Floristry Industry Insight focuses again this week on the impact of the coronavirus on the floristry industry in the UK. This time the spotlight is on florist shop and flower school owners. Several of the people featured last week commented on how therapeutic it was to write down their thoughts on the current situation for the blog post. And they recommend you try it too if you’re struggling to move forward.
Thank you so much to all the contributors listed alphabetically below. I hope that their words provide reassurance, comfort and inspire you during these uncertain times.
ALICE HOWARD | BOTANIQUE WORKSHOP | LONDON
‘It’s been so heartbreaking to have my shop closed. The direct contact with customers and the community with other businesses, residents and local workers we have on Exmouth Market is hands down my favourite thing about my little business. So I feel quite empty without it, coming to work at a deserted street full of shut up shops and restaurants is just not the same.
I have now switched my business to entirely online, delivering bouquets and products around London and nationwide by courier. Digital doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m forcing myself to embrace it and see this as an opportunity to build this element of my business. I feel like I’m fighting for survival with it, but the fighting spirit that I and my team members have is paying off and we’re making sales like never before online. So I’m excited by this growth.
We continue to add options to our website; more plant pots and baskets, vases and plants. We have also finally added our dried flower bunches to the webshop. It’s something we’ve meant to do for a long time but have never got around to as the bricks and mortar shop always took priority, till now!! We’re keeping everything crossed that Holland continue to deliver us our flowers so we can continue to fulfil our fresh flower orders. It’s keeping us going but it is also so heart-warming to be sending cheer with flowers to so many people. The gift messages we’re writing are so lovely as people reach out to support and connect with one another from isolation at home.
Perhaps if the borders do shut and we can’t get flowers from Holland this could be the perfect time for us to be pushed to buy only from British growers, so who knows we may have to do that. It’s a bit of a terrifying concept to potentially need to overcome, but we would love to work with local British growers more so it could be the push we need!
We’re trying to be flexible with how we work at this time and trying to take it as it comes rather than spend too much time worrying, seeing it as an opportunity and challenge instead of a disaster! We feel so lucky that we are still able to be working, sending flowers out despite our normal business being ripped away from us albeit (hopefully!) a temporary situation!’
AMANDA AUSTIN | AMANDA AUSTIN FLOWERS | LONDON
‘I run a bespoke flower business, we have a shop and an events unit, both are now closed for the first time in 23 years. It broke my heart to shut the shop, and to, in essence, close it all down. Ironically we were looking forward to our best ever year. We had more bookings than ever before and I was looking forward to doing some extraordinary weddings and events, such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Masterpiece, both of which are huge for us, in terms of kudos and turnover.
All our big events are cancelled, but the weddings are only postponed and I do believe we should all take heart in that, postponed is not cancelled. I’m pretty sure that our clients will come back. That said, in reality, I was completely panicked and financially looking at a big black cloud.
Lydia, twin-sister and partner, and I are very lucky, we are interchangeable and we decided 10 years ago (when my husband became unwell) that we would not be “silly” busy anymore. I still do 6 days most weeks, but that’s my choice, I’m after all the sole provider and I love what I do.
So Now What !!!! – I’m living in a rented flat at the moment so no garden, no outside space, no DIY, just my grown-up children and us! Without any flowers around, I did what I am next best at – Maths – I worked out what we had, and what we could afford to do. Then I paid all my suppliers, as, when we do all come back, we need them on our side and more importantly still trading – without them we have no business to come back to. I’ve used the same suppliers for over 20 years and I like them all. I’ve applied for staff furlough, it’s easy, just do a letter for now. Rent holidays – (fat chance with my landlords! but give it a go), Government Grants, the form is simple to do and I’ve started sorting the filing, photographs and invoicing.
There will be new enquiries for everyone, so take heart. I think that with all the unknowns that are being fired at us daily, we should take stock and remember why we do this job. I’m a flower fanatic, I’m not great at social media but will perhaps now finally do a course to get better at it, or not! I love looking at other feeds and seeing what everyone is doing, it helps me to find a happy place and on day 11, I’m enjoying some down time.
