A few weeks ago, while driving on Columbus Street, I noticed a teen-aged boy climbing a palmetto tree as a couple of his friends watched from the sidewalk below.
Just seeing a youngster shinny-up the trunk was a show in itself. But what intrigued me more was why they’d even be doing it?
The short answer is that they were gathering material. The longer answer is that they are young business men in the manufacturing business ... the business of making the Palmetto Rose.
As the story goes, the palmetto rose, made from fronds of the state tree, dates back to the Civil War. Southern ladies would give their true love a palmetto rose to keep them safe. Even today, those palmetto strands when shaped into a flower, symbolize everlasting love.
Some believe that story has nothing to do with the truth and was only recently concocted to make tourists feel like they were getting something special. Others hold fast to the legend and can find no credible reason to discount it ... so it must be true.
For Adrian Wilson, the rose represents all of the above, and more.
It takes 2 minutes to make a palmetto rose. It’s taken Adrian Wilson almost all of his nearly 40 years to appreciate that what he does best is connect people to business opportunities.
At the moment, he’s trying to connect some of our socially and economically challenged young people to the business of marketing and selling the palmetto rose.
Working through the city, he wrote a business plan that trains young boys and girls to create, market and sell these handmade flowers. He learned to make them himself three years ago. There was no way he could relate to the younger people if he didn’t know how to do what they already were doing.
But there was a trade-off. Wilson shared other skills to these street merchants that they didn’t possess. These included life skills, etiquette, banking and how to present one’s self in a sales transaction.
It was one thing to climb a tree, grab some material and create a flower. Would they be willing to learn how to bring the product and the customer together?
There was also the matter of craftsmanship and a product standard. Wilson was exacting in his criteria. The fronds must be weaved to a specific tightness. The rubber bands must adhere to a specific gauge and color. To sell a top-notch product, you must make a top-notch product.
The usual price for a palmetto rose is $3. Wilson explained that sometimes selling 2 for $5 might also increase sales.
A year ago, his rose business really flourished when he launched a website. His confidence bloomed upon discovering the domain name of palmettorose.com was not taken.
All of a sudden, people were interested in something that just can’t be found anywhere else. As a young man born and raised in Mount Pleasant, he thinks it’s “cool” to tell Charleston’s story of the palmetto rose.
It also doesn’t hurt that Charleston is such a desired wedding destination or that it continues to be such a popular place to visit.
He and his young partners are now making bouquets, centerpieces and boutonnieres.
Wilson maintains a presence in The Market on the weekends, but continually dreams beyond the city limits.
Adrian Wilson’s goal is to see the palmetto rose rival the sweetgrass basket in popularity and revenue. He’s produced YouTube videos showing how a rose is made, but never worries that he’s giving away any secrets because the know-how and the raw materials can only be found here.
Will this business eventually blossom? I give him credit for this bit of long-range planning. He recently bought some land where he will plant his own palmetto trees.
It’s makes good business sense to have a ready source of raw material, but don’t forget, those young boys also need a place to practice their climbing.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com or 937-5577.