You Grow Gal Floral & Home Decor Shop Opens in Totowa –

Growing up, 28-year-old Nicole Niland loved the outdoors and helping her Italian Nonnie (grandma) in her garden. She enjoyed sending friends plant-oriented gifts like painted pots, colorful rocks, or unique plants. So it’s no surprise she now owns her own floral shop, You Grow Gal in Totowa.

However, how she got to this point is the real shocker. The Totowa native was unhappy for a while working a sales job. Niland has an undergrad degree in business and an MBA in marketing; she also had plenty of time to think about her future during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Corporate America wasn’t for me,” Niland realized. “It helped me save money. But I was unhappy emotionally and mentally. I did some soul searching.”

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Personal Growth

In June of 2020, Niland left corporate America (as well as the fashion industry) to pursue her lifelong dream; being a small business owner. Now, she is the proud owner of You Grow Gal; which she describes as a wellness shop that sells home décor, plants, furniture, and florals. “I couldn’t ask for a better set up,” she says. She has help from her family in the shop, and she found a space offering reduced rent. “Everything was aligned in a row for me.”

Plant SamplePlant Sample

You Grow Gal offers items that make you feel good about yourself and promote self-care. “We’re a one-stop shop for wellness products,” Niland says. Guests will notice the scent of lavender burning when they walk in. “You’ll feel a good vibe when you come into my store.”

Her services run the gamut. First, Niland creates floral arrangements for events both big and small. Recently, she hosted a 10-year-old girl’s birthday party; guests got to pot plants and then decorate the pot with paint and stickers. You can also rent plants for an event, or send someone a rock message. Likewise, you can drop off a knick-knack or possession (like a football helmet) and she’ll put a plant in it. She even creates moss letters and moss walls, perfect for a picture backdrop. Click here to see some of the items for sale.

You Grow Gal Does it All

Nicole NilandNicole Niland

Niland also does her own take on subscription boxes, making one revolving around plants. Subscribers take a “plant personality” survey, then receive anything from high maintenance ivy to low-maintenance succulents or cacti. She even adds in home décor items like candles and beauty items like hair ties, too.

“I put a lot of detail into everything in the store,” Niland says. “Everything has it’s reasoning. I don’t sell it if I wouldn’t want it for my own home.” Speaking of home, she loves working with her family. In fact, she says that mixing business with pleasure hasn’t been problematic in any way. “They understand me,” she says.

Visit You Grow Gal at 340 Union Boulevard in Totowa (Click here to see it on Google Maps). To learn more, click here to visit the website or you can click here to give them a call.

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All Photos: © Nicole Niland / You Grow Gal


Five of Jacksonville’s Best at Selling Single-Family Homes

Last month we took a look at top Memphis real estate agents through the data-driven lens of HomeLight, the leading referral company powered by proptech. Today, we look at Jacksonville, Fla. through the same lens in order to create a lineup of trusted and effective agents for buying a home there. For this list, I applied with HomeLight to see the best agents for single-family homes, within a certain price range, and for a permanent residence. Here’s the list in order of ranking. 

Jacksonville skyline
The Jacksonville skyline via Pixabay

Sarah Rocco of the Rocco Group and Keeler Williams has only been in the business a few years, but she’s already closed over 422 deals in the Jacksonville area. Sarah attributes her success to her vast marketing experience and advertising strategies, along with her extensive contact list. Sarah ranks in the top 5% of agents on HomeLight in several categories, and 

Rocco Group also maintains a well-situated Facebook profile with 2,416 followers. She’s also an Elite Agent on HomeLight, which means she is in the top 1% of all agents. 

CC Underwood is an agent with Keller Williams Jacksonville Realty who sells houses like cotton candy at the county fair. According to her HomeLight profile, she has 665 single-family home transactions in her 13 years as an agent. The average price point of her transactions is also high at $241k, and her team maintains a killer Facebook profile (7,000 plus fans), even though I could not find the button on their website. It’s also rumored that she can dance, and there’s evidence of this on the Facebook pages. 

