Today, as part of my Florist Friday blog post series, I’m delighted to feature an interview with Will Kerr, Manager of McQueens at Claridge’s, a five star hotel in London. If you watch my weekly Flowerona Reflects videos, you may remember that last month, I had the pleasure of spending the day with Will.
Could you tell us about your floristry background?
I grew up in Ballymena in Northern Ireland and when I was six or seven years old, my grandmother bought me a seed kit. It contained sunflowers, marigolds, nasturtiums and cress. I was fascinated by the seed shapes. When I was eight, I started gardening and had my own rockery with alpine plants.
A couple of years later, I had my own 12x8ft greenhouse. There was a lot of unrest in Northern Ireland back at that time and my escapism was gardening. It was my therapy, a way to relax. I grew alpines, achillea, helichrysum and physalis. I was also into exotic dried flowers and went to a local florist shop every Saturday to buy blooms, like proteas.
When I was 12, I started working in the same florist shop on a Saturday. I would wire and moss wreaths, and I loved it! All the money I earnt, I spent on seeds. I continued working there whilst I was at school.
I became interested in art and photography, so much so that when I was 19, I did an Art Foundation Course. Then at the age of 21, I moved to London to study for a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Central St Martins. During this time, I had a part-time Saturday job at a florist in Chelsea.
Then at 23, I worked full-time at Jane Packer in Selfridges. Up until that time, I’d never seen an aspidistra leaf nor heard about grouping blooms. I learnt how to make hand-tied bouquets, using flowers I’d never seen before.
After a couple of years, I moved to Moyses Stevens, where I worked for five years. I’d gone for an interview to be a florist there, but they offered me the manager’s job! It was a wonderful experience. I had to use computers and use Excel to produce Profit & Loss accounts…things which I didn’t think I could do. Then just over three years ago, I started working at McQueens. Initially, I was based in the HQ in Clerkenwell, prior to moving to Claridge’s.
Could you tell us about your current role?
I’ve been the Manager of McQueens at Claridge’s for just over three years. On a Monday, my working hours are 7am-6pm and then Tuesday-Friday, 8.30am-6pm. If there are events or photo shoots, then my hours may differ. I manage a small team of great florists. And it’s more of a management role than hands-on working with flowers.
What does a typical day/week look like?
First thing every morning, I check my emails and see if there are any flowers and foliage that I need to order. For example, we may get a request for a bouquet in a particular colour or including a specific type of flower, which we don’t have in stock. So, then I’ll contact one of our suppliers to source them. We not only get flower orders from guests, but also from people and businesses in the area. At 9am, I attend the daily Claridge’s Managers Meeting. We run through the timings of VIP guests who are arriving and whether they have any specific floral requirements. These guests may be staying in one of the three suites or one of the two penthouses.
I’ll then re-check our daily order sheets, which I’ll have checked the night before, and prioritise the flower orders for the Floristry Team. We have a daily list of rooms, which require flowers. And when making up the designs, we think about the colour and style of the décor in the particular room. We may also have courier deliveries which are timed, need to provide flowers for meetings on the 6th Floor or for a junket which needs floral designs for the TV room, Print Room and Press Room. A junket is an event organised by a film studio, where the stars from the film and major staff members promote the film. They generally take place at the hotel every 1-2 weeks.
In the afternoon, I’ll look through the daily order sheets for the following day and order flowers and foliage to fulfil them. When I’m ordering, I always need to think about the McQueens and Claridge’s styles. For instance, a tropical-looking flower may appear slightly out of place in the hotel. I’ll also prepare for my Managers Meeting meeting the following day.
For VIPs staying in a suite or penthouse, I’ll do a recce with the Special Services Team beforehand. I’ll not only need to think about the initial floral designs, but also if the guests are staying for some time, I’ll need to ensure that there’s continuity when we change the flowers. I need to ensure I order in enough quantities, at the right time. To help my team, I’ll take photographs of the designs the first time that they’re created, so that they can make sure that they’re the same size, when they need to be remade.
I’m constantly thinking ahead. For the shop, I tend to buy what’s in season and we always have white flowers, like roses and hydrangeas. I also need to make sure that we have emergency supplies, just in case. For example, someone may come into the shop and ask for a £350 bouquet.
There’s lots of paperwork for my role, in particular in relation to invoicing, and I try to do it in 10 minute chunks now and again, to mix it up. I find it makes it a lot easier and it’s amazing what you can achieve in 10 minutes!
I attend lots of meetings, but they’re essential for planning in advance and organisation. As well as the daily meetings, every Thursday morning, I attend an Operations Meeting which lasts 1-2 hours. We look at the upcoming week, the VIP guests who’ll be arriving and their flower requirements.
I’m always juggling and you never know what’s going to happen. No matter what though, my first priority is the guests coming into the shop.
Could you tell us about the McQueens style at Claridge’s?
Timeless, understated, elegant and glamour are my buzz words for the floral designs which we create in Claridge’s.
What do you like best about your current role?
Guest satisfaction is very important to me and receiving great feedback from them is always wonderful, as is feedback from the hotel staff. It makes all the planning and organisation so worthwhile.
Could you tell us about the weekly floral installations at the hotel?
Every Thursday night is changeover night, when the McQueens Events Team are in the hotel from 12am-5am on Friday morning. My team then maintain the installations 2-3 times a week. There are also white orchid plants on every floor of the hotel, which need to be regularly maintained.
Thank you so much to Will for a wonderful day at McQueens at Claridge’s and to Duncan for the beautiful photos of the hotel installations. If you’d like to see more wonderful designs by McQueens, do pop over to their website. Social media wise, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And if you’re in London and near Claridge’s which is in Brook Street, the McQueens shop is open Monday-Saturday.
(Images : Duncan McCabe | McQueens)