The Iron Florist started with roses primarily but has since expanded its offerings.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When Matt McLaughlin left the Marine Corps a few years ago, he wasn't sure what to do.
He entered an auto mechanics program in Pennsylvania and, on the side, made some extra cash by welding bumpers, roll cages, or parts on off-road vehicles.
But he wasn't making a whole lot of money doing the jobs in his own garage.
Christmas was coming and he just didn't have extra cash so he got creative. He took his experience in welding and the lessons from his chassis fabrication courses and created flowers, steel roses to give as presents.
"Christmas was coming up and I had to get something for my mother and little sisters. So I ended up building them some very basic versions of these roses," McLaughlin said.
"When seeing that, I had a bunch of my friends start asking to buy them. Since then, every year from Christmas to Valentines Day, I kind of open up shop, sell a couple of these roses."
He moved back to his hometown of Pittsfield in 2016. When Christmas approached again, he opened a space in the basement of Funk Box Studio to make flowers. He'd make a bunch of the roses, take in some custom orders, and sell about 40 in three months. And then he'd shut it down for the rest of the year.
His business, The Iron Florist, was created and the interest kept growing. Somebody will get buy something, share it, and then somebody else is contacting him. He's gotten orders from all over the country.
"The first year I did them, it was kind of just close friends. Maybe they would tell a friend, but that was essentially it, maybe just two points of connection," McLaughlin said.
"Now we are getting a lot more orders and getting them across the United States, which is awesome, from people just sharing and helping us grow organically."
This year he's putting in a strong effort to turn the hobby and side job into a full-time business. He moved to a three-bay garage on East Street that now serves as his headquarters. He's got a business partner and a friend helping ramp the business up.
"We have enough funding to really push this so our next goals are to get a few weddings, possibly get into the memorial market and go ahead and make our online presence more known," McLaughlin said.
The flowers are all handmade with steel. He starts with cutting the petals out one by one by hand, welds them together after stacking them in the right design, designs, attaches and bends the stems, bends the petals in place, and the finally paints them.
"The testing of the rigidity is always fun. We basically throw them around to make sure they are durable," McLaughlin said with a laugh, detailing the step right before painting.
He's got the most popular flowers on hand, which he'll engrave with a personalized message. He has a number of products pre-made and just waiting an inscription before being shipped. His website provides a line of products people can order directly from there.
He'll make corsages and boutonnieres that will never wilt.
And he'll try his hand at custom requests too. Not too long ago he was contacted by a woman who wanted a sunflower.
"Her best friend passed away in a car accident. She wanted to give that to her mother as a gift because sunflowers were her favorite. We also custom engraved the dates onto it as well as her name," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said he hadn't tried a sunflower before but he was able to make it. And that is how he developed a number of products, as he mastered how to make different designs.
"A lot of our growth comes from customers asking us 'hey, can you do this?' We try our best and eventually they end up turning into products," he said.
On Saturday, he'll be at the wedding expo. It's him entering a new market and a place to explore new products. One of the immediate products he is offering for weddings is to preserve flowers. He's offering to pick up the flowers used at a wedding and preserve them in shadow boxes and drop them off for the couple to keep as a memento and hang on the wall.
He said not only will be he be showing his products but he'll also be requesting from brides to tell him what they'd like to see and their favorite flowers. He'll be taking that back and trying out some new concepts.
"We are trying to reach out into the wedding market. We really think this has a good place there. You get married to somebody and you are going to be with them forever and you have these flowers that you spend so much money on, your corsage, your boutonniere, and they die," McLaughlin said.
Next week is Valentine's Day, and McLaughlin has been already been prepping for that. And he expects to have a number of orders during the next week.
"Our main market is typically the Christmas to Valentine's Day, very much the love market. The benefits of our product are they don't die. They don't wilt away. These are things you can keep forever and always have as a memory," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin remains in school, taking engineering courses at Berkshire Community College, but has his sights on significantly growing his current business.
"This is going to take many years to get this where I want it to be. But, I'm enjoying the journey," McLaughlin said.
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