Alumna Spotlight - Mary Trinh DC'97
Located inside the New Brunswick train station, Mary Trinh DC’97 is used to seeing students, professors, and other members of the community pass by her flower shop on a daily basis. On any given day, students on their way to work, internships, or back home to campus, might stop in to ask for tips on how to keep plants alive in dorm rooms, what type of flower is best for a first date, or even how often to water a cactus. What may seem to some like an unusual location, actually put Mary’s business at the heart of life in New Brunswick. However, Mary’s existence as a small business owner drastically changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary and her shop, Redwood Florist, have been entrenched in the New Brunswick community since her own time as an undergraduate student. While a communications major at Douglass, Mary took a job at the very shop she now owns. That part-time gig has developed into a robust professional life. While she always had a talent for designing arrangements, Mary now oversees daily business operations, deliveries, event coordinating, bookkeeping, and purchasing. At Redwood, it is critically important to be a responsible consumer of flowers. In addition to buying locally sourced flowers from farms around the state, Mary spends much of her time tracking inventory and managing Redwood’s purchasing strategy to minimize waste.
Mary’s passion and expertise does not go unnoticed, especially by her employees.
“[Mary] is just one person and she does everything. Still, she’s always on track and perfect,” said Shivani Popat, an employee at Redwood. “I’ve been working in this business for four years and have worked with four or five different shop owners. She’s definitely the best.”
After 13 years as the shop’s owner, and over 25 years working with flowers, Mary has become an industry veteran. Yet with the shop closed over the course of the past several months, Mary has faced one of the biggest challenges in the shop’s history.
“We know that reopening cautiously is critical to keeping COVID-19 under control,” she said. “So while it was tough staying closed, we’re focusing on safely making the most of the path ahead.”
While the shop was closed for most of March and all of April, they were able to start offering delivery and curbside pick-up in May. This month, Redwood re-opened to customers with precautions in place. What Mary looks forward to the most is being able to chat with her customers and connect again with the community the shop serves.
“I love talking to the customers—being a florist actually requires extensive communication skills,” said Mary. “Different people come in every day and they all have different reasons for buying flowers. Flowers are a purchase that can be happy or sad, cheap or expensive, meticulously planned out or entirely last minute. Finding the right design is about gauging what the customer needs.”
In-shop sales only account for a portion of Redwood’s work. The shop’s business also comes from the University, a relationship that has been consistent since she started. Mary and her team often design floral arrangements for alumni events, such as the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni Induction Ceremony. With the cancellation of in-person events, the shop has also lost this source of revenue. She is focusing on growing her on-line presence in order to help mitigate this loss, updating the website, and being more pro-active on social media.
Still, Mary remains hopeful for what’s to come. Douglass has always been a place of joy. In 2019, she designed the flowers for the Douglass Convocation Ceremony, which brought her back to her own memories at the College.
“I remember my own graduation on a beautiful day on Antilles Field behind the Chapel. I was so excited and proud,” said Mary. “Doing the flowers for the 2019 Douglass graduation was such a cool experience. I felt like everything had come full circle. As an alumna, I loved contributing to such a special day for the graduates. While it was virtual, I’m glad the 2020 graduates got to be acknowledged for their outstanding accomplishments.”
For Mary, her Douglass experience was marked most by the connections she made while on campus. Her Douglass friends have been a great support system throughout the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“I met my lifelong friends at Douglass. We worked at the flower shop together, supported each other in tough times, and were always getting in trouble for being too loud in our rooms,” said Mary. “It’s my hope that, just like we did and still continue to do, current Douglass students can lean on each other for support throughout this difficult time.”
To learn more about Redwood Florist, please click here.