Tipton & Hurst Celebrates 125 Years of Flowers and More

For Howard Hurst, flowers have meant more to his family than just business. They also have played a role in the growth of that family, bringing together grandparents and parents.

Hurst's grandfather, Joseph B. Hurst, was one half of the partnership that started Tipton & Hurst, the Arkansas floral company, in 1886. Howard Hurst's grandparents met when his grandmother was working as a designer in the store. His parents met when his father, also Joseph B. Hurst, prepared the flowers for his mother's debutant ball in Little Rock.

Hurst himself is the current president of Tipton & Hurst, which is tied with 12 other companies for No. 87 on Arkansas Business list of the state's oldest companies. (For a list of Arkansas' oldest companies, click here. A spreadsheet version is also available.)

This year, Tipton & Hurst is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and as Hurst, who has been president for the past 25 years, made clear, the company has come a long way in that time.

In 1886, Hurst said, his grandfather was working on the railroads and living in Buena Vista, Colo. After meeting David Tipton, who lived in Little Rock, the two men signed a contract for a business deal. The arrangement was for Joseph B. Hurst to send Tipton "a dollar a week to help him finance a greenhouse. The Tiptons were the growers and they built the greenhouses," Hurst said.

From Colorado, Joseph B. Hurst would send money back to Tipton, working in Little Rock. "He was working out there, sending the money," Hurst said. "And then basically once they started the business, he moved to Little Rock and opened up a retail store. And he ran the retail florists. The Hursts have always run the retail florists, and they [the Tiptons] were the growers running the greenhouses."

Although Tipton & Hurst doesn't have greenhouses anymore, at one point the company had almost 50,000 SF of greenhouse space.

Eventually, the Hursts completely took over the company's operations. In the fall of 1945, after returning to Little Rock at the end of World War II, Hurst's father took over the store following his mother's death. He began overseeing the retail florists. About five years later, Hurst's father bought out the Tipton family completely and ran the company until Howard Hurst bought it from him in 1986.

Largest Independent Florist

Today, Tipton & Hurst is the largest independent florist in Arkansas, with about 50 employees in four retail locations. The company's main store is located in Little Rock's Heights neighborhood, on Cantrell Road, where it has been since 1967, when it moved from a Main Street location. Tipton & Hurst also has a North Little Rock location, which has been there since 1951, and it has had a store inside Baptist Medical Center, in both its previous and current locations, for about 60 years. Its most recent location is in Conway, where it has operated a store for the past 13 years.

Tipton & Hurst owns all its properties, which, in addition to its four stores, includes a 26,000-SF warehouse near Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.

As the company has grown, it has changed.

For example, Tipton & Hurst doesn't actually grow anything itself anymore, but instead purchases its merchandise directly from other growers all over the world. "We buy flowers from South America, from Holland," Hurst said. "We get plants from Canada; we get plants from the West Coast."

The company has also expanded its services to include much more than just flowers. "Half of our business is flowers; the other half is gifts and accessories and a lot of seasonal items," Hurst said. "Our daily business is 100 to 150 deliveries a day, in terms of just daily deliveries, like roses for your birthday. That's kind of just our regular business."

Events, too, are a big part of what the company does, which helps set it apart from other florists. "Most florists are pretty much just flowers and plants and just do a little bit of that other stuff," Hurst said. "We've always done that. My grandmother did that in the '20s."

Parties and weddings remain a big part of the company's business today. "That's another part that we do a lot of. We do a lot of events and have for years," Hurst said.

'Always Appropriate'

"Flowers are a very comforting thing and that's what we do," Hurst said. "Flowers are always appropriate. There's no size; there's no wrong color. I think that's why flowers have been given for all these things for thousands of years. This is not going away."

Hurst, however, acknowledges that despite the continued popularity of flowers as gifts and in decorating, business is conducted differently than in the past. "One of the big things is, the flower industry used to be one of the only industries where you could actually have same-day delivery," Hurst said. That, he recognizes, isn't necessarily true anymore.

And, he said, "The Internet is probably what's changed our business the most."

Tipton & Hurst does offer something that not all Internet businesses can, though, in terms of its expertise and customer service. "A lot of our people have been with us a long time," Hurst said. And because deliveries continue to be a sizable part of the business, providing excellent customer service is important. "There's just not as many people that put out the kind of service that we do," Hurst said. "So many retailers are national retailers and they do don't anything."

By contrast, Tipton & Hurst continues to prove its dedication to its customers and its community. The company makes it a practice to donate goods to community events. "I'm very big on buying local," Hurst said. In the past year, the company has donated $50,000 worth of goods locally, he said.

The company has a presence in the community in other ways. "We're a member of the Chamber of Commerce," Hurst said. "My wife is on the city board of Little Rock. My dad was on the city board of Little Rock. My great-great-grandfather was mayor in 1860. We've been around for a long time, so we're very much a member of the community."

That doesn't seem likely to change. Hurst has led the company through the recession to become more modern and more accessible to its customers. "In the last two years, during the recession, we remodeled our store in the Heights. In the depths of the recession, we redid that completely, which was a big deal." The company also built a new store for its Conway location.

Now the company's next step will be to revamp its website, which, Hurst said, is really like another store location that needs to be remodeled. 

Hurst said that the company wants to be sure to promote itself as more than just a florist, and to let its online customers know about its other products, such as gifts and props for events.

"People walk into our store and go, 'Oh, my gosh. Y'all have so much stuff,'" Hurst said. "Instead of just flowers and decorations, it's much more. We do tabletops; we do linens. There are a lot of props and things that we end up doing for an event. In our warehouse we have furniture and props and things that we rent for all kinds of parties."

The goal of a newly designed website will be to let online customers know about all the services and goods that Tipton & Hurst is equipped to offer. "We really need to push that," Hurst said.

Hurst also said that the company may be looking to continue adding locations. "We want to get out there and maybe start looking at some other markets," he said. "We're probably poised to do that, but we like to do things in a very controlled way."