Dinah is a tiny thing but definitely hard to miss as Lesley Marshall maneuvers the baby blue Mitsubishi truck up to a curb at Solomon Park in Dothan’s Garden District.
Marshall jumped out from the behind the wheel – located on the truck’s right side – and “set up” for business, raising the sides and rear of the truck’s covered bed to reveal the glorious selections of fresh-cut flowers sold by the stem.
It was a Sunday afternoon and in no time Marshall’s first customers walked up from the surrounding neighborhood. Within half an hour, Dinah was surrounded. It was only the second day Marshall had taken her Gussied Up Flower Truck business out for a spin.
“I’ve always loved flowers – I really have,” Marshall said. “I’ve always kept fresh cut flowers in my house. I went to Nashville about three years ago, and I saw a flower truck there. I just remember it made me feel really happy. I thought it was a really neat concept, also. It was really cool. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to do that.’”
Marshall is a speech language pathologist and learning specialist at Houston Academy’s middle school. When the coronavirus pandemic hit Alabama and the Wiregrass back in March, Marshall began spending more time gardening and would bring fresh-cut flowers into the house for her family to enjoy.
“They made everybody happy,” she said. “Everybody perked up when I brought them in. I know it sounds crazy to start a business during these times, but I just thought we needed something happy around here.”
In May, Marshall began looking for a truck. It took about a month to get the truck retrofitted for its new purpose and then painted and covered in tarp. Marshall takes Dinah out to Solomon Park on Sunday afternoons. She’ll be there Aug. 9 from 2-5 p.m. with Chick-Fil-A serving free cookies and lemonade.
Dinah, as Marshall calls the flower truck, is actually a 2015 Japanese mini-dump truck. It maxes out at 55 mph.
“I fill it up for like eight bucks and it goes almost 300 miles,” she said. “I won’t take it on the interstate – just take little back roads.”
A metal frame was fashioned to go over the truck’s bed and then covered with tarp material. The frame was fitted with pneumatic cylinders so that Marshall can simply lift the sides and rear when she’s open and then close them when she’s done. A carpenter built a custom bed with 19 holes cut for the deep galvanized flower buckets (“Those flowers don’t budge,” Marshall said.) Storage for supplies doubles as a flat workspace for wrapping arrangements.
Marshall buys her flowers from an online wholesaler. When she gets them, she puts them in water and flower food and stores them in a cooler.
“It takes about 30 minutes to load with the flowers – I usually trim them and add some food – so, it takes about 30 minutes to load the truck in total and maybe 10 minutes to set up at the most,” Marshall said.
Marshall has had her daughters, Hollis and Kate Rane, and her mother, Dianne Marshburn, helping her. She was nervous at first about how the flower truck would be received. But, so far, customers love the idea.
“The truck is an attraction itself when I’m just driving down the road,” Marshall said. “Everybody takes a double-take.”
There are no rules for arrangements. You just pick the flowers you like and pay by the stem – which can be anywhere from $1.50 per stem for mini pineapples and $2.75 for pink carnations to $3.50 for stem of lavender rose. Once you’ve made your selections, the bouquet is wrapped in brown paper.
“I’m here to obviously help everyone, but it’s fun to just kind of let them see what they can do,” Marshall said. “Even the little girls can build the cutest bouquets because they’re not afraid of what it’s going to turn out like.”