Baron Permenter’s idea for a business was born of self amusement.
A longtime tractor trailer driver and U.S. Army veteran, the Bellport native was cruising somewhere through Pennsylvania in February 2012 when he started daydreaming about a gag Valentine’s Day gift.
He thought: What would you get for someone you were unhappy with, or had done you wrong?
“I said, I would get them a bunch of stems,” he recalled. “That would be hilarious. Something innocent, but the embarrassment of it all. Imagine getting a box delivered to your office and opening it with everyone around and it was just a bunch of stems?
“When you’re driving a truck, your brain just goes everywhere.”
Except this thought stuck with him.
Within a few weeks, he was running a company out of his Shirley house called Stems4u.com. Soon he was airing commercials on News 12 Long Island and 15-second spots before movies. Last year, he opened up a florist shop in a former Carvel on Montauk Highway in East Patchogue.
How did this all happen?
Let’s just say the concept evolved from someone delivering just stems while dressed as a 1920s-gangster style hitman, to what’s now a full service florist available for weddings, funerals and other events.
Permenter first came to his wife with his idea for a stems-delivery service.
Yes, that would be kind of funny, she told him.
“But she also said it would be kind of bad,” he said.
So instead of just stems, they decided to offer roses too, with the idea that they would still be delivered in the form of a gangster-style “hit.” They did a couple of hits a month, or week, at first. He and the other suited-up delivery drivers had a routine upon arriving at a home or business with a box of flowers.
It went like this (picture the delivery person not smiling):
“We’d say, ‘Are you such and such?’” Permenter explained. “Yes? Someone cared enough to put you on the hit list through stems4U.com. I have a package for you. You can’t refuse.”
One problem, Permenter soon realized, was that some women were getting startled.
“I was taking notice, and this is when you start reinventing the company,” he said. “A lady was like, ‘Oh my goodness, you scared me when you came in. And what is that, a bomb?’ So I wanted to tone it down from the hit list-concept to just a classy delivery service, a representation of how flowers should be delivered.”
After some fits and starts, and a couple of highly successful Valentine’s Days, Permenter and his staff have settled in on pretty much running a standard florist out of the glass-fronted structure on Montauk Highway, though drivers still wear suits and instead of notecards deliver signed and sealed certificates.
Of course, Permenter explained, there was a lot of help along the way, in the form of friends and relatives offering free labor, and, he says, a woman named Kathy Delehanty.
Delehanty used to run Brookhaven Country Florist in Bellport Village before selling the shop in September 2001. During some struggles at Stems4u’s early on, Delehanty wandered into the store looking for work. This was shortly before Permenter parted ways with the original florist he had hired.
“It was the winter,” she said. “And there’s not much to do in the winter, and I drove down a few times and saw the original Carvel had turned into a florist. I thought, oh wow that could give me something to do. And the rest is Baron’s story.”
“I have my own saying, that I made up,” he said. “Success is teaching those around you to be better than you are at what you do best.”
That’s what Delehanty has been doing by teaching him, he said.
Permenter, who barely survived a 2002 house fire that left him with third- and fourth-degree burns over his whole body, doesn’t drive trucks as of late, having to deal with an on-the-job shoulder injury.
But he hopes to get back behind the wheel.
In the meantime, the former Army ammunition specialist has found handling flowers to be therapeutic.
“We do everything now,” he said. “It’s a fully operational florist. My friends who’ve walked through here, who didn’t know it was my shop, look at me and say, ‘B? Flowers?’ That’s the funniest. Because we grew up in Bellport. We had fun drag racing, whatever, acting up, the military. All those manly, manly things.
“Then they walk in and say, flowers?”
Permenter still bears the scars from that house fire up and down his arms, legs and chest. Twice he was brought back to life in the days that followed, he said. He’s been through too much in his life to feel any embarrassment about flowers.
“I tell them, what I really like about flowers is the true balance that’s in there,” he said. “For me, my nature and everything else that I dealt with and went beyond — to flowers. It brings it right into the middle to where you just feel good about everything you do, where you are, how you even got here.
“It just makes everything worth it to see people walk out with smiles.”
Looking back at the time after the fire — being sprawled out on that metal table, the weeks in the burn unit, the doctors calling in his family to say their final farewells — he says he would do it all again, if it meant he’d still end up in his flower shop.
And so far, he said, no one’s ever ordered just stems.
Photo: Baron Permenter at Stems4u on Montauk Highway Friday. (Credit: Michael White)