Antigo woman’s  wood-flower business in full bloom

What started as a desire to expand her crafting skills led Andi Gretzinger, a former art teacher, to open North Woods blooms where she makes wood flowers, bouquets and other wooden-flower arrangements. Photo by Lisa Haefs

It’s January in the Northwoods, and the flowers are blooming.

In a warehouse shop in Antigo’s northside industrial park, entrepreneur Andi Gretzinger is creating one-of-a-kind wooden flower arrangements at North Wood Blooms. The shop, which previously housed a facility that made fishing lures, is catching a whole new type of clientele.

“Flowers bring people together, and I am in the memory-making business,” Gretzinger said. “My mission is to spread beauty and joy through wood flowers.”

The seed that blossomed into North Wood Blooms was planted in 2016, when Gretzinger was introduced to wood flowers after a friend ordered the product for her wedding. Gretzinger, a formally trained artist and licensed art teacher for the Antigo school district, was intrigued.

“As an art teacher, I was always on the lookout for new mediums to work in,” she said. “As soon as I saw wood flowers in person, I knew I wanted to add them to my arsenal of crafting skills.”

That opportunity arrived when her sister became engaged.

“I knew I could make her wedding florals as a gift, and she accepted,” Gretzinger said. “Prepping for her wedding meant a lot of trial and error. There weren’t many blogs, videos, or tutorials to reference because wood flowers were just starting to gain traction in the U.S. I started posting photos to my personal Facebook page and many of my friends and family began ordering small gifts and arrangements.”

A few weeks later, a friend lost her wedding florist and asked Gretzinger to create her arrangements as well.

“Within two weeks, I watched two North Wood Blooms brides walk down the aisle carrying wood flower bouquets made by me.” Gretzinger said. “I had an instant portfolio, and the rest is history.”

Gretzinger’s “shop” moved from her dining room table, to a guest room, and finally enveloped her home’s basement.

“My husband gave up his basement area where he was planning to put a pool table,” Gretzinger said. Later, she took over even more of the space.

Her husband, Dillon, was supportive in other ways as well. A financial-service representative, he stressed the need to learn the business end of entrepreneurship as well as the artistic.

“He said he couldn’t even talk to me about managing the business unless we could speak the same language,” Gretzinger said. “If I was going to be serious about moving forward, I had to educate myself. I was a new mom, a new teacher and a new business owner all at the same time.”

Gretzinger completed a nine-week entrepreneurship training program hosted by Langlade County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in cooperation with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The series of classes, made possible in part through continuing support from The Suick Foundation, is designed to teach potential business owners how to use their time, money, and resources wisely.

“It moved me from just doing designs to determining what I wanted to do with a business,” she said. “Making pretty things is just part of it. I had to ask myself what my business stood for besides just being a product that I made. I knew what I wanted after that making that business plan.”

In February 2020, she resigned her teaching post to focus on her family and grow her business.

“It was like, boom, I chose the right path,” she said. “It was a blessing.”

The medium that is key to North Wood Blooms is Sola wood, made from the root of the tapioca plant, also known as the shola plant. The plants, easily grown in rice paddies and waterlogged lands common in India and Thailand, have a spongy, supple and lightweight core.

“Shola is a lot like balsa wood in the way that it is so light, but it is much more flexible and softer,” Gretzinger said. “The root of the plant is shaved into rolls which then become the sheets of wood that the flowers are made from. It is a renewable resource and a natural material.”

Gretzinger imports sheets of the wood to create her custom flowers, supplemented by unpainted blossoms made by artisans in Thailand and India.

“All of my flowers are handmade,” she said. “I hand-make special requests that I can’t order wholesale because you can’t source every flower.”

Whether she makes her own blooms or uses those imported from overseas, she handles the painting and stemming of the blossoms and the individual arrangements.

“We are a lot like a real florist,” she said. “We take materials and use them to create one-of-a-kind bouquets and arrangements. I pride myself on color schemes and arrangements that are not only beautiful, but unique.”

One important difference from the real version is longevity. With proper care, wooden flowers can last for years and even through generations, becoming family heirlooms.

Prices start under $20 for small displays and single stems and move upward for larger bouquets and arrangements, complete weddings and large arches.

“We are comparable to fresh flowers depending on what we are creating,” Gretzinger said.

Business continues to grow and evolve. North Wood Blooms is completely booked out for weddings through 2023. Individual arrangements are sold through seasonal collection launches which are released at a specific date and time listed on the website, and with plans to expand to decor collections soon. Gretzinger is also beginning to offer do-it-yourself classes and kits, sharing the artistry that goes into creating one-of-a-kind wooden floral displays.

“We’re happy to share the artistry and fun,” she said.

North Wood Blooms also participates in February’s Random Acts of Kindness Week, inviting people and businesses to sponsor single stemmed flowers that are donated to those who go above and beyond in the community. In 2022, Gretzinger created 1,274 stems, each sponsored for $5. She hoped to do the same or more in 2023, with the focus on healthcare workers along with residents and staff of local assisted-living facilities. Stems will also be sponsored for education staff during Teacher Appreciation Week

Shipping is available nationwide and beyond. Visit North Wood Blooms at northwoodblooms .com or on Facebook and Instagram.

Like a garden path, Gretzinger’s journey to creating her own, successful business has meandered. First with her enlarged basement location, and now with her offsite design space. Coupled with her ability to work full-time, business has soared. North Wood Blooms posted growth of 456 percent between 2019 and 2021.

“When I really gave it my all, it paid off,” Gretzinger said. “I am not just a one-woman show anymore. It’s not just a hobby or side gig. We are a company here to serve our clientele and are now able to make an even bigger impact that we could ever dream of from the basement.”