Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday with Kalin Sheick of Sweetwater Floral
She is synonymous with this place we call home in Northern Michigan.
With boat rides on the aquamarine waters of Walloon Lake.
With luscious, big, focal point bouquets made for brides who consider her a bestie by the time all is said and done.
She's synonymous with giant Bernese Mountain dogs roaming around a hilly lavender farm and a husband named Matt and a minivan. She's synonymous with a cup of coffee + cream, a top knot, a cozy sweater, a Himalayan salt lamp, a pot of soup, a home renovation project, a purple shirt, a sprig of lavender, a glass of wine, a workshop, a closed mouth dimpled smirking smile, a garage studio, a workshop, a Christmas tree farm, a women's retreat, a blog, a Tiny, and Good Vibes Only. The Boopings. Asshat. The Gather Series. Stem Squad. Hygge. Honey lamb. CLINKS. Stems & Sprigs. Sweetwater.
She created a language around her life that instantly and infectiously draws you in, unparalleled and unique, and a novel we all can't wait to turn the page on.
She's also synonymous with some of the deepest truths and hardest pills to swallow, and openly shares them with us.
Things like: businesses thrive when they find the right people to serve. And you might not be one of those people.
And that businesses are fronted, run, managed, and maintained by actual human beings. Human beings who have faults, feelings, make mistakes, have bad days, have bad weeks, have bad months. Human beings who get sick, prioritize their health and family when needed, and have a generous yet healthy limit to your expectations.
Other truths as well: Like, it is unkind to be unkind just because you have a client/owner relationship with someone. It is pointless to compare our journeys and successes to others in our field. It is silly to limit your potential because you've been raised to think that money and wealth is equated to being selfish. It is essential to have boundaries and speak them into the world if you want your relationships and business to thrive.
Truths like: owning a business is the least glamorous thing in the entire world, but with a good sense of humor and passion, it can be the most rewarding thing.
Honestly you guys, how do we even write about Kalin?
A larger than life personality who gives us a window into one girl's dream of working with flowers, living on some land in Northern Michigan, and serving others creatively through her many and endless talents and business endeavors.
Kalin and Stems & Sprigs was the first wedding industry account I think I started following when I moved up to Northern Michigan three years ago. I wasn't engaged yet, didn't know anyone yet, and was one year away from facing the hard truth that my dream of working for the National Park Service would be coming to an end due to budget cuts, and I would be figuring out what to do as a young, careerless gal who just bought a house without internet service in the middle of nowhere, two and four hours away from friends, family, and familiarity.
Before I even met her, Kalin offered me hope that there was more to life than the path well travelled. The one filled with accomplishments and degrees and corporate salaries and long nights proving your worth by the hours you punch on someone else's time machine. She gave me some hope that there was more to strive for than the annual raise, the corner office, the perfectly curated wardrobe, and the accolades received for being everything you and your parents thought you'd be. In her mid twenties, Kalin had left her job and career in television as a news reporter, and moved to Northern Michigan with lofty dreams of living in lavender and flowering for newlyweds. And from that, we all know the story and legacy of Sweetwater Floral became so much more.
I'll totally admit. I watched this story unfold through squares on a screen and was jealous of this life. Jealous of the fun which Kalin brought to every single day of her life on the farm and the anecdotes that came along with it. Jealous of all of the seemingly wonderful female relationships she seemed to cultivate as part of her business. Jealous of how much time she seemed to be able to spend outside in the sunshine, at home, or with her dogs all while working and making money on her own schedule. I was jealous in a way that let me know that our emotions, each of them, even the ones we think of as ugly serve a purpose. And what I began to realize in the six months between my career ending, and starting The Revel Rose was that this unexpected life circumstance was the push I needed to start my own business. I don't think I would have had the courage to do it otherwise. What this small business was going to be didn't exactly matter. What it became was a combination of geography, local economic opportunity, and a pairing with a skill set I felt confident in, and an interest to learn along the way.
I joined the league of women in this awesome, creative industry a year and a half ago, and many of us share similar stories of being inspired by Kalin. Or mentored by Kalin. Or feeling seen, heard, and validated by Kalin. One thing I have always admired about her is that she doesn't soft peddle her influence. She is one example of one woman making her life a reflection of what is important to her, and there is usually a call to action in her communication with her followers that they are worthy and capable of doing the same thing.
If it feels hard to watch happy people doing what they were born to do, live fully and reap rewards by way of living a life they are genuinely joyful to wake up to, then guess what. I think you need a life shift. I really do. I know it sucks and there are bills to pay and building a website is a bitch. And you have a lot of late nights ahead of you, and a lot of crying in your car where no one will hear you. You're going to lose friends because they'll wonder why you disappeared. You won't be going out to happy hour every damn day and you're going to be broke as a joke for awhile. You're going to miss out on trips to Tulum and your LinkedIn account is going to send you work anniversary kudos and you're going to remember what it felt like to have a company matched 401(k), health insurance, flexible paid time off, profit sharing, and a vending machine down the hall. But one day, you'll open a bottle of wine, go into that LinkedIn account, put your company name in the new job box and under your title, you'll put Owner. You'll think sheeeeeiiit. And let that sink in for a solid 5 minutes before getting back to your emails.
