I have a second home in Florida which I hope to spend more time at in the future. Right now I go about 2-3 times a year. Usually when I am down there, I visit a few invitation businesses. This time I scheduled two visits around picking up friends at Fort Lauderdale Airport. I was particularly moved and inspired by both stores I visited.

My first visit was to Jo Noble at Best Wishes in Hollywood. I arrived on time for our 9:30 meeting and was welcomed by her son Robert who explained that Jo was in the hospital. Before I got too upset or concerned, he explained that she had to have an injection and would be back in the store later. Jo is 88 years old, has been in business for over 40 years (20 at her current location) and she has a fracture that would make no sense to treat at her stage, so she is managing the daily pain. So I proceeded to my second appointment.

Stylish Invitation Designs is a new store in Dania, owned by two young, enthusiastic women who are living their dream only a few miles away on the same road. Chantal and Aledia are two friends who left their professions to be entrepreneurs. They had done it part time from home for a few years and had the courage to open a store when so many are closing. However, the advantage is they have a landlord who is just grateful to have a tenant. They have a charming store that is large enough for their needs for under a thousand dollars a month rent.

The passion and excitement they both possessed brought me back almost 30 years to when I opened my first store in 1981. (I had struggled but it was exciting) For a while I actually lived in my store because I could not afford an apartment. I immediately envisioned a direction for these two owners and immediately discussed with them that the most important direction they can take is to build their own personal brand as a dynamic duo. They have a two separate curtains that partition their showroom from their office and they have a counter in front of the partition.

I suggested they install a pull down presentation screen and turn their counter into a podium and move their furniture once a month and conduct a seminar on party planning and invitation design. They could designate a day each month (the third Wednesday at 7:00) and promote that in all their marketing and have customers register for the next seminar at any time. I gave them lots of other suggestions but I could tell this was the one that stuck.

I share this with my readers because one of the ways a store can differentiate themselves is by posturing themselves as experts and be an educator. I feel they will go far. They are both warm and understand how important it is to show customers hospitality.

After an hour and a half, I drove back to Best Wishes and Jo was there to greet me. She immediately shared with me a design idea that she felt could help Encore and had samples to give me to bring back. She is engaging, sharp, passionate and cares so much about the business. We talked about different industry issues and then we went out to lunch. This is when I realized that Jo is a “Hollywood Icon.” Every person we saw knew her from people we saw when we parked the car to patrons in the restaurant. While Jo has a mind that is well exercised on a daily basis and talks politics and business, her eyesight has surrendered to her age and she could hardly see but nobody locally would ever know.

My suggestion to Jo was similar to her young competitors, I felt that PR was the answer. The only difference is that Jo’s life story is newsworthy and inspirational to any audience. Any Florida paper or local news station who wouldn’t do a story on her is missing a great opportunity. Seeing her walk spryly, speak with conviction and clarity, challenge some of the philosophy’s on life I shared with her when she could have easily just nodded in agreement. She is in the fight every day, refusing to compromise and reduce the value of her service. She will not discount. So my idea for her is just to make it known she wants to tell her story. The rest will follow.

So the next few days were relaxing but the experiences with these two businesses were as nourishing to my soul as walking in the Florida sunshine.