Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Cross and Heather Weickum, and Amato Wholesale in Denver, Colorado.
Jeff, let’s start with you, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started in the flower business and how you got to where you are today?
Luck!! I started in the business in 1968 at Greenleaf in Brighton, Colorado as a driver, and I worked my way up to sales. In 1971, I moved to Braun Wholesale Florist as a manager with two other employees. In January of 1974, Amato Wholesale Florist opened its doors with me as the sales manager and one other employee. In 1983, I purchased forty percent of Amato’s stock and the remaining sixty percent in 1992. Fast forward to 2018. Amato is now a full-service wholesale house with seventy employees servicing seven states.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
If you define easy to mean the following: working six to seven days per week, ten to twelve hour days with no vacations for the first five years, or no pay increases for ten years, then yes it was easy.
Let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Amato story. Please tell us more about the business.
Amato started in 1974 as a wholesale house that only sold Colorado carnations to other wholesalers for the first five years. We started selling more imported floral products and began selling to retailers in year six. We grew to eight employees that year. Mass market sales became a part of our business in our ninth year. After our first twelve years, we added plants, dish gardens, and supplies, as well as, increasing our employees to thirty-five. We were outgrowing our facility and taking up nearly two sections of the rental space. In 2000, we were very lucky to find available space to build a forty thousand square foot building to house our growing business. In 2005, we were able to increase our sales staff to fifty employees. With an increase in retail sales, along with the addition of new mass market trade and a full-scale bouquet department, Amato was able to increase its employees to seventy in 2010, and the business has been going strong ever since.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I have been very lucky in both my personal and business life. At all crossroads, I was lucky by always choosing the right road to follow. I’ve been lucky to work with many great people throughout my life. With me spending less time at the company recently, I am very thrilled to see how Heather will continue to develop the business. Of course, I am still involved on the sidelines, but Heather is taking over more of the daily operations.
So Heather, what lead you into the family business?
It was never my intention at first to be a part of the business. My aspirations were to be a marine biologist saving whales and dolphins worldwide until I realized that I really wasn’t that good in the sciences. My head was wired for something different. I took an elective accounting course and I loved it. I found I was good at it. At that point, my direction was in business, and getting into the family business just seemed the logical step forward.
What was/is the biggest challenge working within a family business?
The biggest challenge for me was proving myself as a capable employee and gaining the respect of the people I worked with as an individual, and not just “the boss’ daughter”. Going into any job can be a struggle on many levels, but going into a job where everyone has watched me grow up added another layer of struggles to overcome.
Now that your dad has retired, what is “taking over” look like for you?
My biggest challenge is to keep ahead of the changing industry. What this business was two years ago isn’t what it is now. The generational differences are a definitive challenge. Something I strive to do every day is to make my father proud and that I will do everything I can to make sure everything he built and worked for all his life will be carried on.
Jeff and Heather, thank you for your time and we wish you the best in the near future!