I grew up in a family of medics and as such my career in medicine was pretty guaranteed with top class contacts and credentials. This was the reason I decided to look for a career where my success would be dependent on my own endeavours rather than my contacts. Looking back I smile wryly at my arrogance and accept the price I have paid, having worked my way up through what is essentially a contacts-based career without any contacts!
Initially I thought writing would be my future. Firstly as an author, then as a journalist. Eventually I realised that too much has been said already about ‘life’ and whilst I wanted to express myself, I didn’t want to add to the ‘noise’ unless I had something worthwhile to say. Thus I stumbled across floristry, whilst looking for a way out of waitressing which I was growing to hate after 6 months of listening to a depressed manageress recounting the same story every night.
At the time what I liked most about this job was that we made up our own rules as we went along. None of us was qualified as such but we used each other as a sounding board and if we liked an arrangement we sent it out and if we didn’t we tweaked it until we did. We must have done something right because within 2 years myself and my colleague built up the business on behalf of the owner and went from part-time to full-time staff. My responsibilities were the buying and delivering, arranging the flowers and on site work with our clients. I also quickly became responsible for the more creative and sculptural designs. We completed a course so that we could guarantee our professionalism and a high standard of floristry for our customers.
When I left this shop I felt there were 2 choices - work for the best or do something more worthwhile. This attitude underpins the path my career has taken ever since and why I constantly strive to be the best at what I do. This is also connected to the fact that, to build a business in an industry where you don’t have the necessary contacts you need to do exceptional work to stand out and progress. I have noticed that the customers who have used our services have all shared that ethos and equally strive to be the best.
Having worked for some of the top floral designers in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, I noticed that the one thing all the market leaders of that time had in common was bankruptcy. I actually swore to myself about one year before setting up my own business that the one thing I would never do was run my own floristry business as it was so hard to make it viable. Ironically, after falling out with my last ever employer, I decided to leave floristry and follow a more traditional career path. To do this I found two customers who were willing to work with me and within 3 months, I had been commissioned by Harvey Nichols to design and install their post Christmas window displays, British Airways to design and install dried flower arrangements for their business class lounge and I had taken on Le Caprice and the Ivy restaurants as weekly contracts. Furthermore, every single regular customer from my previous company had contacted me to ask me to take them on as my clients. Creatively in heaven, and from a business point of view I was completely out of control I had no idea how to run a business but relied on common sense and an innate aversion to debt to keep things running in an orderly fashion.
After a break of 10 years where I focused on raising my children and was working with a handful of clients only I was ready to focus on the business again. At this point I knew that to make the business work I needed to learn about business. I took on a business coach and have been coached ever since, on and off. I used an excellent system that really gave me an insight into why those original floral designers all declared themselves bankrupt at some point or another and I learnt how to avoid the pitfalls of running a business on common sense alone.
Now after 20 years of running my own business and dealing with top end customers, not just from a business perspective but also from the point of view of logistics, finding the right suppliers, sourcing new ideas and designs, people management, building a team that works and growing a business without any external investment or major loans, I would like to share some of my learnings with new florists just starting out on their journey so that I can save them the pitfalls and mistakes that I either made or could have made along the way. Having guidance has helped me to relax and enjoy my journey rather than face the terror of worrying about whether my business was viable or not and how to cope with cash flow, bad paying customers etc.
Now my fear is more associated with how big each step I take with the business is. Is my team able to cope with the extra work that I am bringing in? How do I divide my time up between working ‘in’ the business and working ‘on’ it? Should I take on a business partner? If so where would I find one and who would take on which role? When choosing a team, which is more important: floristry skills, communication skills or culture (ie is punctuality important? What do they do if a job comes in last minute and it is going home time? Do they respect my authority or are they a loose cannon? Do they love their work with a passion? Can they take criticism? Are there aspects of the job they refuse to do? Do they work well with other people? Are they willing to progress and develop within the role? Are they willing to explore new ways of doing things or are they stuck in their ways?
Now my biggest frustration is having enough time to get everything done and building up a team of like-minded people who can and want to take some of the burden off me.
My passion for flowers has come despite my experience of the industry. I have found over the years that the freezing cold conditions, heavy boxes carried down narrow stairways at the back of premises, pristine office spaces that must be left as found, aggressive, chauvinistic market traders for whom sexual harassment is their idea of social interaction, increasingly challenging parking and driving conditions, the tatters of a social life resulting from missed meetings and events because of the work load strangely seem to have fuelled my love of a life filled with the unexpected at each and every turn, the feeling every single night that I have squeezed every last drop of life out of the day and the joy of standing back to take in the view of the latest extravagance I have created for this or that customer and the sense of awe at some of the places I have had access to as a result of my work. The feeling that I have lived my life as a rich and varied tapestry, connected equally to the highest and lowliest in the land leaves me feeling lucky to have experienced the journey thus far. My sense of living an adventure filled with colours, perfumes, shapes, people, places – the arguments, the laughter, the gruelling work and amazing achievements have all shaped who I am today and I would not wish anything different.
As I read through these words they seem so long ago. Such is the effect of a cataclysmic event I suppose...the world pre-covid and the world post-covid! I suppose in time people will ask each other ‘where were you when the lockdown happened?’ the same way they ask “where were you when they announced the death of Princess Diana” or “where were you when they announced that the Berlin Wall had come down?”... I consider myself to be lucky, whilst acknowledging that we all create our own luck too. Year after year, I have pivoted my business, only too aware how floral design sits on the forefront of the economic tides, sensitive to every caprice of the public, every threat to the confidence of the spenders and to the smell in the wind of better times approaching. So, in some ways I consider myself well positioned to turn the business into new winds and look for a way through this. My increasing concern with the environment in the last ten years, instead of being what I once considered a distraction to the business of earning money, has become the focus of my business and I have enjoyed investing my personal values into my business structures, with the growing sense of authenticity that comes with that.
One of my favourite installations was created for Friends of the Earth to support their presentation to their stakeholders and won a promotion for the woman who organised it because the CEO was so impressed. It is that personal impact that gets me out of bed in the mornings and helps me to believe that we are creating a better future, not just going through the motions or, worse, adding to the problem. As a company we are increasingly purpose driven and looking for others to partner with so we can make a difference and do our little bit to make the world a better place. Increasingly, I am aware that the ultimate luxury is sustainability, enjoying what life has to offer without destroying it. For a while now I refer to our desire to create magical spaces and leave people feeling like they matter. And since covid I find the urge to maintain the (for some) new connection with Nature so that the world can feel friendlier and more humane. Less about power and more about community. There has definitely been a shift in the last three years and this has been accentuated by the recent crisis as society moves towards a more spiritual phase of its development.
So where do we sit in this bright new world? I see us bringing the home and the office a little nearer, enriching the working space whether a desk in the spare bedroom or a desk in the company head office with a sense of abundance and creativity that well-orchestrated planting schemes can achieve when the plants are thriving rather than staggering towards certain death and where the structures they are grown on and around are imaginative and fun instead of cheap and unattractive. My belief is that the next generation will demand this. They are much more team minded and holistic in their approach to life. Without the prospect of becoming enriched by their inherited fortunes as so many generations were before them, they are left with a certain humility but also a strong sense of themselves and the environment they want to exist in. In this sense I look forward to the time when I can say that I played my part.