Take a cliffnote from my story, or Kalin's, or anyone else who has graced this blog over the past five months. There is no method to the beginning. You just start. Really small. Really slow. On a ping pong table in your basement. And you have all the support behind you. I promise. Clinks babes.
Photo Credit: Courtney Kent of The Compass Points Here.
You went through a business re-brand last year from Stems & Sprigs to Sweetwater, and this year you launched a branding course for small business owners. How did you know it was time for a change and what does that feel like in the beginning, and now on the other side?
In the beginning of my business journey 4 years ago I was so eager and excited and impatient to start that I just randomly picked a name and brand. The first year I felt like I wasn't walking in my own shoes, it was someone else's version of how a flower business should be run. I became obsessed with branding and finding my own groove of what defines a 'brand'. Meanwhile we named our farm Sweetwater and it felt so weird to have 'the farm' and 'the business' its all one in my mind- we flower here and live here and love here and get weird here- so the renaming to Sweetwater at year 3 was a no brainer.
A wild and whimsical arrangement by Kalin. Photo Credit by The Compass Points Here.
You moved to Petoskey from Cadillac, and before that from downstate, and yet you feel like the most quintessentially Northern Michigan woman I know. Delivering bouquets on the back of jet skis on Walloon Lake, wearing sunhats and chambray, living life in an old farmhouse. What about your spirit is most aligned with what this place is, or what it represents?
We are suckers for where the best memories are held right? I grew up spending my summers Up North. It was where my family seemed happiest, where I fell in love with 4th of July and where I realized I feel SO much better when I'm by the water. I could not love calling this place home any more- it always comes back to the people and the views for me. We are laidback, kind, honest, hardworking and normal. There's no rat race up here. Just show up early and work hard and treat people well and crack a beer and float in your boat after work. Its so damn simple to me. Good people tend to flood into good places. That is so true up here.
You are someone who makes me and other people feel okay about showing our true personalities within our business, and it has been so encouraging especially in Instaworld. YET, I still don't 100% feel like I can share some of the most normal parts of personality as part of the wedding industry without it backfiring completely and deeming me "unprofessional". So I just go back and forth with this. Do you just get over that, past that, or care less about it as business experience grows? Is it really, super, 100% okay to be as yourself as possible and not GAF and still be respected for your work?
As much as I wanna say "YES LETS BE OUR WEIRD ASS SELVES" its a fine line in business. I think its a trial and error process. You learn with time what your client and audience and people like from you - and I try and give them more of that. At a really basic human level- if people feel connected to or like you - they will appreciate your work. One of the best compliments someone can give me in the online world is that they 'followed for the flowers but stayed for the personality' that to me is the moment I've gotten the secret sauce mixed just right.
Speaking of the gram, I love that recently in an AMAQ you shared you write this into your job description. How do you normalize this part of your day and does the consistency of your hilarious, candid content feel like it has a tangible benefit to how you do business?
Instagram IS part of all our job descriptions! Just like I check email every day, I have made a little IG time part of my 'work day.' The tangible benefit is in the trust. The consistency and storytelling builds the trust and its what I value the most from those who then trust us with their hard earned time & money on their wedding day or at a workshop. Also the people who pay the closest attention will see I'm pretty much quiet by 3pm most days - I'm an early bird so I just made the morning my time for it. You're a mama! Thank you for sharing parts of your journey with all of us in the fertile crescent over the past year. I feel like this month is going to be a special one as we take time to celebrate motherhood, and also you begin your wedding season with a babe! I have a super pointed question. What is the paradox women face when they decide to have children and maintain their business, especially in the wedding industry?
Thank you! We are stoked. Oh man, there are some real deal badasses in our area who manage the mom+business owner+partner+keeper of the home thing so well, I really look up to them. To me the craziest part in this is how do we be the moms we want to be and still run the incredible businesses that were in so many ways our first baby?
There will be loads of tough moments - how do you pull off 60 weddings a summer and raise up the next generation? Stay tuned. Women are "strong enough to bear the children - and get back to business" (Beyonce quote) but this isn't without a village of people surrounding them.
We moved up north for 2 reasons: our business would flourish here + and we could raise our kids near family and in the most beautiful part of the country - its time to see both of those at work together. SO much of this entire process has been about letting go of control for me. I am always preaching to women that we need to develop businesses that can run without us, and I'm so so confident in my team- its fun to watch other people flourish with opportunity. Lastly, sure hoping this kid can make centerpieces that are wedding worthy by the time they are in middle school - that's how family businesses run right? ; )
I feel like we know a lot about Kalin the woman, and Kalin the business owner. Tell us about Kalin the mom. What have you envisioned you will be like, what are you looking forward to experiencing most with your kids?
