Closing family business not easy

Pull up a chair and we’ll chat, said Doug Johnson.

So, for the next hour, that’s what we did.

It’s been an emotional time for him. Such comes with the territory of pulling the plug on a family business, and that’s what Johnson finds himself dealing with as he prepares to close Don Johnson’s Florists and Bridal at the end of June. The business has been in the Johnson family for 65 years, started by his father and purchased by Doug in 1980. Twice during that time, father and son helped decorate for presidential inaugural balls, first for George H. Bush and later for George W. Bush.

It’s the creativity of the floral business that Doug especially enjoyed. He’s a former football player, cyclist and current outdoorsman (he’s been on elk and moose hunts), but he’ll tell you it’s the sight of a flower that captivates him.

“I have passion for flowers like my dad did. I am always in awe of the beauty of flowers that God created,” he said, pointing out the significance a flower has on a person’s life.

“Flowers touch emotional moments … an anniversary celebration, a birth of a new child, a birthday, a party, wedding or the memory of a loved one who has passed.”

That’s what kept him in the business for 44 years.

So …

“You want to know, ‘Why leave?’” he said with a laugh.

“I’ll be 67 this year. This has been pretty much what I’ve done my whole life,” he said. “I started out by pulling weeds for dad. And then I went off to college and got a degree in business marketing from Ohio State. In between, I learned floral design from the best teacher ever — my dad. It’s been a great run, but nothing lasts forever.”

Change has been constant over the years.

“When we had the Recession in 1981, I saw the writing on the wall. We had to diversify from being just a flower and gift store, so we added bridal,” he said. “Our current location was great for that. Women liked to travel to look at gowns, and being close to I-75 worked in our favor. People came from Fort Wayne and Michigan and the whole side of Ohio to look for prom and bridal gowns. I was called ‘the prom king.’”

Then came the explosion of the internet.

“It really changed everything for every business. It was the downward trend for people who had bridal shops,” he said. “Buyers cut out the traveling. And it also became more difficult in the flower industry with all of the online ‘order gatherers.’ The customers in the new generation are not going to hop in a car and drive somewhere to buy flowers; they’re going to order them through some 1-800 service, who then calls us to handle the order for a reduced price.”

What hasn’t changed is Johnson’s respect for customers.

“Moms and daughters will tell me they bought their bridal gown or prom dress here. I’m a people person and always enjoy talking with them,” he said.

Before summer’s out, the flower shop will surrender to a bulldozer as the location becomes the latest fast-food restaurant.

Johnson’s “new life” will see him spending more time with his grandchildren, enjoying the outdoors, golf and traveling with his wife of 40 years, Shelli.

They have a son, Chase, who owns Johnson Construction in Denver with offices in Naples, Florida; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Steamboat, Colorado; and Toledo. A daughter, Haley, is a nurse practitioner at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. A son, Andrew, is an insurance executive in Middletown, where he and his wife have five children.

“The time’s right to retire,” Johnson said.

Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.

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