On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Julia Greer Fobes and Betsy Greer. Julia is the owner of Julia Greer Fobes: Fashion, Art, and Flowers and Betsy is the Vice President. Together they share how learning to show up on time and work hard is really the best foundation for success. Listen to this week's podcast and find out more about how they have broken into the Mardi Gras world and flourished.
Julia: Hey I am Julia Greer Fobes and I own Julia Greer Fobes Fashion, Art, and Flowers.
Betsy: And I'm Betsy Greer and I'm the Vice President/whatever, the second in command of Julia Greer Fobes Fashion, Art and Flowers.
Marcus: Awesome, well it's great to have you guys on the podcast today.
Julia: Thank you.
Betsy: Thank you.
Marcus: Yeah, it's very cool. Now I know we were talking a little bit beforehand and we are Facebook friends.
Julia: We are.
Marcus: So it's always fun to meet people when you've known them online and actually get to sit down and have a conversation with them. Because we've never met before.
Marcus: Right. So.
Julia: Very cool.
Marcus: Well, tell us the story of how you got started. No, actually, no tell us first where you're from? Where'd you go to high school? If you went to college did you graduate? What'd you study? Married? Just give us some backstory about who you are.
Julia: Cool. We are from Mobile. We grew up here. We both went to St. Paul's and then I went to Ole Miss and graduated in Art and Costume Design and Technology. Then moved back here, had a good opportunity to work for some great artists in the area, and then started my own business.
Marcus: Very cool and was the degree that you were pursuing more for like theater or did it go into ...
Julia: Yeah so I planned on moving to New York and kind of trying to pursue it there, and then just got some great opportunities to stay in the area. Then fell into Mardi Gras kind of sewing for Mardi Gras and all of that. So.
Julia: So it kept me here.
Marcus: That's very cool.
Julia: My husband's from here, so we've been married for almost seven years. We have a baby on the way.
Julia: Um yeah.
Marcus: Very cool.
Julia: Glad to have my sister back here to do it with me.
Marcus: And how about you?
Betsy: I, like she said, went to St. Paul's. We're five years part. So right when she was getting back from Ole Miss I was going to Auburn and was there for four years. I studied film, radio, and television.
Betsy: Week after I graduated, moved to Los Angeles and worked in reality television. Traveled all over the country with a bunch of different shows and-
Marcus: Anyone well known?
Betsy: Treehouse Masters. I don't know, maybe.
Marcus: Oh. I love that show!
Betsy: Yeah. Most recently, American Ninja Warrior.
Marcus: Very cool.
Betsy: Yeah. So.
Marcus: What's the guy's name out of Washington State, I can't remember.
Betsy: Pete Nelson.
Marcus: Yeah. I had his book and everything.
Betsy: Yeah. He's amazing.
Betsy: You can't get a better guy.
Marcus: His houses are ridiculous.
Betsy: Yeah, they're ridiculous.
Marcus: He always had the- I always loved his- He always had the greatest attitude.
Marcus: That was-
Betsy: He's like that, you know, off camera too.
Marcus: So what's this story here? Because you both went into studies that had to do with creative. Whether it was TV or film or with you, with you theatre.
Julia: Yeah, theatre and art.
Marcus: What's the story there with your parents? Were they...
Julia: My dad's really creative. Our family owns Greer's grocery stores.
Julia: So, he kind of fell into the family business. Our sister that's in between us, Lucy, is this spokesperson for Greer's and does that, and she's a cook. So we're all kind of creative in different ways, but our parents definitely encouraged that with us.
Marcus: Mental note to self to get you to give us their contact information and get them on here.
Marcus: Because I'd love to talk-
Julia: Oh yeah they would love it.
Betsy: Lucy would be great.
Marcus: But um, so there was obviously, so some entrepreneurial mindset. Is there anything ... I'm kind of getting ahead of myself. I've only had one cup of coffee today, folks, so if you're listening to this, I'm-
Betsy: I'm with you.
Marcus: [inaudible 00:03:43] the steroid shot that I just got. Because I went to the doctor and I thought I was sick. So anyway, if I'm talking a million miles a minute, that's why. So was there anything you can remember in your upbringing that was just really, and maybe you won't recognize it because you don't know any different, but was there anything different about your upbringing or was it just the modeling that they did of owning a business and being an entrepreneur, and going through the struggles and stuff like that?
Julia: I guess seeing our dad as a business owner and kind of the struggles back and forth, but I think just the encouragement to always ... he always encouraged us to find something we love to do and make that our work.
Betsy: Yeah. You could tell just from his attitude and his ... just everyday being, and his hard work ... what it looks like to be successful and happy. Then I think another thing growing up is, we always had to work. Summers we were working in the grocery store, working in the office. He always put us in a place of, you know, be there, be there on time, do your hardest, and you'll be ahead of half the people you encounter.
