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Riggs uses personal touch for A+ effort on assignment

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College business major Haylee Riggs wanted her advertising class assignment to stand out. Her pitch wound up being very effective.

Riggs and her classmates in Tom Prince’s upper-level business course were assigned to research Christina Stembel and her company, Farm Girl Flowers. Stembel has achieved some fame as a featured business person on a Capital One card commercial.

“The idea was to research a company that had struggled, used basic marketing strategies, and successfully impacted a crowded field,” said Prince. “Christina Stembel was raised on a farm, soybean and corn, in Indiana and started her business in San Francisco. It’s an unlikely story with a Horatio Alger twist – a new kind of floral business (direct to consumer). She still owns 100 percent of her business and has not brought on outside investors.”

With so many students doing a case study on the same subject, Riggs used her ever-growing business acumen she’s acquired at Monmouth to answer her question: “What can make my paper stand out?”

Sowing the seeds

Riggs decided to go straight to the source and reached out to Stembel through her Facebook page, eventually working with Stembel’s assistant to set up a phone interview. During a call that lasted more than half an hour, Riggs asked Stembel several questions, including how she deals with doubt.

“She told me, ‘If you don’t have doubt, you’re basically a narcissist,” said Riggs. “She told me her first two years in business were difficult, and that doubt was a big part of that. For the first two years, it was just her. She had no other employees. She did a lot of word-of-mouth advertising, putting her business cards in places like coffee shops and going back later to see how many of her cards were taken.”

But now that Stembel has experienced success, she has big plans.

“She told me she has a goal of being a billion-dollar company,” said Riggs, who has also written about Stembel and her civic contributions for a senior-level Citizenship course that Prince teaches. “She’s well on her way, doing $32 million of business last year.”

Riggs said Stembel was previously an alumni event coordinator at Stanford University.

“She regularly had to order flowers and had some issues with that, so her idea for starting her business kind of grew from that,” she said.

Food for thought

Along with her idea for a new type of business came the need for a business model, with Stembel choosing to emulate the In-N-Out burger chain, which is known for having a limited menu.

“In-N-Out was her inspiration,” said Riggs. “So her customers don’t pick the type of flowers they get, just the type of bouquets.”

What’s in her wallet?

Stembel made another decision that wound up paying off handsomely. She used a Capital One card, which rewards a percentage back for all qualifying purchases. Those purchases resulted in a six-figure payment for Stembel, and Riggs said she uses the extra funds to help Farm Girl Flowers get through its lean summer months.

Capital One was so impressed by Stembel’s story that it signed her as a spokesperson for the company. That television time and her overall success mean that Stembel and her business are now the model that others are watching.

“She looks to be an inspiration to women who want to be in business,” said Riggs.

That includes Riggs herself. She plans to graduate in December and begin work in a field related to “sales or money.”

“I’m doing some interviews right now, and I think my interview with Christina Stembel will be a great addition to what I’m offering on my résumé,” she said.