By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
MANAYUNK- Do you need flowers for a convention, a banquet, a $40 arrangement, or even just a $15 bud vase? Tom Coffey will oblige.
Coffey, 49, has spent a career in sales and marketing. After working in Germany and England for eight years or so, he came back to his Philadelphia roots in 1989 with the idea of going into business for himself. The result was United Floral Service, which isn’t your typical flower shop. It operates out of 10,000 square feet of warehouse space in Manayunk, within a half-hour of most places in the Philadelphia area.
“I saw a niche that could be filled,” said Coffey, who isn’t one to sit around waiting for customers to walk in the door.
Although United Floral welcomes neighborhood walk-in business, and will take any order no matter how small, its focus is on institutional accounts, including law firms, banks, insurance companies, country clubs, schools, community groups and the military.
United Floral has the account of no less than 46 military bases around the country, including all those in the Washington, D.C. area. It’s not just military units. Last Mother’s Day, Coffey estimates United Floral Service filled 3,000 orders from servicemen and women, many of them deployed to Iraq.
His role in the company, which has grown to multi-million dollars in gross sales, is to get out there and drum up business.
“I go out and sell, I develop relationships,” he said.
Because he is an active Catholic layman, he does get quite a few orders from Catholic groups, for example the Catholic Leadership Institute, the CYO, the Philopatrians, the Catholic Historical Society and Men of Malvern. It’s almost a given such groups will ask for a discount, and Coffey tries to oblige.
“My other business makes it possible for me to do this,” he said.
Coffey was still working in London in 1987 when he met Suzy Fleming at a benefit for the pro-life movement. It was a wine tasting event held in the basement of a historic church, St. James at Spanish Place. Now she’s Suzy Coffey, whose cultivated London accent you hear on the answering machine when you call United Floral Service at (215) 842-1700.
Members of St. John Baptist Vianney Parish, Gladwyne, they are blessed with three children – Maria, a college junior; Angela, a college sophomore; and Tommy who is in a post-high school prep year before entering Annapolis.
“They are a gift from God,” said Coffey of the three children, all adopted at an early age from Mexico.
Tom Coffey doesn’t really like to talk about his religious life, because he doesn’t want to be a Pharisee. Nevertheless it plays a huge role in his business and family life.
“Work, family and children all interconnect,” he said. “In 1990 God decided to make me a daily communicant. I honestly can’t imagine working and providing for the kids without the Eucharist.”
Coupled with this are Eucharistic Adoration and family rosaries with the children.
The flower business hasn’t always been all roses, Coffey is the first to admit. There were all of the usual trials and tribulations associated with a start-up business. It is faith that has kept him going through good times and bad.
“You give God your successes and your failures and anything thing in between,” Coffey said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.
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