Marcus: Easy isn't it?
Betsy: Yeah it really is. Those two things shockingly work.
Marcus: There's a meme that makes its way around every once in a while, and it's like everything I need to know about life I learned in kindergarten or something like that. It's like be in class on time, and do the work or something. I don't know. It's just funny.
Julia: It's true.
Betsy: Follow directions.
Marcus: So what was... was your first job at Greer's?
Julia: Mine was. I worked in the advertising department first and doing files and all that too, but kind of learning under the people that do that.
Betsy: I was a cashier at the store on Spring Hill Avenue in Crighton.
Betsy: Then the summer after that, I did kind of the same thing that Julia did: advertising and marketing and a little bit of accounting. They kind of threw us around to-
Marcus: Early on you were kind of throwing your hat into that creative ring.
Betsy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: That's very cool. Well tell us about the business. How did you get started? What do you all do? Give people some background there.
Julia: Well, so I've been doing what I do for about eight years. I started out at Zimlich Brothers Florist. Well, before that I had an opportunity to work with Naul and Bruce Larsen, who are both great artists in our area.
Marcus: Bruce is really well known.
Julia: Oh yeah, I love him. So they both taught me a lot about art as a business and kind of modeling that and figuring out what my mediums were going to be. Because I kind of always liked everything. Then I started working at Zimilich Brothers Florist and got to work with Ron Barrett, whose another great artist in the area.
Marcus: Wasn't he located down here?
Julia: Yeah, does a lot of the stage sets for Mardi Gras.
Marcus: So interesting story: we were literally walking around a year or so ago, a year and a half ago, and we ran into him. He was like, "Come on in!" Spent an hour with us. He was just the neatest guy.
Julia: He's very neat.
Marcus: He spent an hour with us, just showing us all of his stuff, in I guess his warehouse there where he stores everything.
Marcus: I'd never heard of him before, but yeah, he's just a very wonderful person.
Julia: Yeah, so I worked alongside of him for a while and learned the art of flowers and got into Mardi Gras. He does more of the stage sets, and I was interested in more of the sewing, making the trains, and costumes and stuff. So about three years ago I went off on my own, and those are really the two main parts of my business.
Marcus: Just the flowers and then-
Julia: Flowers for- fresh flowers for weddings, corporate events, parties, all kinds of things and then sewing, for primarily Mardi Gras. Mainly like the kings and queens trains, the big beaded collars, and their things.
Marcus: It is surprising to me as someone who didn't grow up here, the more I kind of uncover about Mardi Gras, it's insane.
Julia: It's insane and there are so many people behind the scenes, making all of that kind of thing happen. I grew up here and never even thought about making that a business until I got back here.
Marcus: There's an actual economy that surrounds just ... you start looking at the suppliers to all the beads, and all the throws, and stuff like that. I mean, I don't know what the average cost is for somebody on one of the ... for all their throws and stuff like that, I mean it's gotta be a thousand bucks.
Julia: It's not cheap, yeah.
Marcus: No it's not.
Julia: People go all out.
Marcus: So you figure out how many people are on each float and then how many floats there are in every parade. I mean you're talking about millions of dollars by the time.
Julia: It's just all for a good time.
Marcus: Yeah. But I mean it also boosts are local economy. I mean this is an important part. I think people kind of downplay. They either really enjoy Mardi Gras, or they kind of downplay Mardi Gras. I think even if you downplay it, you have to respect what Mardi Gras brings to Mobile as an economy and as a tourism-
Marcus: Attraction and as a celebration too as a city where we kind of come together and just forget all the ... some of the troubles that we have and just come together as a group. So that's interesting. You do fairly, I would imagine, fairly costuming then for these too.
Julia: We do. We just did pictures for the monarchs. We did the king of Mardi Gras this year. So we made an 18 foot train for him. 18 foot by 10 feet wide.
Marcus: How much did that weight?
Julia: I don't even know. It's not light.
Betsy: I want to say it's probably...
Betsy: 40 pounds?
Marcus: 40 pounds?
Betsy: Or 30 maybe?
Marcus: It's gotta be heavy.
Betsy: Do you think it's more than that?
Julia: I think it's more. Maybe. I don't know.
Betsy: I don't know. Well now that Julia is pregnant and I'm picking up everything. Maybe everything just feels heavier. [crosstalk 00:09:24]
Marcus: Yeah. How old is the young man that's wearing this?
Julia: He's like 28.
Marcus: Okay so he's like.
Betsy: Yeah, 27 I think.
Marcus: Because I know that they range in age from early teens all the way up.
Marcus: So, no that's very cool.
Julia: So yeah.
Marcus: Now, do you remember the first time, and it may have been back when you were back with Ron, but do you remember the first time that you kind of saw the light and knew that there might be something to this? Like I might be able to make this into a business and make a go for it?
