South Charlotte

Creating flowers helps cope with loss

Heather Gail always wanted to own her own business, but the timing was never right.

After graduating from UNC Charlotte in 1998 with a degree in business management, she began working at Bank of America. She also began raising a family after marrying Phil Gail, whom she’d met in college. Sons Charlie, 9, and Harry, 7, kept her busy and her entrepreneurial aspirations were put on the back burner.

In April 2012, on Phil’s 36th birthday, he was diagnosed with nasopharoganel cancer. The cancer metastasized to his bones and he died within six months.

The following year, Gail was laid off by the bank.

“It has been a tough couple of years” she says. “Losing my husband, trying to raise two boys who are struggling to understand why their father died, and being laid off from my job.”

One of the few joyful times in her difficult journey was when she designed and made floral arrangements for her husband’s gravesite.

“I got so much positive feedback for my designs,” she says. “And people were telling me they wanted them for their own homes.”

Gail comes by her craftiness from both of her parents, who owned a craft store in Elkin, where Gail grew up. As an only child, she spent her childhood in and around the store and enjoyed making crafts and selling the supplies for them.

When Gail saw an announcement for Christmas on Main Street at the Siskey YMCA, everything clicked.

“I filled out an application on the spot,” she says. “I paid for the booth before I really let it sink in. That was the start of my business.”

Gail called her new business, that specializes in custom floral designs and unique gift items, Hobson & Smith LLC, which are her sons’ middle names. Within a month, she had a display at the Southern Christmas Show and had scheduled two home shows, a display at a local bank, and the Christmas on Main Street event.

It is a family affair, with Gail’s parents, Sharon and Larry Blackburn, and family friends Shelia and Phil Couch, pitching in.

Gail relishes the opportunity she has to work with her parents and utilize years of crafting and design experience. She said she also appreciates the help because, in the midst of Hobson & Smith’s genesis, Gail started a new full-time job at Bank of America.

“Every night after I get home from work,” she says, “I am up until midnight making things.”

She knows her business is seasonal, however, and she will take a break and catch her breath after the holidays.

For now, she is enjoying the launch of her business, and the fact that her husband played a role in helping her realize her entrepreneurial dream.

“I don’t know if I would have done this if Phil hadn’t gotten sick,” she says. “He is with me every step of the way.”