If you’re panicking, ask for advice from someone in the business, share your problems. I would be happy to help anyone who asked and so would most florists I know. Remember to breathe – I have lost some friends already to this virus and I may lose more, so my problems compared to others are tiny. “You don’t always need a plan, sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.” – I’m trying to do just that!‘
ATHENA DUNCAN & MAIREAD CURTIN | REBEL REBEL | LONDON
‘It is very difficult to know what is the right thing to do. Some decisions are taken out of our hands – our shop for instance is in Mare Street Market, which is a large bar, restaurant and deli. They stayed open for as long as they could, which meant we could be there for Mothers’ Day. We had thought it would probably be pretty quiet, but we had quite a few orders which we wanted to fulfil if we could. In the end, we were really busy – so many people wanting to give flowers to their mothers since they couldn’t have a hug. After that, Mare Street Market had to close and so did we. They have been wonderful to us and are not charging us rent until we’re back in the shop and are able to trade.
Now, in this new world, we’re trying to figure out what to do and how we fit into it. We could have made bouquets from our workshop off Broadway Market – so long as we maintained social distancing – but without any events, workshops or weddings, it didn’t look viable, because we had no idea whether there would be any flowers to sell. Now it looks like there are still suppliers around and people are still delivering, so it may be that there is something we could do – we’re looking for a way to source and deliver flower safely. It seems like such a terrible shame that at the absolutely best and most beautiful time of year, when the flowers are bursting out in all their glory, there will be nowhere for them to go. We know people don’t need flowers for their bodies, but they certainly do for their souls.
Whilst all events are cancelled and weddings postponed in London, we also have our emerging business in Tuscany. Rebel Rebel Italia is just in its third year and this year it was really coming into its stride. We had weddings from April, three sets of workshops over the summer and our 20th birthday party in July. Pel and Craig, our doughty gardeners / florists / chefs were heading over last weekend to start planting the dahlias, and tend all the other flowers we’ve been growing in the incredibly fertile Tuscan soil! They can’t go there now.
Barga, the area where we live, has (thank god) not been very badly affected with the virus, but everyone there is maintaining a very strict lockdown. We’re waiting to hear whether at least some of our other friends out there can save the dahlias! All our staff and freelancers are at home, so we’re keeping in touch regularly on Zoom. We discuss ideas for keeping Rebel Rebel alive in people’s minds while we’re in hibernation, but also it’s a chance to chat about our coping mechanisms in lockdown.
The only proactive thing we can do is enjoy our gardens if we have them. Some of us are gardening and some are becoming avid armchair twitchers! Workwise, we’re grappling with social media and trying to overcome our camera shyness to make people remember we’re still here and we will be back when this is all over. It is incredibly painful and worrying but we hope we will survive.‘
GRACE SALTER HASKINS | BRAMBLE & WILD | SOMERSET
‘The initial comings of the COVID-19 outbreak hit us right at Mother’s Day. We were exceptionally lucky to have lots of lovely customers who supported us and ordered online or over the phone so we could deliver their flowers rather than have them come to the shop. And although we just hit last year’s target, we were below what we had expected to take. Still, this was so much better than nothing. And it’s given us a steady foothold on the situation financially.
However, the following Monday after Mother’s Day, we had closed for some recuperation and the team all decided it would be best to close our doors for the time being. I don’t cry much, but news that our main supplier was closing did reduce me to tears. We have three florists, as well as myself, working part and full-time. Each florist has been furloughed. We’re in hopes that our local council will provide us with the SBBR 10k grant to keep the business ticking for the time being, as that would be one huge relief! All of our spring weddings are postponed. And so with that and the shop being closed, there’s no income for the moment, which is pretty scary.
Although yes, we could have sourced flowers from a different supplier and continued to deliver our flowers to our customers, we all decided that it didn’t sit right with us. By this point, the government had asked everyone to stay home. We aren’t an essential business and I felt that I couldn’t ask staff, delivery drivers and suppliers to put themselves at risk for us. We’re going to stick with this for at least the first three weeks we’ve been asked to stay home for. Then we’ll reassess, but to be honest, I can’t see the situation changing for the moment. The other issue is that I live an hour away from the shop – is my work commute essential travel? I’m sure it’s a fine line, but I’d rather we were all safe and doing our part to stop the spread of this awful virus.
I think going forward, as with everything, we all have to use our gut instinct. I can fully appreciate that some florists can work on funeral designs safely, but that isn’t a large portion of work for us. I think we all just have to find where our conscience sits happily with our business sense, which can sometimes be a very tricky thing to do.‘
HELEN DYSON | LONDON FLOWER SCHOOL | LONDON
‘To be honest, when I was asked to provide my thoughts on how London Flower School are managing this unique situation in which we find ourselves, my initial feeling was apprehension. I am not sure I am qualified to give advice on how people can cope with the stress that I know everyone is feeling at the moment.
