Get to Know Tonia Benson at Blooms and Things

Blooms & Things

8 South Main Street

Albia, Iowa 52531


Phone: 641-932-7008

What got you into the Floral Industry?
I have always been, and will always be in love with all things wedding and wedding
planning. For four years I was the Wedding Sales Manager at Honey Creek Resort
in Moravia, IA. I worked with Mike’s Blooms & Things on several different events through the years and always appreciated a well designed bouquet. When my
husband and I decided it was time to expand our family, I thought it would be nice to be a little closer to home. So, halfway through my pregnancy, I saw Mike’s was
looking for a new manager, I checked it out, fell in LOVE with the floral world (and
my new son, Henry), then a year later I bought the shop I loved it so much! We’ve
renamed it Blooms & Things and it has been wonderful so far!
Areas of Specialty:
– Wedding Florals and Planning
– Personalized and Detailed Funeral Arrangements
– Certified Wedding Planner
– Working towards her ICF certification through the Iowa Florists’ Association
– Secretary of the AAYP (Albia Area Young Professionals)
– Voted as one of the Albia’s Chamber Board Members
Favorite flower and greenery type to work with and why:
If I HAVE to choose a favorite flower, I would most likely choose the ranunculus. They are so frilly, beautiful colors and if placed right in an arrangement can dance above the rest of the flowers. Such a pretty flower! I like everything eucalyptus. I’m really fond of the dusty sage color and the wonderful smell.
Favorite design style:
Garden Style or Natural.
What is a ‘must have’ staple to always have on hand:
Carnations, I know over the years carnations have received a bad rap, but they
come in SO MANY beautiful colors. They are ruffly and sweet, not to mention very
economical. Such a versatile flower if given the chance it deserves.
Frequently used words or phrases used around your Shops’ work family:
We like to keep it clean around the shop, so when we stub a toe or cut a flower too short, we might say “SHARKS” instead of… well you can fill in the blank! 🙂 We like to
call the shop flower world and you can often hear us reference the backup bucket for weddings or other events.
If you had one chance to convey your passion for all things floral to a huge group
of anti-florists (and cost wasn’t an issue), what would you say or do?
I would attempt to demonstrate the wonders of flowers and the happiness they can bring into peoples homes, offices or hospital rooms. As I put together an
arrangement (probably a large installation) I would try to educate the people of the benefits of flowers and what colors inspire what feelings, while focusing on some
of my favorite flowers and looks! Hopefully my enthusiasm will turn the haters into believers or at least make them consider it! 🙂
What is your goal when someone comes into your Shop for the first time?:
We hope that everyone that comes in our shop finds the prefect item or gift, that
they may not have even known they were after. We like to learn about the recipient and help them find the perfect arrangement, plant or other decor item that reflect
the person they are going to.
If you could change one thing about the way that Floral Designers are perceived – what would it be?
Our job is not just “easy” or “so much fun”. We actually work really hard to learn
each variety flower and it’s different preferences. Ordering the right amount of
flowers so we don’t run out or have too many. Keeping up with the latest trends and buying pretties that both fit the trending looks and desires of our customers but
also fit their spending plans. We are so lucky to tap into our creative outlets for
work everyday, but we aren’t just hanging out and playing with flowers all day.
What floral things are on your bucket list?
I am so excited to put together a large floral instillation someday. Something tall
and gorgeous, or maybe hangs from the ceiling.
What’s one thing that you wish the general customer knew?
The more freedom you give your designer along with good details of your event
and overall look your going for, the more unique and one of a kind your
arrangements will be. “Designers choice” arrangements are more often the most
beautiful pieces that go out of our shop!

Thank you for reading this post and learning a bit about one of the wonderful many member shops in Iowa! If you get the chance to drive through Albia, please pop in and say hi to Tonia and her crew! Thank you Tonia for sharing talent and pictures!