Fun fact: before Kalin the business owner and Kalin with the good flowers - it was really Kalin who worked at a summer camp. I never wanted to be a mom until I worked at a camp. Being around kids made me focus on the fleeting and simple beauty of everyday moments. Picturing myself as someone's mom is both terrifying and exhilarating to me. What I'm looking forward to most is seeing a hybrid of Matt and I. Watching a person who has a bit of each of us become their own version of what the world needs. Oh, and Christmas morning. I'm a sucker for that shit. The 'magic' moments of childhood. I also talk about 'theme birthday parties' an unhealthy amount- so lets toss that in there. Being present, being the kind of mom I want to be- who works hard and runs a business and also is like - in the classroom with snacks. My mom is a classic example of this. She was a total 'magic maker' on holidays and birthdays and packing us up for camp prepared for anything - but also letting us make our own mistakes and loving us even when we were assholes all the while maintaining her career as a writer. If I can be anything like her I'll call it a success.
Your business is like a neverending festival of fun stuff coming out of the barnwood. Flowers and workshops and digital projects and a blog and a retreat and a tiny house rental and a farm and events and whatnot. As you approach a new season, which of these parts of your business has become most important to you? Were there any that were super important as a first year business owner that you feel serve you less now four years down the road?
**blushing** you're too kind. I've launched a lot of shit that has failed. I think its one of the best parts of entrepreneurship, the vulnerability to put something out there creatively and know it could fall flat on its face. If you aren't failing often - level up and try harder. The first year I was so paralyzed by 'doing what I thought I had to do' that I missed opportunity. What was most important to me and made the most sense was booking weddings that first year. With time, risk & failure it allowed me to develop a BRAND that brought me wedding clients - if that makes sense? Its not for everyone but its the way I've found I can best run a business.
I also just cannot stop with ideas. I get bored easily. I always need a new project or challenge - so the multiple offerings and income streams are fun for me.
The home of Sweetwater Floral is a 10 acre farm located in the town of Petoskey in Northern Michigan.
You can stay at Sweetwater! The Tiny is rented through Airbnb. Kalin and Matt are superhosts!
What has your business retreat, Hygge taught you over the three years that you've hosted it? Are we really all struggling with the same things, or are we shiny unicorns, the first of our kind?
Where do we have commonality? We are all the same. Its the first talk I give at Hygge each session and the biggest lesson I take away each year. We are the first of our kind that essentially anyone with an idea can start a business nowadays. 30 years ago you needed money and a business plan and loans and today you need an idea and wifi- its pretty incredible. But our commonality is found in the 'spinning of all the plates.' As women we want to be partners, friends, moms, business owners, mentors - you name it - very few of us are comfortable with one title. We are all walking the same tightrope.
Sometimes I get the sense that throughout your business, you've had to prove yourself to someone to earn a place as a successful business woman and creative entrepreneur. Who were those people? Family and friends? More established businesses? People at the bank? Neighbors? Do you feel in the clear, or is it an always present thing if you decide to do something that other people might consider wild?
All of the above. When I first started, a lot of people doubted me. I'm an addict to that shit. When someone doesn't think I can do something- there is rarely a more pure joy for me than proving them wrong. Being a career changer, it was a tough pill for many people to swallow that I would leave a glamorous job like Television to stand in my garage and design flowers. I could FEEL their doubt. Misery loves company, so a tall chick with a promising career leaving that to start her own dream makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. People projected a lot of things they WANTED to be the case so it made more sense- assuming we inherited a ton of money, assuming we were a one income household, assuming I got fired from my TV job. We write stories in our heads to make ourselves more comfortable with things that seem 'not normal' to us - I'm pretty into proving those stories all wrong. *hairflip*
The floral industry depends so much on a strong understanding of seasons, and their opportunities and limitations. What opportunities are you most excited about now? What limitations have you had to overcome?
More and more couples are cool with 'weird ass texture' kind of stuff. Seed pods, dried flowers, you name it - they are open to pushing the limits a bit with some non 'focal bloom' type of things which has been fun. I'm still campaigning to have people understand that greenery does not mean cheaper. This was some stupid Pinterest thing years ago and it set us a back in a lot of ways. Foliage isn't cheap - respect it man.
A wild and whimsical late summer bouquet for one of Kalin's brides. Photo by Mae Stier.
Okay. Someone steals you away from this life and gives you three ultimatums for a new one: You can A) Convert to being a nun, and you get to run a small but lovely flower shop at the convent (Matt and the fam are allowed for conjugal visits) B) Never touch a flower again but stay at the farm with the fam C) You, Matt, Wally, Maple, and Baby have to live on a 200 sq. ft. boat in Florida but forever, you can do whatever you want. Which one do you pick?
Oh man - Matt is too damn funny to just see for the occasional 'visit' and the dogs would perish in Florida- so it seems like B- bye flowers (emo sobs) and staying at our favorite little place. : ) Also Florida has too many strip malls.
Good news, Kalin isn't going anywhere yet. She has a full summer of events you can join at the farm, is now booking 2020 weddings, and has a series of practical digital business guides available here.
For a daily dose of good vibes only, follow along @sweetwaterfloral and sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date on events, happenings, and floral goodness.