When Santiago Salazar ’18 was a business student at Southwestern, he never believed he would one day own a thriving floral business. Like many new graduates, Salazar joined the corporate world and worked for Home Away, now Vrbo, an online marketplace for vacation rental properties. He was getting lots of experience under his belt as an account manager, and life was good.

In October 2019, his father, who has been in the floral industry for over 30 years, invited him on vacation to South America, where they would attend a floral expo and enjoy some well-deserved time off. Little did Salazar know that this trip to Colombia would later change the direction of his professional career and life.

While at the expo, Salazar met growers and distributors and was even introduced to new breeds of flowers. It was there that he learned about dried and preserved roses. He realized how unique of a concept it is and thought there could be a market for these roses in the United States, in Austin, Texas, specifically.

“I was already in corporate America, though,” Salazar said. “I grabbed a card, went about my way, enjoyed the trip, made my way back to the states, and got back to work.”

Five months later, in March 2020, everything changed. Along with millions of other workers, Salazar was sent home and began working remotely from his living room. Covid-19 had turned the world upside down. People weren’t vacationing like they used to, and the travel industry took a significant hit. As the pandemic raged on, he realized he enjoyed his workplace and co-workers more than the role itself.

“There were a lot of angry phone calls,” Salazar remembers. “It led to a lot of personal stress. I knew a change needed to happen.”

Meanwhile, Salazar’s father’s business was blooming. The flower industry was thriving because supermarkets, where his father’s flowers are sold, were seen as essential businesses and remained open. Salazar saw this as his opportunity for change, so he quit his job and joined the family business in September 2020. After working with his dad for a while, he reflected on his time at the floral expo and the preserved roses he had learned about.

When he found one of the business cards he had received at the expo, he contacted the growers and took another trip to South America to visit their farms. While there, he learned more about the dried flower preservation process and decided it was time to start his own business. The seed of Flor Keeps had been planted.

The name Flor Keeps holds significant meaning to Salazar. Flor is the Spanish word for flower, and the product is for keeps. Flor Keeps’ roses don’t need any water and stay perfectly preserved for a year. How? Once a rose grows to a specific size, the stem is cut. Then, the rose drinks a patented, nontoxic preservation formula through its stem. It’s about a two-week to three-week process, depending on what color roses Flor Keeps is looking to work with.

Flor Keeps creates all sorts of beautiful bouquets. Anything from the classic dozen roses to glow-in-the-dark roses to roses that look like flags, Salazar’s favorite. While Flor Keeps only sells roses right now, innovation is possible. The farms and growers they work with constantly experiment with new products, whether it’s orchids, sunflowers, hydrangeas, or even different types of foliage.

“The growers are the ones that are crafting all these new concepts to introduce to the market,” Salazar said. “They’re always surprising me with new products, and I’m really glad I work with the best farms in the world.”

When Salazar started Flor Keeps, he knew giving back would be an integral part of the business. He wanted to partner with a nonprofit that aligned with his company’s values. Since Flor Keeps preserved roses don’t require water to stay beautiful, they wanted to give that conserved water to those who need it most. By partnering with Well Aware, Flor Keeps donates funds to help build wells that bring water to East African communities. To date, Flor Keeps has helped over 500 people access clean, fresh water for the rest of their lives.

“It’s the perfect partnership,” Salazar says. “If our roses don’t need the water, then we want to ensure that saved water goes to people who absolutely need it.”

Through this partnership, he’s been able to donate more than just proceeds. For instance, Flor Keeps has sent roses to villages in Tanzania to beautify spaces like classrooms. Salazar believes that giving back to those in need creates abundance in return.

Salazar credits his time at Southwestern with laying the foundation of his business acumen. His business classes taught him about entrepreneurial endeavors, and his capstone class taught him how to run a business effectively.

“I came across this opportunity, and I found that a lot of the concepts we learned in the classroom I’ve been able to apply here.”

“I came across this opportunity, and I found that a lot of the concepts we learned in the classroom I’ve been able to apply here,” Salazar remarked. “I’m grateful to Southwestern for teaching me those valuable lessons.”

When thinking about current Southwestern students, Salazar wants to inspire them to do something different and take a risk. He says when you get out of your comfort zone, you will be challenged and face hardships, even fail. But when you overcome those obstacles, that’s the exciting part.

“I think younger Santiago would be over the moon to know this is happening,” he said. “So for all the students, give it a go, and believe in what you do. Not just because it’s profitable but because you actually believe in it.”

Flor Keeps

Currently, Flor Keeps is sold in 168 super and mini markets across Texas, with plans to expand to more. Salazar wants to keep growing. He wants a bigger online presence so Flor Keeps can ship nationally. Eventually, he wants to expand the storefront and make the warehouse an all-encompassing Flor Keeps experience. He wants to sell not only preserved roses but the idea of water conservation too.

For now, though, Salazar is grateful. For is his customers and the opportunity to showcase a new, exciting product to the marketplace. He loves seeing the joy in people’s eyes when they leave his shop with roses because he knows he helped make their day, month, and year.

“That’s what Flor Keeps is here to do,” Salazar says. “Change people’s perspective on flowers.”