If you would like to have your shop featured on our blog. We would love to get to know you and your shop, and your specialties and what make you unique! What’s better is: IT’S FREE and so EASY to sign up! Here’s the form:

The Iowa Florists’ Association

The Importance of Visual Merchandising

5 Simple Steps to follow.

Article written by Kelsey Thompson, AIFD

As florists, we have no trouble pairing a certain variety of rose with the perfect shade of hydrangea or deciding exactly where that greenery should drape to create the perfect line in a cascade bouquet. We know how to use the Elements and Principles of Design to create the biggest visual impact. But do you use those same skills when it comes to setting up your store displays? Are you intentional with the way you set up your store’s flow; how you communicate what you’re selling? 
The first question to ask yourself is: who are my customers? Depending on your store’s location, your walk in traffic could range from young professionals to high school kids to wealthy retirees. You are already buying based on this, whether you realize it or not. Are you merchandising based on this? Certain colors and stories appeal to different markets. And that is what your displays are doing – telling a story. So that leads us to the next question: how do my customers shop? Maybe they are coming in over their lunch break. Maybe you’re next to a couple of antique stores and your walk-ins are “meandering.” You want your displays to grab attention quickly no matter what, but how in-depth your display stories can be depend on your customer. 
Store specifics aside, there are five basic elements to visual merchandising that apply regardless of where the display is or what is being marketed. 
1. Color: For retailers, shopping is the art of persuasion. There are many factors that influence how and what consumers buy. However, a great deal is decided by visual cues, the strongest and most persuasive being color. When marketing new products it is crucial to consider that consumers place visual appearance and color above other factors such as sound, smell and texture. Color sets the environment and speaks to your customers on a subconscious level. (We could write three more blog posts on the psychology of color, but we’ll save that for another time.) 
Personally, we buy for and organize our show floor by color stories. Moody blues and purples in one area, muted sage and mauve in another, farmhouse red and rust in another and so on. We have recently started give each display area a name and displaying our inspiration color palette for our customers. A detailed card in each zone invites our customers to slow down and fully explore each color story, and hopefully see something that they want to purchase! If they have a lot of one color in their home, it makes it easier and more comfortable for them to shop in the display zone that fits their home’s color scheme. 
2. Landscaping: We’re not telling you to re-do your storefront (though, how’s it looking? Windows washed? Sidewalk clean?). The elevation of products is referred to as landscaping. This is a great way to grab your customers attention and highlight certain items. Hang something unexpected from the ceiling! Show case a ridiculously huge arrangement surrounded by coordinating products on a lower level. 
This image from Anthropologie shows the impact of landscaping and color. 

anthro visual.jpg

3. Texture: One of my favorite elements of design, texture invites your customers to “get their hands dirty.” Contrast in texture can enhance a display. As florists, we are lucky in that a lot of our products for sale lend themselves beautifully to this! The smooth finish of a ceramic vase next to the roughness of a stem of faux amaranthus or the the fuzzy petals of an African violet. You get the idea! Make sure your displays invite your customers to feel. 
4. Communication: Studies have shown that signs have about 5 seconds to engage customers. When creating signage, go for legibility and readability. It doesn’t just apply to large signs – assess your price tags and store-made product descriptions as well. This is controlled through language, colors and font. Please don’t use Comic Sans. Please 🙂 


5. Negative Space: “Negative space” in floral design = free money. Negative space used correctly in visual merchandising will help you make money. Choose one item or group of items as a focal point and then build your display around it using complementary items. Without a main focus, the display may seem too busy and will be less effective in attracting customers; you want your shoppers to process the scene before them quickly and easily. Overly cluttered spaces can cause customers to leave a store altogether because they feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to navigate. We try to keep most items up off the floor, first off all for cleanliness sake and secondarily to reduce visual clutter. Have 48 stems of something? Unless you are displaying them all together for visual impact, maybe you can get the same effect by displaying 12 or 24, reserving the others for restock purposes and “cleaning up” your display. 
I hope this review of visual merchandising will help as you create your own display stories! We get the biggest reactions with super unique, over the top displays, but the highest sales turnover when we show how a product can be used in a home or office. What are your display strengths? How can you use them to create sales? Have fun!! 

Floral Jewelry Workshop – August 18, 2019

Workshop taught by Kelsey Thompson, AIFD at her lovely store, Bloom in Algona, Iowa! It was a very informational workshop as we took a look at different ways to make corsages, floral tattoos, flower hats and fascinators, boutonnieres and how to sell them in your stores. Take a look at all the pictures and you’ll see just how much fun we had! Thank you Kelsey for sharing your knowledge and encouraging us all to ALWAYS make time to PLAY and see what happens!

