‘The Rose Lady’ of East County, helping women in need, one stem at a time

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They call her the Rose Lady.

But what she is selling is not only a rose, but a hopeful future for women that are not making it through life without some type of abuse—domestic, drug or alcohol. She has high-end clients with women in business, blue-collar business owners, but her clientele does not stop there. She frequents East County bars on weekends, selling roses to bikers, armed service members, Native Americans and cowboys. She said all of her clients, regardless of social class are as important as the other.

They call her the Rose Lady.

But what she is selling is not only a rose, but a hopeful future for women that are not making it through life without some type of abuse—domestic, drug or alcohol. She has high-end clients with women in business, blue-collar business owners, but her clientele does not stop there. She frequents East County bars on weekends, selling roses to bikers, armed service members, Native Americans and cowboys. She said all of her clients, regardless of social class are as important as the other.

Susie Blake worked for years finding a way to get women off of the streets, away from drugs and abusive men, bringing meaning to their lives and giving them a sense of belonging. She has successfully done this on a smaller scale, but is now looking forward, in creating a business that provides sustainable jobs while these women get back on their feet and self-sufficient.

With a rich history herself, Blake has learned many of her lessons in life the hard way. The wife of an abusive and womanizing Presbyterian minister, she finally left, with the help of her mother and friends. With a PhD in Philosophy, which she said back in the day was good enough for a woman to get a teaching job and buy a cup of coffee, she turned to advertising, where she worked with high end clients, creating a success on her own. But she gave it all up when she remarried a corporate attorney and investment banker, he was the highest paid vice president for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street at the time.

"I moved my dogs, my business and my horses to California," she said. "The crash of 1987 came, and 10 days after my second daughter was born and I had retired from the advertising business, my husband left me. So here I am left on top of a mountain in Jamul with 25 acres, a huge mortgage, three barns, race horses, dogs and three babies in diapers. And he's gone. So I had think for myself and learn to be creative. And pray. Because all truth is God's truth and God will lead you out."

So she called all her clients and told them she was coming back into the business because she was bored. She knew she had to be creative. So she created a niche in advertising, which she has now carried over in her rose business. She said the words of Jesus, "Behold I make all things new," is soothing words to her because Jesus makes all thing new all the time.

That is how she came to the roses, or rather, the roses came to her. She had been commuting back and forth to New York from Jamul. She said she could not do it anymore and retired.

"I made a tragic mistake in judgment," she said. "A client asked to buy my business, and I said it wasn't worth anything. Just dumb and stupid things that women do to devalue themselves. Looking back, I see women doing the same things at different levels. This is where I can help with my experiences. Don't look at what you've got, look at what is in your hands."

Blake met some young women on a plane, who said they sold roses and she should do the same. At first she said no, but they connected her with clients from Ecuador. They sent her the roses and she said the Holy Spirit said to her, "What are you going to do with the roses?"

"My natural instinct was to teach my children how to run a business," she said. "So what I did with the roses is the same as I did in advertising. I created a product. My slogan for the business is, 'It's not just a rose, it's a memory.' We created a premium product in a category all by itself. I call it the Masterpiece Designer Rose. We put a bouquet bow and a ribbon on the highest, most expensive roses in the world. It has taken four years, but I am the exclusive supplier of one-meter stemmed roses in Southern California and Arizona. But these are not just roses it is a keepsake item. The value of the rose is that it creates a memory."

Blake said the proof is in the pudding, and again from the advertising business, 80 percent of the effort is never seen or appreciated by the client. She is the only one in this market that treats the roses with the Dutch Crychrysal System, to hydrate the roses. When she gets the roses, they go through an elaborate process and they stay in the cool chain, which means they stay at a temperature at no more than 41 degrees before they go out to market

Blake said the roses go through customs, and she picks them up the same day or the day after and those roses sell within 72 hours. And the published vase life for these super stemmed roses is 11 to 17 days.

