Recent Longwood Graduate is One of Richmondís Top Corporate Executives
A B.S. in business administration was awarded in May to William J. “Bill” Gouldin Jr., who first entered college 40 years ago, earned roughly the same number of college credits at five universities (mostly in night school), and for more than three decades has run one of the most successful florist businesses in the country.
Gouldin, 57, is the president and CEO of Strange’s Florists, Greenhouses & Garden Centers, the Richmond area’s most prominent florist and garden center. A member of the Corporate Advisory Board of Longwood’s College of Business & Economics since it was established in 1992, he decided to complete his degree after discussing it more
than two years ago with Dr. Wayne McWee, vice president for academic affairs, who formerly taught in the business program. He took courses at Longwood during the 2005-06 academic year, and he previously took classes at Virginia Tech, the University of Oklahoma, Cameron University, and the University of Richmond.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking college courses, not just for pursuing a degree but for getting fresh ideas I could put to use in business,” says Gouldin, who lives in the Rockville area of western Hanover County. “Even though I’ve completed my degree, I want to continue taking one or two courses at a time until I’m in the way. I’ve always had a curiosity about business.”
Gouldin, who grew up in the Highland Park section of Richmond and later Mechanicsville, enrolled at Virginia Tech in 1966 after graduating from Lee-Davis High School. “I wasn’t mature enough, when I was 17, to be a college student. After a year and a half or two years, my grades weren’t good enough to stay in school, so I joined the Army in 1968. I was an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. I worked from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and had my nights free, so I picked up night courses at Cameron University, in Lawton, and the University of Oklahoma, whose professors drove from Norman to Lawton to teach at the Fort Sill artillery school.”
He got out of the Army on 15 August 1971, a Friday, drove from Lawton to Richmond, and went to work at Strange’s Florists on the following Monday morning. The business, then run by his father, had been launched in the early 1930s by Gideon A. Strange, a Richmond postal worker who began raising flowers and plants in his yard and sold them there and also in the 6th Street Market.
“Mr. Strange was first listed as a florist in the city directory in 1935,” Gouldin says. “He took spare parts from old greenhouses in Hollywood Cemetery that were being dismantled – they’d probably been built around the 1890s – and rebuilt them in his back yard and in the empty lot next to his house. He died in 1947 and his widow sold the business to my father, who was an engineer for the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, and his partner, Fred Kidd, also a railroad engineer. Both were part-time managers. My father continued to work for the railroad and bought out Mr. Kidd in 1960. I was the first full-time manager.”
Strange’s has been ranked by the Florist Transworld Delivery (FTD) as high as ninth (1991) in the United States, based on volume of outgoing FTD orders. “It fluctuates, but we’re usually somewhere in the top 25 to 40,” Gouldin says. “We’ve been in the top 100 since 1981.” Strange’s corporate headquarters is located in far western Henrico County at 12111 West Broad St. The brick, two-story, colonial-style facility has more than 110,000 square feet of indoor space, including a greenhouse range, and sits on 12.5 acres.
The company operates five florists, three of which are in Chesterfield County and are only florists. The largest retail florist, at 3313 Mechanicsville Turnpike in eastern Henrico County, was their headquarters from 1974 to 2004. “That’s the hub, which supports all of our florists with our supply and delivery center, and we have a garden center there,” Gouldin says. The wholesale greenhouse range, five minutes away, is where they grow plants for their retail locations and wholesale clients.
What does he enjoy most about the business? “The variety. There’s never a dull moment; there’s always something new to figure out. It always feeds my curiosity. I could never figure it all out. I think it was Confucius who said ‘Man is like a tomato. When he stops growing, he starts to rot.’ Plus, we have a product that most people like. It’s a good business to be in.”
He has been president of the Southern Retail Florists Association, chairman of Virginia FTD, and a member of the FTD Association board of trustees. He chaired the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond from 1995-97 and the American Floral Endowment in 2003.
Gouldin became involved with Longwood through his friendship with Dr. Berkwood Farmer, who he knew at UR when the latter, in addition to being associate dean of its night school, was his economics professor and course adviser. “When I met with him over breakfast at Aunt Sarah’s one day in 1990 to discuss an economics question that intrigued me, which was the relationship between GDP and population growth, he mentioned he was going to Longwood to be dean of the business school (a position he held from 1991-2001) and asked me to serve on a corporate advisory board that he was starting.” Gouldin’s only sister, Jane Watkins, who is president and CEO of the Virginia Credit Union, was an Executive-in-Residence in Longwood’s College of Business & Economics in February.
Gouldin did not attend the commencement ceremony because it fell on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, the busiest day of his year. He returned to campus May 31 to pick up his degree, during which he met with Dr. McWee; Dr. Evelyn Hume, former dean of the College of Business& Economics; and several of his former professors.