Julia: Well as soon as I was back working with Naul and Bruce and then I started hearing names like Ron Barrett and people in Mardi Gras and doing that kind of thing, I started reaching out to them. Ron was saying, "Oh I'm kind of getting out of the sewing. I do more stage sets." I really just kind of pursued working with him for a while until he hired me part-time to do flowers. I said I've never done flowers but I will. Then I fell in love with that and started doing it. Before I even started working for him, I knew and learned that that was a business in Mobile and that I could get into it, and if I was going to stay in this area, and make a living doing costumes in Mobile, it was going to be for Mardi Gras.
Marcus: Yeah. That's very cool. If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Julia: Oh gosh, be prepared to do everything.
Julia: Wear all the hats. But it's worth it. I mean, you know. As we all know, it's a lot of work, but it's worth it in the end when you're your own boss and-
Julia: I think also, just kind of take care of your team and they'll take care of you.
Betsy: True that.
Julia: That whole thing.
Betsy: Figure out QuickBooks.
Julia: You know.
Marcus: Is it just the two of you or?
Julia: Figure out QuickBooks really fast. Well, it just depends. So we have ... we're the only two full time salaried people.
Julia: But we have a lot of contract workers. Some just for sewing. Some just for events, flowers, and some that do both.
Betsy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Julia: Kind of hop back and forth between.
Julia: Kind of whatever we need.
Marcus: I imagine you're starting to ramp up.
Marcus: Now right? I mean for a while.
Julia: Yeah. We've been kind of ramped up.
Julia: We kind of got through a lot of weddings towards the end of the year, and then kind of going back into it. We're pretty busy until the middle of spring, really. When it gets too hot for people to get married.
Betsy: Yeah once April's over, as of now for us, it'll start to kind of calm down a little bit.
Marcus: Yeah. Very good. Is there anything that you're currently working on in your business?
Julia: As far as projects or as far as building our business?
Marcus: Just on the business. Not necessarily ... so when I asked that question, you're right to ask, to question me. It's not like oh I'm building a train for the monarch. It's I'm trying to learn QuickBooks or we're putting together new branding, or we're trying to figure out processes for x.
Julia: I'd say a little bit of everything. We're kind of ... when I started it, I put my name on the business, which I told Jared I'm a behind the scenes kind of girl. So that was hard for me to put my name on it, but I thought I'll just at this point do anything creative that people want to pay me for. So that's fashion, art, and flowers. I threw art in there because I'm a painter. I do a little bit of everything. Now with Betsy joining in, I think we're trying to kind of see in the next year or two, which way the business kind of segues into so we can rebrand and move forward from there. That being said, Betsy is huge. She's taken over a lot of the accounting work, a lot of the bookwork, but she's also extremely creative. So it's a win-win to have her on board. I think we're just kind of figuring that out right now. We're really lucky to be really busy. So just-
Julia: Kind of finding the time between-
Julia: You know to see which-
Betsy: Cause it's been right at a year that I've been back, and we've been decided alright we're going to do this together full-time. Let's just kind of see what happens. I mean, as Julia said, we've been lucky enough to be so busy that we haven't really had time to think about-
Julia: We're just going and doing the work.
Julia: So I guess we're figuring it out as we go.
Betsy: Yeah for sure.
Marcus: No it's cool. I mean in your downtime, I'm sure you'll take some time and think through, okay what did we learn? What do we need to work on? What were some of the places where balls got dropped or whatever? I mean it's just a common theme in business. You mentioned be prepared to wear a lot of hats and learn QuickBooks and ... those are all things that you don't really think about when you're like, hey I am a ... so this comes from the [inaudible 00:14:18]. Where they talk about I am a technician and I know how to do x, and I'm going to go get somebody to pay me to do x. Then you go out and you do x and it's like well wait a second, I want to do this more. Then you start a business. Then the next thing you know you've got to figure out all these other things. Like whose my accountant going to be and am I going to pay somebody to do my books or am I going to try, and do that in QuickBooks. I need a website and I need to do some advertising and I need to figure out where I'm going to be located. All of those things. It starts getting thrown at you left and right.
Julia: So many little things that you have to do.
Marcus: If you looked to the business world, is there anyone that really kind of motivates you and do not, you're not allowed to say mom or dad. Don't give me a family member. I'm looking to more like someone from the business world that motivates you or you look up to you, or that you think has achieved some things that you'd really like to achieve. Who is that person?
Julia: Oh gosh, I don't know if there is one person. You know? There's a lot of family members. There's a lot of friends. One of my best friends is Amanda Solley Wilson, that I know you've interviewed before.
Julia: She's doing great things, and I've watched her. She worked for me. I found her on Craigslist as a contract worker and I have watched her blossom and get that art center going. Which is amazing. There's also other people, kind of, in our industry throughout the country and world-
Marcus: Yeah, so give me one of those.
