"If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life".
— Marc Anthony
A single quote has never resonated so much with Susan Schilling, owner and CEO of Vivian Grace Creations near Wanda, Minnesota, who never would have dreamt that something she decided to try nine years ago would entirely transform her life.
From Humble Beginnings
A former foster care worker and cocktail server at Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel, Susan Schilling never knew that a simple passion would turn into a dream business. She decided to take the leap of faith in 2013 to start her own decorating business. 8 months of rigorous planning, research, and budgeting led to a legally registered business in November of 2013. She began decorating community events and friends' weddings and quickly fell in love with the art of decorating. She saw her decor inventory rapidly grow from a couple hundred items to a couple thousand items—and it didn't stop there. Susan and her husband Tom's 10-acre farm site, just south of Wanda, Minnesota, inspired the name of her business, Rockin' Red Barn, and over the next few years, she and her team of wedding decorators gained a reputable name among southwest Minnesota wedding vendors.
Making the Shift
With the help of colleague and current bridal consultant, Whitney Jarmer, Schilling's business underwent a rebrand in 2018, as they changed their name from Rockin' Red Barn to Vivian Grace Creations. Jarmer and Schilling felt as though the new name would resonate better in the wedding industry and with potential clients.
When asked about her business name change, Schilling explained, "Our [new] business name holds great meaning to me, as it commemorates my mother, Vivian Grace, who passed away when I was very young." She went on to explain how her business is her way of carrying on her mother's name for generations to come.
Along with the rebrand came a new, inventive service: faux floral rentals. Recent advances in technology brought a surge in silk flowers, which allowed Schilling to see the potential in expanding her already-prosperous business. It was an opportunity that would not only bring deeper passion for Schilling, but one that would also have the power to help both local and nationwide brides save a tremendous amount of time and money.
While Schilling had taken custom silk bouquet orders for brides in the past, she yearned for a more streamlined process—one that would be more ethical and time-saving. Thus, she began curating her first three rental collections: Clara Yvonne, Mary Elizabeth, and Zoey Lee.
Made of high quality, premium silk flowers, Vivian Grace's preassembled arrangements are unique in character and design. Each collection includes a bridal bouquet, bridesmaid bouquet, mini bouquet, flower girl hoop, boutonnière, corsage, and multiple sizes of centerpieces and swags. Schilling's biggest goal with the new floral rental service is to save brides time and money while still providing them with picture-perfect flowers. She wants to create a luxury, boutique-like experience for couples with all budgets to enjoy.
The Faux Flower Revolution
Among many benefits that these rental flowers would bring, one of the biggest perks is that brides around the country would now be able to reuse the bouquets and eliminate the waste that comes with real wedding flowers. Not to mention, a typical rental order through Vivian Grace Creations costs 50-70% less than buying real, as the cost of real wedding flowers continually rises.
As Schilling's floral collections grew, so did her inventory, and Vivian Grace quickly outgrew the Schilling family barn. In 2019, they hired Altermatt Construction of Wanda, Minnesota to begin construction on an addition to the barn that would accommodate the new floral inventory. This new shed, branching eastward from the original barn, would also serve as a showroom and meeting area for new brides. Schilling hoped the addition would help organize her ever-expanding inventory and ultimately bring in more bridal floral orders. It was a dream come true for Schilling to see the new space filled with her extraordinary creations—bridal bouquets, bridesmaid bouquets, centerpieces, garlands, etc. Now in 2022, another addition to the Vivian Grace building is underway.
A Family-Run Business
"Each floral collection at Vivian Grace is named after a family member or loved one who has made a positive impact in my life," said Schilling. With collections named after both of her daughters and all three granddaughters, Schilling has truly made her business a family affair.
Perhaps the collection that Susan and Tom hold closest to their heart is the Leah Marie collection, named after their youngest daughter Leah, who passed away in February 2020 at age 35. Leah had battled cancer for nearly two years and underwent multiple treatments in that time. With the influx of doctor visits, the Schillings entirely shifted their focus from business to family. During a time of such hardship and hurt, Leah was able to pick out the colors for her own collection that was set to launch the following year. Described as passionate, playful and full of personality, her floral collection is the perfect depiction of who Leah was as a person.
Just a month after Leah passed, the COVID-19 pandemic threw yet another wrench at Schilling and her business. Susan and her team went from decorating 20+ weddings in 2019 to just three in 2020. This drastic change brought obvious challenges for Schilling—one being how to keep her staff employed when her company's revenue had come to a near-complete hault.
Reaching New Heights
While Schilling took time off during the pandemic to overcome grief, she also looked ahead. She had plans to take her business entirely online, as that seemed the best option for her business to survive the recent series of unfortunate events. Roughly 5 months later—after working tirelessly with developers on an online rental program—Schilling began serious goal-setting for the year ahead. If anything positive came from 2020, it was that it gave her the time and opportunity to lift Vivian Grace to new heights.
2022 brought hope for Vivian Grace Creations. Celebrating her 8th year as a wedding vendor, Schilling booked 20+ local weddings and expanded her floral business to a whopping 18 collections—now with the ability to ship anywhere in the contiguous US. While continuing to decorate local weddings, Vivian Grace has gradually shifted its marketing message to focus on online floral rental, where they have the opportunity to work with brides across the country.
Schilling explains in a recent Instagram post, "Although we've shifted our primary focus to online floral & decor rental, local decorating is still a huge part of who we are, and we love getting to play a role in the communities that have given us so much love and support throughout the years".
Leaving a Legacy in the Wedding Industry
With nearly a decade's worth of experience, it's exciting to see where Vivian Grace Creations will go in upcoming years.
At 64 years old, Schilling credits her success to her Vivian Grace team and every single person that has stepped through her business doors. She also stressed the importance of her husband throughout the years. "Nine years ago I went full board [on this business], but I had the backing of my husband Tom. I probably would not be where I am today without his support." Although slowly approaching retirement, Schilling is proud of herself for never giving up on her dreams and building a business from the ground up. Her advice to anyone is that it is never too late to start a career in something you love.
"I learned a long time ago that life is way too short. You need to be doing what you love. You want to find your gift in life, and once you find it—boy, is it fun!" said the southwest Minnesota small business owner.