“Everything was originally going to be pink, but that ended up feeling too easy, done before,” Auera Sanabaria Molaei told me as she leaned into a burgundy and powder-blue chair in her studio. The loft-like space, tucked away on a sidewalk of warehouse entrances in Bushwick, Brooklyn is home to Flower Bodega, Molaei’s floral design and content studio. The studio (designed entirely by her and her husband) is not only an environment to create the floral experiences and designs the brand is known for, but also a place to be inspired.
The very existence of the studio is no small accomplishment for someone who started a business in the after-hours of her day. But an instinct to hustle and a sharp work ethic is nothing new to Molaei who, from a young age, watched her parents run their own businesses. Being raised in a home of entrepreneurs — especially in a city where it’s easy to be discouraged by the millions of others pursuing a similar dream — instilled her need to have a vision and to do all within her power to see it through.
The idea for Flower Bodega was born in 2015, as a passion-fueled side hustle, while Molaei was working full-time in production at a media company. “I would find myself just working through the day, taking a power nap, and then working through the night into the early morning,” she said. “Then I’d take Ubers to deliver flowers before going to work in the mornings. It was bananas.” She continued operating like that, squeezing Flower Bodega tasks into the open cracks of her calendar, until she couldn’t anymore. By 2018, via word-of-mouth and organic marketing, Molaei found herself being hired to create more designs and decided it was time to seriously consider turning Flower Bodega into a full-time venture.
“We did it in three weeks,” she said. “We set Valentine’s Day 2018 as our launch date, made all of these mini bouquets, and delivered them to friends all over the city who worked at various companies.”
When I stepped into her studio back in August, Molaei’s reputation for creating meticulously curated Flower Bodega experiences was abundantly clear. The muted rose terracotta floors (created by hand-rolling custom garage-floor paint on the cement floors, sprinkling confetti-like pieces on top, and then applying a clear topcoat) went perfectly with the off-white and pearl Venetian plaster walls. The hand-painted bathroom mural, painted by one of Molaei’s best friends, tied together the carefully curated color scheme of dusty rouge, warm gold, earthy greens, and smokey blues. Small odes to her Latina heritage — such as a “Como La Flor” sign covered in the same plaster as the walls, flower-assembly table, and storage cabinet — blended effortlessly with the buckets of fresh flowers ready to be arranged and the small framed photos of her family’s Bronx bodega. It was obvious: A piece of Molaei lives within every fiber of the brand.
Now, more than three years later, Flower Bodega is a well-known name in the world of floral design, content creation, and direct-to-consumer business. Customers adore the carefully crafted experiences — from large-scale designs for weddings and installations, to virtual workshops utilizing hand-delivered floral kits — and keep coming back.
“People see our work and know that it’s us, and they also just feel like it’s different,” Molaei said. “There’s this unique perspective on it because we draw so much inspiration from all types of mediums and we really try to make it a 360 experience, even though you’re looking at flowers.”
As a woman holding the multi-hyphenate title of founder, CEO, creative director, and designer of Flower Bodega, Molaei is used to wearing multiple hats at once. And while she can do it all, PayPal helps streamline the operational side of her business so she doesn’t have to. She’s able to lean into the aspects she most enjoys — the business strategy and creative content creation — while PayPal helps her manage the financial details.
“When I launched Flower Bodega, I started processing and collecting payments via PayPal and still offer it as a payment option on our website,” she said. Since the early days of the business, Molaei has exclusively relied on PayPal to create invoices, fulfill orders, and help her understand the back end of her growing business’s financials.
The reliability some customers feel when they see the PayPal logo is one that many small business owners share, she explained. The trust associated with the brand, along with the user-friendly design of PayPal’s suite of tools, creates an intuitive experience online for both the business owner and the customers. “It gives you peace of mind as a business owner that on the other end of it, your customer feels comfortable knowing that it’s a secure payment method,” she said. “But on the business side, it has so many tools that you can use.”
Strategies for growth, plans for the future
Molaei’s go-to advice for small business owners hoping to grow is to never stop listening to your customers and peers. “Always be open to learn and always be open to having critical conversations,” she said. “Make it a part of your business practice to get feedback from the people that you’re working with. They’re there to help make you better and make your business better.”
She also emphasizes the importance of knowing it’s okay to ask for help — from both people and platforms like PayPal — and developing a strong point of view for the brand, one that you can stick to. “It’s really important to stay true to your brand’s integrity and always keep that top of mind,” she said. “Because it is very, very easy to get enticed by money, even if it’s not really in line with the work you want to do.”
Looking toward the future, Molaei wants to continue connecting with Flower Bodega customers — expand the community that’s been created, as well as the business — and believes the closeness and connection they have is something that sets the brand apart.
“There is a fine line between being aspirational and approachable right now,” she said. “I think there’s a shift happening where initially everything was aspirational. Everything was ‘goals’ and almost unachievable — that’s what made your brand so cool. But now, there’s this shift. People want to be involved.”
Interested in booking a Flower Bodega workshop or gifting one to a friend? Visit Flower Bodega to learn more.