Julia: That we kind of watch.
Marcus: Who's somebody in your industry that you really look up to?
Julia: There's different ... I really don't listen to many podcasts. I look at a lot of Instagram because a lot of our work boils down to pictures.
Betsy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia: There's a company out of San Diego called Tulipina that's amazing that we like to watch and kind of see what they're doing traveling around the world doing flowers/events.
Betsy: Yeah we had a recent bride put us on to Tulipina and then gifted us her book a couple of months ago. So just flipping through that and just kind of finding new people internationally that are just going above and beyond what you would originally-
Julia: In the flower and event industry. It's very cool.
Marcus: I would imagine there are a lot of ideas that can be brought forth to Mardi Gras. Whether it be the design of the floats and the creativity that's shown there, or the creativity in the trains that you're doing, or whatever. I mean yeah it's good to find inspiration. The whole purpose there isn't to slight the impression that mom and dad have. We talked about that a little, but the whole purpose there is that to give people this idea that even I as someone who's been doing this for 10 years ... I have people that I look up to. I very much ... I'm very much involved in ... I read Entrepreneur magazine and a couple of other magazines that I find are helpful and have good information in them. I also follow a number of people. I listen to podcasts, which not everybody does, but I look to those people to provide me with information that might be outside of my current way of thinking-
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Betsy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Marcus: And use it as a way to inspire me to move forward. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?
Julia: I'm trying to think. Betsy listens to more podcasts than I do.
Betsy: I listen to crime stories. I'm a big ...
Julia: I'm trying to think about organizations or ... I think just a lot of the local community, that has supported us.
Marcus: Well yeah, obviously Ron and Bruce-
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Marcus: Were very instrumental.
Julia: Oh yeah.
Marcus: Are you ... I wouldn't know that in your industry there are any trade organizations or anything like that? Are there that you found helpful?
Julia: Not really. Maybe there are and I haven't-
Betsy: And we don't know about it.
Julia: I don't know.
Betsy: I mean for me, I think being out in California and being away from Mobile for six years, and just coming into contact with a million new people and working freelance and starting new jobs once a week or staying with the same job for a year and a half ... just helped me adapt and to learn how to do a bunch of different things that obviously has influenced our business and helped us grow a little bit, just logistically. Just having two brains on different ideas. I attribute that to just being away and meeting a million new people.
Marcus: Yep, looking for inspiration-
Marcus: In other places. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Betsy: Believing in yourself.
Betsy: You have to-
Julia: You have to.
Betsy: Be confident in what you're doing.
Marcus: I don't think we've ever gotten that answer before.
Marcus: That is very true.
Julia: You have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your team. I think it kind of goes back to what I was saying. Take care of your team and they'll take care of you.
Julia: We have great people that help us pull off these things, because we could not do it, just the two of us.
Betsy: Yeah. And we trust everyone that works for us. We trust each other.
Julia: Who we select has to be-
Betsy: Yeah absolutely.
Julia: Throughout the whole business.
Marcus: Yeah. That's very good. How do you like to unwind?
Julia: Go to the beach.
Julia: I don't know.
Betsy: Now that it's cold and I have a new house, I like to build a fire.
Marcus: It's so depressing. It's three weeks of gray and windy weather.
Marcus: I'm like ... the sun peaked out for a couple of hours the other day. Was it Sunday or something like that? Monday? It was somewhere along there. I was so happy. I spent all that time that I could ... I was out.
Marcus: Outside just seeing the sun. So beach.
Betsy: I mean.
Julia: Our parents have a house in Lillian on Soldier's Creek. We love going there when we have time off.
Julia: We don't get many weekends off.
Julia: So when we do, we love to just be outside. As long as the weather's nice.
Julia: A lot of the time it is now.
Betsy: Absolutely. I was saying, now that it's not really cold anymore, but for those few weeks it was cold and I have a fireplace, I was obsessed with building fires and plopping down on the couch and building pallets and watching football with my dog and my girlfriend. That was pretty awesome.
Marcus: No that's great. I mean sometimes you just have to make lemonade out of lemons.
Marcus: It's cold and gray outside so I'm going to build a fire.
Marcus: But ... so tell people where they can find you.
Betsy: That's L-O-W.
Marcus: Okay, very cool. For all your wedding/Mardi Gras needs.
Betsy: Yeah. Anything.
Marcus: WelL I want to thank you again for coming on my podcast. To wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Julia: No, thank you so much for having us. This was [crosstalk 00:21:51]
Betsy: Thank you. This was great.
Julia: So exciting for us to get out here and talk to y'all.
Marcus: No, I appreciate it. It's always good to sit down with people and get a better understanding of what they do. So I love that I get to share this with our audience. Anyway, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as business owners and entrepreneurs. It was great talking with you.
Julia: Thanks so much.
Betsy: Thank you so much.