What’s Up!

Our Designer

Our Theme

Our Location

We literally can’t contain ourselves! We’ve been planning this day for awhile now and have been waiting for a few things to fall into place before we let some of the details out of the bag! Please stay tuned for more information and BLOCK THE DATE ON YOUR CALENDAR!

PFDE Testing

Post Written By: Joanna Kalina, IMF, CFD

Pardon me as I get into writing a more personal post! Most of your know me as the nameless person behind these blog posts. But today, you get to see a little bit of what I’ve been preparing for in the past year and learn more about me!

One of the many things on my bucket list was to test and become AIFD certified. About this time last year, I decided that it was my year to start to prepare to test. It was a great, hard, wonderful and exhilarating experience all rolled into one – and time consuming. But as you all know, goals come with a price and sacrifice.

I studied and studied, practiced designing and using some of the different techniques and greenery manipulation. And then I took the Online part of the test, only to fail it. If you’re anything like me, knowledge testing is hard for me. It’s not that I don’t know the answers or even that I didn’t study. No, my brain just sort of psychs itself out and I start double and triple guessing myself and the answers. It’s great (NOT)! But, honestly – it’s okay! I’ve realized that it’s okay to know that knowledge testing is not one of my strong suits, but that it doesn’t exclude me from getting back up and trying again until I succeed! Does this sound familiar to anyone? Anyone else out there? Anyway, I finally got it on my 3rd try!

Kelsey Thompson, AIFD was my Mentor, as she poured over design pictures that I sent her, instructed me and set up a mock test for me to truly see what the real design test would be like. Thank you Kelsey – You were amazing!

Sandy Schroeck, AIFD also set up another mock test for me and answered a whole list of pre-test questions and gave good constructive criticism after the mock test. Thanks Sandy!

Flying into Las Vegas – stunning!
Out walking around at night – isn’t the view amazing!

Fast forward to July 3rd, I flew to Vegas all by my lonesome, stayed with a dear friend and got to look around Vegas a bit during the day time! Saw the Miracle Mile, Bellagio Fountain and Hotel. Met up with a few new friends that I knew were taking the PFDE test with me and we met at the Mon Ami Gabi Restaurant near the Paris Hotel for dinner (a.k.a. a salad, because our stomachs wouldn’t handle anything else).

On July 4th, check-in was at 10 am, after checking in I forced myself to see a sandwich, and waiting until 1pm for orientation. My new friends Melanie and Linda were kind enough to let me leave my personal belongings in their hotel room during the test.

All 150 students met in a bit conference room at the hotel, where we were greeted, able to ask questions and given our list of supplies and what we were to make when we were able to actually take the design test and start sketching with the pen and paper that we were given upon our entrance to the room.

About 2 pm, we all took a bathroom break, all the AIFD members were lining the pathway on both sides all the way to the actual design room clapping as we walked to the room. It was really sweet. The women in front of me was crying out of excitement and anticipation and probably some exhaustion. Some other students and their mentors were high-fiving.

We walked into the room where our tools were checked over and we were instructed to find our table number. Once everyone found their table, we were allowed to start checking in all our product and supplies, unwrap and organize everything – but we couldn’t start designing until 3pm.

At 3pm, we were told to START! It was finally here, this was the moment I had been waiting, planning, saving and preparing for, for a year. Crazy! I was so ready and petrified all in the same breath! IT WAS TIME!

There was a point where I forgot everything that I knew to do. I couldn’t even remember what colors went together. This happened I was making my casket spray – one of the pieces that I most enjoy making and I’m good at ( I make a LOT of them). Thankfully with a desperate uttered prayer, small pieces started coming back to me, and I somehow managed to get done with all 5 of my pieces done, my table cleared and set up with a little bit time to spare to look over everything and fine-tune each piece and make sure that I had all the Principles and Elements in each.

My whole table display. Thank you Linda for taking all the pictures for me.
Casket Spray featuring flower groupings.

