handle the volume.

It was marketed and coordinated from North Bay for 21 years until the program was moved to the U.S. and, a few years later, in 2018, Sears Canada went bankrupt.

Sensing the impending age of technology, the Ponds were also among the first in Northern Ontario to embrace internet sales, setting up an e-commerce platform for both Sears and Jackman's, and additionally being the first to set up an automated point-of-sale system.

“It used to be that shops would hand-write your order out, but we invested in having a computerized system, so we'd enter the information live into the computer and we’d be able to look up information about the customer’s past purchases on file to help,” Pond said.

“That’s commonplace now, but at the time it wasn’t. So we were often first in a lot of these areas.”

Also new for the field was being operational seven days a week.

Most florists only remained open between Mondays and Saturdays, staying on call on Sundays in case a client wanted to purchase flowers for a funeral.

The Ponds eschewed that model, instead fully staffing their shop seven days a week so they could be ready for any client needs.

When grocery stores and large department outlets began stocking discounted cut flowers, Jackman's saw an impact to the business.

But Pond said they've differentiated themselves by providing high-quality flowers and arrangements, remaining reliable, and providing excellent customer service.

“We've focused on those personal customer relationships, but also our professional florist-quality service; not just a type of flower, but really putting together impressive designs, something that's really a beautiful, memorable floral gift for someone.”

After the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, Pond made the tough choice to keep Jackman's open, despite the unpredictability of rotating government restrictions and the risk associated with purchasing perishable stock.

It was a prescient decision.

Because so many people couldn't see loved ones in person, flowers became their love language of choice.

Mother's Day, already one of the busiest days of the year for Jackman's, ushered in a flurry of orders, and that trend was repeated on Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and many other occasions in between.

“A beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting on the table with a card is a little bit of connection,” Pond said. “It was really, actually quite heartwarming to see, and we had lots of nice conversations with customers.”

She's pleased to see a bit of a flower renaissance occurring, especially among younger generations, who are exhibiting a new appreciation for cut flowers and plants.

Pond credits many of her long-time staff, some of whom have been with Jackman's for 15, 20 or more years, as helping to cement the shop's stellar reputation for service and keeping it going all these years.

She's even taken on two interns, who are leveraging their passion for flowers into a training opportunity, as part of an ongoing succession plan.

These days, more than 40 per cent of Jackman's orders are received through the website, and Pond believes that continuing to stay on the leading edge of industry trends and technology will be the key to future success.

That and the public's enduring appreciation for the beauty of flowers.

“It still touches me, after all these years, how thoughtful people are,” she said.

“To take the time to send the gift of flowers, it's a real expression of thoughtfulness, of caring for other people, and it's beautiful to witness it day in, day out."

This article is one in a series focused on the rich histories, journeys and long-term successes of generational businesses in Northern Ontario.


Lindsay Kelly

About the Author: Lindsay Kelly

Lindsay Kelly is a Sudbury-based reporter who's worked in print and digital media for more than two decades. She joined the Northern Ontario Business newsroom in 2011.
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