Nancy Rankin and Susan Zehnder have been business partners for 15 years. We know them as the owners of Blooms by Essential Details in La Grange, but they actually own six businesses together. With 45 employees and clients all over the country, these two women have found a way to bring out each other’s greatest strengths and to keep each other constantly motivated and successful. Yet on the surface, they could not be more different. One is a night owl, the other an early bird. One is quiet and the other is talkative. One is tall, the other is short. But this self-described “Thelma and Louise” team is each other’s yin and yang, and they describe their business partnership as more like a marriage, definitely founded on friendship and respect with a heavy dose of business savvy. And today, they are our FACES of Louisville.
Exactly how many businesses do you own, and how are they all related?
We own six small businesses:
- Huber Decor is the original, which provides decor packages (artwork, artificial plants, artifacts, large scale graphics, accent furniture) for restaurants and hotels. We do many things in-house, like graphics, large-scale printing, framing, decorative signage and woodworking along with buyouts.
- ideasource is a boutique architectural, interior design, project management and procurement firm. We specialize in restaurant and the race horse industry work. ideasource was born out of Huber Decor clients asking for expanded services.
- Essential Details is a full-service event and meeting planning company. We provide management, design and rentals for both corporate and wedding/social segments of event planning, and in recent years, have expanded the rental side of what we do with specialty chairs, tables, sofas, bars, etc.
- Blooms by Essential Details is a full-service florist, which, in addition to daily florals, is heavily involved in wedding and event projects, often working in tandem with Essential Details. Blooms, which is located in a 3,000-square-foot, renovated, 100-year-old+ hardware store, is also an eclectic lifestyle boutique, offering home decor, gifts, jewelry, artwork, gourmet treats, Kentucky items and clothing, including our exclusive, newly created Dixie Soul clothing and accessory line.
- As of last week, we added another company to our family when we purchased Pew People, which is a vintage pew rental company. We will add to the inventory and add a tag line to become Pew People by Essential Details.
- Finally, we have a properties company that is for real estate.
All companies except Blooms are housed in our Plantside Drive location. We share creative resources, accounting/HR/purchasing/technology/marketing and some operational functions. All except the properties company are design based … that is really the common core that all the businesses are built around.
Who takes on what role when you share so many business responsibilities?
Nancy: We are blessed with an amazing team, and that is key. There is some overlap, and sometimes it just depends on what is on the other person’s agenda, both professionally and personally. A few things are pretty standard though. Susan handles the architectural side of our business and does most of our prospecting. I oversee the corporate decor programs for large restaurant chains and hotels. Shawn Mouser serves as CFO and also heads up HR. While I am heavily involved in the banking relationships, financial review and planning, having someone we trust in that position allows Susan and I to focus on other areas. We also have a strong VP of operations, experienced directors in place for Huber Decor and Essential Details, who shoulder much of the load, and an outstanding designer/manager at Blooms. Susan and I both enjoy business development, marketing and customer relationship pieces of all our businesses, so we both are involved in those aspects of all companies, as well as in growth plans, staffing, branding decisions and mentoring members of our team.
Susan: With my experience at Kentucky Fried Chicken doing restaurant design and development for international and domestic markets, plus several years as a manufacturer’s representative, it made sense for me to lead ideasource, our architectural, interior design and project management company. While I was growing up, my dad was involved in the restaurant management business, both in the military and in the civilian world. From my earliest memories, the restaurant industry is all I have known, and I knew early on I wanted to be a part of it. Being able to help clients achieve their goals is a huge satisfaction for me, and as a team, we take great pride in our workmanship.
What is your advice for maintaining a successful long-term partnership?
Nancy: Be careful who you chose to partner with in the first place.
Susan: To me it’s simple: honesty and respect. For as long as we have been together, it truly is like a marriage. There is a lot of give and take, knowing when to lean in and when to step out. Nancy and I have a strong friendship and are very like-minded people, so that makes this partnership more of a joy than just a straight business relationship.
What is the hardest part of your job? What is the easiest?
Nancy: Businesses like ours tend to ebb and flow, and it can be a challenge to be adequately staffed for busy times and leaner for times when we are not as busy. It is also hard to find time to do all the things I want to both professionally and personally. The easiest? To be continually enthusiastic and confident about the products and services our companies offer. Our team is talented and dedicated and strives to be excellent every time.