The plantations cut 80-centimeter stems and one-meter stems to order. Her broker calls the plantations, and the colors that are not cut for the European capitals are colors that she gets.

"So I'm delivering to my clients in El Cajon and East County is the highest quality product that money can buy. There is no compromise in the product. So we've spoiled our clients, and I think that's the way we want it to be," she said.

When Blake created the rose business, she said there is a lot of prep work. Each 40-inch rose has 36 inches of ribbon on it. It is an art, and it is a lot of work.

The roses come from Cayambe, Ecuador in the foothills of the Andes. The most elaborate plantations in the world are there and in Cayambe there is 12 hours of sunlight daily at a 12,000 feet altitude. They are grown in strict conditions in volcanic soil and the rainwater is as pure as it gets. Blake said the workers on the plantations benefit the workers in extraordinary ways. They have bicycles to get to work, meals are provides, schools and nurseries for children, and money for work done.

"When I get my shop in El Cajon open, I'm going to show the videos of the rose workers of Ecuador," she said. "This floral trade is so important to the people of Ecuador. It is a viable source for their economy."

Blake said she was also granted the rights to import cocoa from the world's second largest producer, and will have a beneficial organization created in Virginia to market the cocoa. Her goal within the next two years is to create a bread and chocolate shop.

"We'll have bread and chocolate, soups and salads," she said. "To keep women employed, I want garden cottages that grow the ingredients for the shop. It will provide jobs and homes for the women that need a hand up, and nutritional food for those who do not have it. It's for the working poor."

Blake is working to create a system that provides jobs for women and college age students so they will have something to do while they are creating their careers. Becoming successful, she said," is caught, it is not taught."

Blake said all of the ladies that come to her, do not ask for a handout, they ask for a job.

"And that is what I want to provide for them, a respectful job, with payroll, benefits with the idea that they have some kind of job that can put them back in the system," she said. "And they will have a place to stay so they can go back to school and get an education and become self-sufficient economically."

With the women that she takes in, there are two things she found beneficial that make successful people. Having a conversation at the breakfast table and then being part of a team by being employed.

"These women have a voice for the first time," she said. "They have a job, they have self worth and they are dealing with roses and chocolates, so their whole frame of reference has changed. It's not about 'can I get a line,' it's about the roses are not shiny and do we have enough chocolate strawberries. I adopted a tactic from a great friend of mine, who would go into a business and say, 'I am going to change all of your problems and stop massaging all of your old problems.' So that's what we're doing is changing the whole point of reference. I never told any of my workers to quit (drug or alcohol abuse), but they were always too busy to use."

Blake said there are kids in El Cajon running around alone and she want to bring them in and give them work, change their lives, one at a time. They are without a family and the way she has worked with women, will work with the kids.

"If you can make it in East County, you can make it anywhere," she said. "I'm not afraid to make East County my focus group area. If I can sell a rose for $10 in East County, I can sell a rose for $10 anywhere."

She said she didn't choose the bars, but was desperate. But this taught her a valuable lesson, not only in business, but in the art of helping people.

"I realized that people in bars have expendable incomes and they are going out to have fun. It's good for the bar also. When they buy the roses, they are happier and spend more time there. It's a natural social thing," she said. "In most of my key bars I have one or two guys that buys roses for all the women in the bars. Many of these ladies never get roses. I have a rule, I offer the bartender a rose because they don't get tipped as well as they could. If there is anyone disabled, it's their birthday or if I am told they are having a rough time, they get a complimentary rose. It doesn't seem logical to some people giving so many away, but it always comes back."

In March, Blake plans to open her website chocoholics.com and myroselaydelivers.com under her company SusieBlake, Inc., to start to bring her big dreams in life to reality and while doing so, helping those who need it, a second chance in life. She said her faith has brought her this far in life and does not believe that God will ever fail her as long as her heart is right with him, and the people that she wants to serve.

Until her website is up, Blake can be reached at myroselady@gmail.com or rosescut2order@gmail.com.

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