For about 3 weeks, I fretted about whether I passed the design test or not.I frequently checked and rechecked my email to see if there was any new news, just to get scared and not want to check it, but end up checking it anyway, lol!! The answer finally came Friday, July 19, 2019. I PASSED! I PASSED! I PASSED! I’m invited to be inducted as a certified AIFD designer July 2020!

Here’s a few of the wonderful people from Canada that I met and had the pleasure of testing with! Linda Rambaud, CFD and Melanie CFD! So proud of you both!

My point in writing this long and over-due post, is to encourage you – wherever you are to go out there and set your goals and pursue them. They aren’t going to land into your lap with out your effort. It takes hard work and dedication. And sometimes, quite a few failures along the way, lol!

Thanks for reading!

Joanna Kalina, IMF, CFD

ICF Wedding Design Class

The Iowa Florists’ Association’s Wedding Class went off without a hitch on July 14, 2019 at The Flower Shop at Cedar Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. All the flowers were supplied by BIll Doran’s in Waterloo and the supplies were from Bonnett’s Wholesale in Milan, IL.

Seven eager Students joined the IFA’s three instructors as they construced their own Bridal Bouquet in a holder, a unique boutonniere and a corsage! They rocked it all!

The Flower Shop’s Manager, Nancy Meckel instructs and gives tips on consultations, contracts, ordering, proper business tactics, etc.

– The Flower Shop at Cedar Memorial Park for hosting the class and letting us use the wonderful space!
– Nancy Meckel, Fran Newsom and Joanna Kalina for instructing and sharing your expertise.
– BIll Doran – Waterloo for all the gorgeous flowers that you supplied us with – they were amazing. We so appreciate you and your support.
– Bonnett’s Wholesale – for the handy supplies. Thank you so much!
– Thank you to Cameron Daffinrud, Mary, Daughtery, Tonia Benson, Christy McEldoon, Cathy Schmitz, Alex Benson and Lisa Davis for sharing your weekend with the IFA, and coming to learn and grow in this wonderful industry!

We know you’re busy too!

This will be a short blog post, so please read all the way through!

We know that each and every one of you are busy, and your schedule may not leave much time for reading a newsletter all the way through to gain all the wonderful new and updated information that’s being presented! So to save you and the IFA Board some time and still get good concrete information, updates, articles and photos in front of your eyes, we are switching to a frequently updated on-line blog for the majority of the year, and for bigger occasions, we will blog and send a physical invitation to your doorstep!

Sound good? Yes!? Good!

If you have questions, please shoot them our way through our easy “contact us” form or email always works too at

Summer Slow Down

Post Written By Educational Director/Board Member: Kelsey Thompson

Summer Slow Down 

For traditional retail florists, summertime is generally a bit of a slower time of the year. Yes, we have weddings (and funerals are a year round business), but the harried rush of the Christmas season or the month of May has transitioned to a slower pace. Our shop averages 5 or less deliveries a day in the summer months (not counting funeral days) so we have to get a little creative to keep ourselves busy! 

Self Care 

This has become more important to me the longer I’m in retail, especially in the life stage I’m in. My kids are preschool and early elementary aged and are changing every day. Taking some extra time in the summer to take them to the pool or have a day date with them has been a real blessing! Even if you don’t have young children, this is a great chance to make sure you are “filling your own cup.” Take a vacation (or stay-cation!), get a massage, go out for lunch with your girlfriends, or just take a nap. Even if you’re a one person show, don’t feel guilty about closing your shop for a 3 day weekend. You will be a much better person, boss and designer if you take a few days to refresh your body and mind, and your customers can live for a day or two without you. Yes, this can be a hard hurdle to cross the first time, but it’s sooooo worth it 🙂 If you’re the boss, make sure you encourage your employees to take vacation or treat them to a random half-day off. 

Maintenance (Building/Equipment) 

Whether you own your space or not, odds are there are a few things that could use sprucing up! We have a little honey-do list that we add to throughout the year as things pop up. Most things don’t get done until June rolls around. Touching up paint on the walls makes a huge difference, as does a good deep clean. Plus Murphy’s law says that the second you start moving your displays and creating a mess so you can clean, you’ll have a line of customers walking through the chaos to the front counter 😉 

Slow weeks also give you opportunity to make any needed equipment changes or upgrades. Could you be more efficient with a different Point of Sale, or do you need a new shop camera to take better website photos? I’ve been “trimming the fat” this month by doing price comparisons on credit card processors, website providers and other vendors I utilize and re-evaluating any monthly subscriptions. It’s not the most fun part of my job, but I know all the little things add up.  