Susan: Maintaining the pace and the expectations of the job can be a real challenge. We try to buffer the stress for our employees to help maintain a certain level of peace and harmony in the workplace. Having to balance the demands and deadlines of our clients with the workload of our employees is always a juggling act. The easiest is definitely getting up and going to work every day I used to work from home for years and did not realize how much I was missing by not being a part of our work family’s everyday life. We have so many super creative people, and their personalities are off the charts. It really makes my life feel so much richer to be able to share their days and to be there for them on a moment’s notice.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
Nancy: There is no normal, which is why I love my work and have been here for 25 years. On a given week, I may travel for installations or marketing , have creative meetings about projects, spend time researching ideas or purchasing products for projects or Blooms, spend time reviewing projects the team is working on and sharing ideas or coaching, and collaborating with our graphic designer getting ideas down on paper. Some weeks, I spend time reviewing financial information, planning for cash flow and looking at sales trends, costs, etc., with our CFO. I get up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to spend quiet time in the morning and try to exercise/walk several times a week. We also try to have dinner as a family (though sometimes it might be at 9 or 9:30 at night). I do a lot of food prep, laundry and planning for the week on the weekends, however, I almost ALWAYS take a Sunday afternoon nap.
Susan: This is what I love about my job: there is never a typical week. I travel a fair amount, either going to client meetings, visiting job sites, attending trade shows, like the National Restaurant Show in Chicago, or visiting new concepts. If I am in town, I am working on projects with our employees, looking for new business and problem solving with our team.
What advice do you treasure?
Nancy: Write it down, pray over it and seek wise counsel. Also, be very careful about those you allow in your inner circle.
Susan: “It is what it is.” I am finally old enough to understand that advice and be able to live by it. It has taken me a long time to get to this point. I am working hard to instill this idea in the minds of our mostly millennial folks to help save them some grief along the way. Once you understand this point, you can quickly move on to find a solution rather than linger on the problem.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my ____________.
Nancy: Perky attitude
Susan: Lipstick. I have a MAC addiction. Seriously, I may need rehab!
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
Nancy: I am a HUGE youth sports fan, so I am always at my kids’ games (football, baseball, softball and basketball). I also like to walk in parks and neighborhoods.
Susan: I spend a fair amount of time at the YMCA either after work or early morning, like 6 a.m., doing whatever class is going on. I do so much better when I have someone telling me what to do!
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Nancy: Explore different neighborhoods, from the architecture, to coffee shops, to retail stores and restaurants
Susan: My husband and I love to do the Frankfort Avenue and NuLu trolley hops. We also like going to the various festivals and flea markets around the city. Since the opening of our flower shop in La Grange, I have discovered the great shopping in that great little town. We just joined the Speed Museum and look forward to the adventures that come with that new journey.
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Nancy: Early bird. I have a devotion time in the morning. I also love to read books and magazines, walk, cook and just putter around my house.
Susan: Definitely a night owl. I answer and send many emails late at night. The peace at night gives me a chance to review the day’s events and set the schedule for the next day. Of course, I don’t ever write it in ink because, well, we all know how that goes.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
Nancy: Our whole family loves to eat, but honestly I travel so much and we are gone so much for activities that we like to be at home when we can. My husband, kids and I all enjoy entertaining, and so I cook and we have people over. We also LOVE Mexican food and like checking out any and all Mexican restaurants. Recently, when touring local restaurants with clients, I ate at the new Butchertown Grocery and Feast, and they were both wonderful. Jack Fry’s and Pat’s Steakhouse are tried-and-true classics.
Susan: My favorite lunch spot is Shiraz. We also have always loved Jack Fry’s, and who can pass up the fish and rings at Mike Linnig’s! There are so many great options in Louisville that it’s really hard to pick favorites.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Susan: Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. Among his many restaurant successes, he is also the founder of the hot concept Shake Shack. I always have a stack of trade rags I am reading, including Hospitality Design, Restaurant Development + Design, and Interior Design. I am getting ready to reread The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. This title is from the Huber Decor book club. We reward our folks with a $50 restaurant gift card for reading a book and writing us a quick takeaway from their reading.
What are three of your favorite things right now, besides faith, family and friends?
Nancy: Coffee (to keep me going), my Bible (to keep me grounded) and my Droid Notebook Phone (to keep me connected)
Susan: Frye boots (the Engineer 12r is a jobsite must), Netflix endless streaming and tea (hot or cold) My summertime favorite — hands down — it’s a boat ride on the river.
Thank you, ladies. And thank you to Adele Reding for her beautiful photography.
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