Shawn O’Neil ranks 3rd in HomeLight’s list of top Jacksonville agents. He has sold over 100 homes in the area, but his forte seems to be advising. Shawn is something of a TV celebrity, on top of being an author. He’s also a certified expert with the National Association of Expert Advisors. Strangely, his 15 years of experience have not helped Shawn to build a credible online presence. He’s associated with any number of the worst real estate websites I’ve seen in years. As for Facebook and other social media, I found it a bit tough to even connect Shawn with a profile (which is a real no-no for me). I am assuming the one by @ExpertHomeAdvisors is his, or that he is affiliated with the owners. 

Fourth on the list is Tobin Bossola of Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty. He has 168 transactions in Jacksonville in his 14 years in the business, and the average price of his sales is $173k. Tobin maintains a very nice Facebook profile, but unfortunately, hardly anybody subscribes to his cool shares. He seems to favor LinkedIn as a social-business platform. Tobin has also been featured on Home & Garden TV.

Christopher Ray, who is an agent for eXp Realty, has 264 single-family home transactions in his 8 years in real estate. The average price of Christopher’s transactions is $201k, and he sells 99% of his listings according to HomeLight. Like Shawn O’Neil above, his web presence is not exactly stunning. eXp’s website has some security or load issues, and this Florida Coastal Team one (top of Google SERPs) is just blurry and ugly. Apparently, people looking for houses in Jacksonville do not use the internet, let alone Facebook. Sorry, it had to be said. 

Today’s Takeaway

I just want to share something with the Jacksonville agents who I am sure could sell a lot more by using the internet and social media properly. This blog post by Brent Barnhart for sproutsocial has some good insights for beginners. And for those who do not know anything at all about social tools, this Forbes post might also be of help. Look, digital marketing costs resources, but here’s the thing. It’s all about ROI. Take the case of the five agents listed above. Which ones do you think have the best chance of selling me a house in Jacksonville? Now, how many people are there like me, people who use the internet and social hours each day?

I hope I helped somebody. To be continued….


How to prepare for a natural disaster

My world is on fire.

As you may have heard, much of Oregon is burning right now. Thanks to a “once in a lifetime” combination of weather and climate variables — a long, dry summer leading to high temps and low humidity, then a freak windstorm from the east — much of the state turned to tinder earlier this week. And then the tinder ignited.

At this very moment, our neighborhood is cloaked in smoke.

I am sitting in my writing shed looking out at a beige veil clinging to the trees and nearby homes. The scent of the smoke is intense. My eyes are burning. After everything else that’s happened this year, this feels like yet one more step toward apocalypse. So crazy!

Fortunately, Kim and I (and the pets) are relatively safe. We’re worried, sure, but not too worried. Our lizard brains make us want to flee. (“Fight or flight” and all that.) But our rational brains know that unless a new fire starts somewhere nearby, we should be safe.

Here’s a current map of the fire situation in our county. (Click the image to open a larger version in a new window.)

Map of the wildfires in our county

The areas in red are under mandatory evacuation orders. (And the red dots are areas that have burned, I think. They added the dots to the map this morning.) Residents of areas shaded in yellow need to be prepped to leave at a moment’s notice. And the areas in green are simply on alert.

See that town called Molalla? That’s where my mother and one of my brothers live. My mother’s assisted-living facility was evacuated to a city twenty miles away. My brother and his family voluntarily moved from their home to our family’s box factory. But even that doesn’t feel 100% safe. (The box factory is located just to the left of that cluster of red dots at the top tip of the yellow area around Molalla.)

Kim and I live near the “e” in Wilsonville. We’re more than twenty miles from the nearest active fire. We should be safe. But, as a I say, we’re worried. So, I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation.

Update! As of Sunday afternoon (September 13th), things have calmed for us. The evacuation notice has been lifted for our area. The weather is changing. Rain is only a day or two away. So, we’re standing down. Now, having said that, there are still many people in our country who remain evacuated, and there are others who have lost their homes. (My brother’s town and home will probably emerge unscathed. Probably. For now, though, they’re still evacuated and living in an RV at the box factory.)

Natural Disasters

We Oregonians don’t have a protocol for emergency evacuations. It’s not something that really crosses our minds.

While the Pacific Northwest does have volcanoes, eruptions are rare enough that we never think about them. And yes, earthquakes happen. Eventually we’ll have “the Big One” that devastates the region, but again there’s no way to predict that and it’s not something we build our lives around. (Well, many people have been adding earthquake reinforcement to their homes, but that’s about it.)