I cannot stress the importance of continuing education in this industry enough. For me, this goes hand in hand with self care because I LOVE to learn and go to classes, as well as teach them. Even if you’re not a flower nerd like me, keeping up to date on new techniques or products is what is going to set you apart from your competitors. Not only do I find attending classes to be inspiring, I always meet awesome fellow florists and come away with some money saving tips and tricks. Of course I’d recommend the IFA classes for local options; I’d also suggest checking with your wholesalers or following florists you admire on Instagram – many of them advertise classes they are a part of. I am AIFD and the annual symposium is a wealth of knowledge (and will be in Chicago in 2020 so super close!)   


How can you promote yourself in different ways? Or improve upon the channels you already use? If you are not on social media, especially Instagram, pay a high school or college girl $20 and get yourself a tutorial. It’s free and once you learn what the icons mean, quite easy. We hired local girls to do Instagram takeovers during prom season but that concept could easily be applied over the summer months. They think it’s fun and easy cash and you get a millenial writing your content…. win-win! You can pre-plan and schedule social media posts way ahead of time too – Hootsuite is one example of an app that allows you to manage a lot of platforms and write content now so you don’t have to worry about it later. 

Search out ways to cross-promote with other local businesses. My goal is to be a very supportive small business owner in my community. I shop my own downtown as much as possible. This seems overly simple but it’s all too easy to just order online (and yes I am guilty of that a lot too) especially during busy seasons when you barely have time for a bathroom break! I have the extra time to visit my fellow retailers in the summer, so I make a point to do it. We’ve done cross-promotions with a hair salon, clothing store, coffee/chocolate shop, local printer, the local food pantry, other gift stores, etc. Everyone has a strength – find yours and feature it in another business (while giving them the chance to do the same). Customers love to see good will amongst small business owners. 

Display building/planning

Do you have a floor plan for your space? I find it so helpful to be able to visualize the space as a whole and plan ahead. Every time we move things around, we see a small up-tick in sales. We may have had those vases for 4 years, but by golly we moved it over by the jewelry and all of a sudden we can’t keep them in stock! I’m not saying rearrange your retail floor every month, but making small tweaks or even flip-flopping your candle display with your card display keeps things fresh. My super helpful father built me double sided free standing display walls that we can scoot around and create little corners and designated display areas and they have been very helpful in visually separating our product. Next month we will be building some Christmas displays and spray painting Christmas trees. Even if you’re not a handy-man, jotting down some goals or cruising Pinterest for some fun ideas is time well spent.  

Display Wall at Kelsey Thompson’s beautiful shop – Bloom Floral in Algona Iowa

Holiday work-ahead 

Speaking of Christmas, summer is the perfect time to make holiday displays and silks. As your holiday inventory arrives, organize by color or what vignette it will be going in. Then you can premake permanent botanical pieces – we shoot for a wreath, swag, garland, and three different sizes of silk centerpieces to go with each “look”. You know what sells in your store, so make a boatload of them, seal them well in a tote and pack them away for a few months. You’ll be super happy when you are stressed in November and you can pull from your magical tote of pre-mades 🙂 We also use this time to sort through any leftovers from last holiday and either use them up in the pre-made party or put them on our annual “Christmas in July” sale. Put a 70% off sticker on those ornaments and get rid of those suckers! 

What do you do at your store in the summer to keep busy or plan ahead? Any tips to share with our readers? 

P’s & E’s Design Class

The whole crew! Great job! Mary, Sheryl, Stephanie, Bonnie, Josh, Cathy, Joanna and Alex
Photo Credit: Kelsey Thompson
So many fun and colorful designs all focusing on the Principles and Elements of Design! You can have tons of fun, all the while incorporating the P’s and E’s in every design!

Hand – tied Bridal Bouquets using a design egg to demonstrate a larger, more full look with out getting a too-compacted look and using less product!

Iowa State Horticulture Hall for the use of their wonderful space!