Shannon Donaldson always knew that she wanted to do something unconventional with her life. The idea of a nine-to-five desk job was out of the question and so was doing anything other than living out a trade she was passionate about.
Story by Danielle Smith
Photos by Hannah Vickers
The challenge was figuring out exactly what that passion was. “I always wanted to be different, but I didn’t know exactly what to do with my differentness,” Donaldson says.
With a degree in sculpture from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas and a background in flower arrangement in the wedding planning industry, Donaldson garnered a trained eye for making appealing arrangements. As she ventured to become a small business owner, Donaldson realized she needed a product that people wanted to purchase.
“I’ve finally found the right product. [Succulents] are something that I’m passionate about and Ilove, and I just can’t stop making things with them, but the best part is that people actually want to buy them,” Donaldson says.
In 2012, Donaldson started her own business that she calls Flowers on the Fly, which began with selling flower arrangements. Though she transitioned to mainly selling succulents, she decided to keep the catchy name.
She dreams of having a storefront one day, but for now Donaldson aims to bring her product right to the people. Currently, her cart can be found at one of three locations: on campus at the southwest corner of 24th Street and Guadalupe Street, in downtown Austin at the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Street and on South Congress Street in front of Guero’s Taco Bar.
Donaldson is a self-proclaimed introvert and says she was initially terrified by the idea of standing in the middle of a crowded sidewalk and offering something she puts so much work into for other people to judge. She once struggled with this career choice — battling disapproving parents, hot Texas weather and disinterested customers — but says she believes in what she is doing and will continue to persevere through the challenges as her business grows. “When I first started doing the cart, I had to be really brave,” Donaldson says.
When she sets up shop, Donaldson says she wants to present customers with an “experience,” so that customers feel like they’re shopping and not just stopped on the side of the street. Attached to the front of her bright purple bike is a white cart on which all of her succulents are displayed. This mobility has allowed this flower peddler to seek out new spots and opportunities.
Customers can stop and browse the selection she has already created but also have the option to order custom plants. If there is a container and a plant the customer particularly likes, Donaldson will put them together and arrange a pickup or delivery.
Donaldson typically rolls up to her locations during the weekends when there is more foot traffic. She spends her weekdays picking out containers at thrift stores and antique malls or restocking on succulent plants she picks out herself from a supplier in South Austin. To prepare for market, she chooses the containers, often modifies them by painting or sanding them and then chooses the succulent that goes inside.
For Donaldson, rosettes are like the roses of the succulent world. These plants look a lot like a flower in bloom with their petal-like shape, but still maintain the vibrant green and rubbery texture of a succulent. She tends to give them center stage on her cart, but also likes to play around with unique plants and containers.
“Sometimes it looks really pretty when you just have one container and one plant as the focal point. Simple can be gorgeous,” Donaldson says.
Perhaps Donaldson’s dream of a storefront is not too far off.
For more information on Flowers on the Fly and updates about her location and availability, check out Donaldson’s Instagram @flowersonthefly