Strengthening St. Louis’ Flower Culture Via Blooms on the Go
Rudy’s Flower Truck founder and owner Brittany Sarhage believes that little things can have a big impact. A former social worker with an appreciation for simple pleasures, Sarhage launched her mobile flower truck with hopes that fresh-cut blooms would draw people out to St. Louis small businesses and bring joy into peoples’ homes.
During the warmer seasons, Sarhage parks her antique truck in one of the city’s walkable neighborhoods and sells mix-and-match flowers you can select to build your own unique bouquet. Sarhage doesn’t source exclusively from local growers, but she forms relationships with local farmers when she can, with an overarching aim of supporting both local and international economies.
Below, Guided: St. Louis chats with Sarhage about her journey from the not-for-profit world to launching Rudy’s, her goals for her business and her wintertime flower tips.
Guided: How did Rudy’s Flower Truck come to be?
Before Rudy’s, I was working at the International Institute of St. Louis, which is a refugee resettlement agency. They work with immigrants and have a lot of wraparound services for new Americans. I was there for four and a half years, and I loved it. I was supervising a family strengthening program. Essentially, we took different groups of people, separating them by language group and taught them the basics of communication of relationships, helping them adjust to life in America and how moving to a new country can change family roles and dynamics. I was doing that, I loved it and I was there for a really long time, but I saw that there wasn’t room to grow at the rate that I wanted to. I also have two daughters, so I needed to think about our financial state as well, and working at a nonprofit wasn’t necessarily the best place to be if you’re a young mom. It’s great because you feel great when you’re there, but then you come home and pay your bills and you think, “Oh, my God.”
When I was on maternity leave with my second daughter, the idea of this flower truck came up. I just happened to come across this article online talking about mobile business ideas that were not food trucks. In that article, there was a woman who ran a flower shop out of a truck. It was basically a food truck, but a florist. I thought that was cool, and that was what sparked my interest.
I realized I wanted to work with flowers, but St. Louis does not have a very big flower scene, so that means I couldn’t get a job working with flowers anywhere. I went back and revisited the idea of doing a mobile flower shop, went through a few different visions of what that would look like and then finally came across the truck we have now.
Guided: What was it like transitioning from nonprofit work?
The mindset at a nonprofit is drastically different from a business, because when you’re in a business, you need to be making a profit. Working in social work or at a nonprofit, you’re told that that’s not what’s important. So that was difficult for me in the beginning. I felt guilty for making money. I don’t know if anyone ever talks about that. I have a lot of friends who still work in nonprofits, and they feel bad for making money, but if you make money you can do good things in the world. Money is not the problem. Working in a social work setting definitely put up some barriers I had to work through, because if I had kept my mindset, Rudy’s wouldn’t have been charging what we should have and wouldn’t be making a profit, and then we wouldn’t be open.
Guided: You’re not a trained florist or floral designer. You’ve taught yourself those skills along the way. How did you do that?
The way that we have the truck set up is that customers can come by and pick out whatever flowers they want. They have a part in the bouquet-building process. From the beginning, that put less pressure on me. I just really needed to know how to talk to people and help them figure out what they wanted. So I’ve been able to practice on the truck, learning from other people, seeing what our customers like. Whatever we have on the truck, that’s what our customers like. You just start gradually learning what colors and textures of flowers look good together.
Guided: Why flowers? What do they bring to your life? What do you want them to bring to other peoples’ lives?
For me, flowers are a part of a group of things that make me happy. I just like little things in life, you know? When I was growing up, I didn’t have a ton of money, and I didn’t have a ton of money after I had my two girls. Little things that I could buy for myself and indulge in, like coffee or chocolate or flowers—they’re just beautiful things that are relatively inexpensive, and you get to keep them for a while. They’re a really great way to dress up your space.
In St. Louis, I don’t think there’s a huge flower culture. For my generation especially, we didn’t grow up having flowers in our houses all the time and didn’t grow up sending flowers to a friend when they’re going through a hard time or to congratulate them. But a lot of people do. Across the world, there are a lot of places where flowers are a love language. For St. Louis, we’re trying to reintroduce the idea that flowers can make you feel good, whether it’s for yourself or by giving them to someone else. We’re trying to make that happen in a fun, less intimidating way than going to a traditional florist.
Guided: What do you want to bring to St. Louis through Rudy’s?
When the idea for Rudy’s first came up, I was still working at the International Institute, so I was still in the nonprofit mindset. I thought that this would be a great thing to allow me to have my own job, set my own work hours, and decide how much money I wanted to make. It would give me more flexibility and control over my life. But another part of that was realizing that this is something that St. Louis doesn’t have. … I thought that if we could bring a flower truck to St. Louis, it would be a unique, positive experience for the city, something that would hopefully attract people to come into to see St. Louis for the beautiful city that it is. I want to motivate people to experience St. Louis by having our flower truck here.
Guided: What flowers do you recommend during these off-season wintertime months?
Right now, I’m really more into dried flowers, so we do sell dried flower bundles. We lose flowers in the summer because it’s hot, so we will dry those out and sell them during the fall and winter months. You can keep dried flowers forever, so they’re a good investment. I’m also really drawn to whites and blues right now. Anemones are a flower we have available in our bouquets for delivery right now. They’re a white flower with a black center that’s very pronounced. In the winter time, I think you want dried flowers or neutral, very low maintenance flowers.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Images courtesy of Rudy’s Flower Truck.