Eric Luoma’s late mother Sharron Luoma loved three things: flowers, the color purple and actress Goldie Hawn.
And after watching the 1969 romantic comedy, “Cactus Flower,” Sharron founded the family-owned and operated floral business, Cactus Flower, in 1972.
“We had a hitching post out front and people would pull up on their horses and we’d wrap flowers and hook them around the saddle horn,” recalled Eric, Cactus Flower President and southern Scottsdale resident. “It was still a pretty small town back in ‘72.”
Since, the Luoma family has grown Cactus Flower from one location in northern Scottsdale to five locations Valley-wide, delivering floral arrangements to more than 20 cities across the metro Phoenix area and beyond.
But what most may not realize about Cactus Flower’s decades-long success story is it also stars a major player and a very important character among Eric, Sharron and the rest of the Luoma family: Cactus Flower’s purple workhorses, Ford Transit Connect vehicles.
Cactus Flower has used Ford vehicles since the business’ early days to not only deliver upwards of 200 floral arrangements per day and about 80,000 gifts per year companywide but also serve as its billboard on wheels.
“It serves as a sign. It’s also a delivery piece. It’s multipurpose and we could not operate the business without the vans,” Eric said.
Sharron coined the term “purple workhorses” for the hundreds of Cactus Flower’s Ford vehicles they’ve gone through over the years.
“We’ll put [a] quarter of a million miles on these cars before we trade them in,” Eric said.
Cactus Flower started with the Ford E series, also known as the Ford Econoline, and eventually transitioned to Ford Transit Connect vehicles when they were introduced to the U.S. in 2013.
Currently, they have 16 Ford Transit Connect vehicles; their biggest truck is a 26-footer.
“We deliver to 1,000 square miles. We deliver to 20 different cities in the Valley. We go out to Litchfield, we deliver to weddings in Sedona, we’ve delivered to weddings in San Diego.
“We’ll go to a lot of places and we couldn’t do that without vans. They’re just such an integral part of what we do,” Eric said.
Ford has been America’s best-selling commercial van brand for 40 years, with Transit Connect America’s best-selling small cargo van for 10 years, based on total U.S. reported sales between 2009 and 2018.
This year, alone, more than 21,000 Transit Connects have been sold in the U.S., and sales continue to gain momentum heading into Q4.
“Small business owners are incredibly important for Ford to stay connected to because their needs are so diverse and much more fluid with changing times,” said Tim Maes, transit assistant brand manager for Ford.
A wide range of businesses use Ford Transit Connect vehicles, from floral business and plumbers to contractors and electricians.
Cactus Flower’s vehicles are customized to fit its needs, with dual-air conditioning and specially designed carriers in the back.
Cactus Flower has two types of vehicles: one for special events complete with a pegboard system, allowing them to lock arrangements in place in the back of the vehicle. One for regular deliveries, customized with containers, allowing them to maximize their delivery runs.
“The ability to build out a van to suit whatever experience a small business owner wants to bring to market is an amazing value proposition,” Maes said, explaining:
“It helps them reimagine their own brand, define their go-to-market strategy however they see fit, and not be limited to one configuration or roof height to make their vision come to life.”
Cactus Flower started off with beige-colored vehicles labeled with a purple script.
“I remember it was in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, talking to our guy that would do the sign — and all the signs were hand-painted; they didn’t have stickers or labels,” Eric said, adding:
“He said it’d be a lot easier if he just got a purple van and then we could just write ‘Cactus Flower’ in black or whatever other color. We’d never seen anybody have a purple van before, so we tried it.”
These purple vans were more than vehicles for the business; they were also the family car.
“I was so embarrassed,” Eric said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to be available to go to school in this van.’ But it was a signature color which just blossomed. It really took off and is so recognizable.”
In addition to its vehicles, Eric attributes Cactus Flower’s success to its employees.
Currently, they have about 65 employees and will increase that number to 150 once the holidays come around – and Halloween is just around the corner.
“We’ve got fabulous employees, some that have been here 20-plus years,” he said. “And, we have designers and drivers that have been here for 25, 30 years. They stay because it’s a great family business, too.”
Sales Manager Lisa Kellum is one of those long-time employees.
“I love coming into work. It just feels really good to be able to be somewhere you love. [Eric] will say, ‘Oh yeah, you can’t plan on leaving,’” she said with a laugh.
Eric said he’s considering expanding the business into the Arcadia area — though, a second Scottsdale location could still happen.
“We keep going back to downtown Scottsdale, but we need the residential component. We need more people that live there besides us,” he said. “I just haven’t had found a really cool retail area.”
However, the current Scottsdale location off Shea Boulevard, is the busiest location, accounting for 30 percent of its total revenue across all five stores.
“We have a great relationship with our customers that we get to participate in all their life ‘til death. It’s pretty amazing,” Eric said.