In the past fifty or sixty years, the Portland area has experienced four other natural disasters.

Now, in 2020, we’re experiencing the worst wildfires the state has ever seen. That’s roughly one disaster every ten or fifteen years, and it’s the first one during my 51 years on Earth that’s made me think about the need for evacuation preparedness.

Kim and I have been asking ourselves lots of questions.

If we were to evacuate, where would we go? What route would we take? What would we carry with us? How would we prep our home to increase the odds that it would survive potential fire?

Let me share what we’ve decided and what we’ve learned. (And please, share what you know about emergency preparedness, won’t you?)

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Evacuation Preparedness

The first thing we did was brainstorm a list of things that were important to us. Without reference to experts, what is it that we would want to do and/or take with us, if we were to evacuate.

  • Our animals (and animal supplies).
  • Phones, computers, and charging cords.
  • Important documents from our fire safe.
  • A bag for each of us containing clothes and toiletries.
  • Sleeping bags and pillows.
  • Sentimental items. (We have no “valuable”.)
  • Create a video tour of the house for insurance purposes (be sure to highlight valuable items).
  • Move combustible items away from the house.

After creating our own list, we consulted the experts.

In this case, we looked at websites for communities in California. California copes with wildfires constantly. (And, in fact, Kim’s brother and his family recently had to help evacuate their town due to wildfires!) For no particular reason, I chose to follow the guidelines put out by Marin County, California. I figured they know what they’re talking about!

The FIRESafe MARIN website has a bunch of great resources dedicated to wildfire planning and preparedness. I particularly like their evacuation checklist. While this form is wildfire specific, it could be easily adapted for other uses, such as hurricane preparedness or earthquake preparedness.

The website is an excellent resource for disaster preparedness. It contains lots of info about prepping for problems of all sorts. You should check it out.

Creating a Go Kit

FIRESafe MARIN and other groups recommend putting together an emergency supply kit well in advance of possible problems. Each person should have her own Go Kit, and each should be stored in a backpack. (In our case, I have several cheap backpacks that I’ve purchased while traveling abroad. These are perfect for Go Kits.)

What should you keep in a Go Kit? It depends where you live, of course, and what sorts of disasters your area is susceptible to. But generally speaking, you might want your kits to contain:

  • A bandana and/or an N95 mask or respirator.
  • A change of clothing.
  • A flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries.
  • Extra car keys and some cash.
  • A map marked with evacuation routes and a designated meeting point.
  • Prescription medications.
  • A basic first aid kit.
  • Photocopies of important documents.
  • Digital backup of important files.
  • Pet supplies.
  • Water bottle and snacks.
  • Spare chargers for your electronic equipment.

That seems like a lot of stuff, but it’s not. These things should fit easily into a small pack. Each Go Kit should be stores somewhere easy to access. Kim and I don’t have Go Kits yet, but we’ll create them soon. We intend to store them in the front coat closet.

Writing this article reminds me of one of the first posts I shared after re-purchasing Get Rich Slowly. Almost three years ago, I wrote about how to get what you deserve when filing an insurance claim. This info from a former insurance employee is very helpful (and interesting).

Final Thoughts

I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation. This isn’t so much out of panic as it is out of trying to take sensible precautions. I gathered things and put them in the living room so that we can be ready to leave, if needed. If authorities were to upgrade us from level one to level two status, I’d move this stuff to my car.

Also as a precaution, I moved stuff away from the house and thoroughly watered the entire yard. (Not sure that’d make much difference, but hey, it can’t hurt.) I created a video tour of the house that highlights anything we have of value. And so on. This took most of the afternoon.

This morning, I can see that the neighbors are doing something similar. We’re all trying to exercise caution, I think.

Kim and I will almost surely be fine. Although the smoke is thick here at the moment — it’s like a brownish fog, and it’s even clouding my view of the neighbor’s house! — there aren’t any fires super close to us. And barring mistakes or stupidity, there won’t be any threat to our home.

Still, it’s good for us to take precautionary measures, both now and for the future. And it’s probably smart for you to take some small steps today in case disaster strikes tomorrow.

Here’s a terrific Reddit post about what one person wishes they’d known when evacuating for wildfire.