Nevertheless, as we are now heading into the third week of a new way of living and hopefully all adjusting to it, I would like to share with you what London Flower School has done from a business perspective to ensure that the company will be up and running again as soon it is safe to do so in case it is at all helpful to other businesses. I am deliberately focusing on the business choices rather than the immense emotional challenges, because I hope that aspect will be more valuable to others.
The initial impact of the closure of LFS due to COVID-19 was financial. We closed our doors at the beginning of a 4-week floristry Career Course, and we chose to provide refunds to all students. This had a significant impact on our cash flow, but I do believe will be valuable in the long run from a customer service perspective, and when I make decisions like these, I am always making them with this in mind.
My perspective is that it’s important for us all to remember that this difficult time will be over at some stage and the long-term reputation of your business is ultimately more valuable than short term cash flow as long as you can ride the wave.
The two most significant costs in our business are our rent and our staff. Our rent had been paid for the quarter and therefore our home is safe, but our staff, who we value hugely and are ultimately the key to our success, have all (bar office staff) been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This scheme has provided everyone with the financial security that they need, but I know that they, like Wagner and I, miss their work colleagues, so we all use Zoom to meet up once a week to stay in touch and keep motivated.
Alongside the Job Retention Scheme, LFS intends to also take advantage of other Government measures that will be provided to support small businesses such as the Business Rates Holiday 2020-21; VAT deferral and the Small Business Grant as well. All of these measures will help our cash flow until this challenging period is over, but I do believe it’s important to remember that at some point it will be over.
Whilst we are closed our goal is 2-fold. Firstly, to use this gift of time to review our business and to plan. Like many small business owners, we have been dreaming of a sabbatical/a holiday/some time to stop and think. This is that time. LFS has been running on a treadmill for 4 years, meaning we are too often forced to be reactive rather than proactive when making decisions.
We have lots of ideas that we have not had time to work on and we will use this time to work on one of these. I say just one, because it is important to be realistic and set real, achievable goals for yourself and your business. Your mind will be buzzing as mine is at the moment, but be practical and choose just one new idea or plan to focus on and have this ready to put in place when you are ready.
Our other goal is to be patient and to take care of our mental and physical health. Our social media will continue with a series of projects that we put together before we closed our doors. We hope these will encourage everyone to remember why we are all working in this creative industry that we hold so close to our hearts. We should all accept that although it is incredibly challenging at present, it is important to keep moving forward, because we love what we do.
I hope in some way the information that I have provided has been helpful. The reason Wagner and I wanted to share our story with you and be open and honest about how this current situation has impacted our business is to show solidarity. Know that we are all in this together, so no one business is doing better or worse than any other. With this in mind, let’s support each other, have courage and be kind, and look forward to better days ahead. In the meantime, we wish the best to all of you and your families. Take care.‘
ZITA ELZE | ZITA ELZE FLOWER DESIGN | SURREY
‘The impact of the coronavirus was and will be enormous, especially for the shop which has now closed and also the Academy – teaching being a huge passion for me and the school being the life and soul of my business. I started feeling it in January with cancellations and postponements from my Asian students. I’d planned an interesting course for March and feel very sorry for those who had made arrangements for this special time in London, but I look forward to seeing them once this difficult time has passed.
What was extraordinary and really heart-warming with the shop was the way local people in Kew pulled together over Mother’s Day, which was right at the beginning of the lockdown. There was a strong feeling of people shopping locally. We had a gratifyingly busy time, feeling that the community was drawing together in support of each other, preparing to weather the storm in our beautiful little London village. The next day, we were closed, but we’re keeping the shop as beautiful as ever, although plants and lovely accessories now feature more than fresh flowers of course. I know how many local people enjoy passing by our windows. The magic hasn’t gone, it’s just slightly more out of reach for now.
I’m living each day as it comes whilst making sure that I have a routine. Working in the morning and having everything out of the way helps me to relax and focus on things that I wouldn’t have the time to enjoy normally such as cooking, baking, cleaning, growing pulses, reading the books that are piling up on my coffee table or even watching TV – something I haven’t done for the last 15 years. We now have a TV set as this was a request from our daughter when she moved in.
I continue to wake up as always at 5am every day. I keep the early morning hours for myself to meditate and then prepare a must-have green juice for the entire family followed by breakfast. I start working at 8am and finish around noon with lunchtime to maintain a sense of “normal”. As I live above the shop, my daughter Laura and I are keeping our online store open and sending flowers, plants and loving gestures to our customers, especially those in self-isolation. We’re also continuing to work on my first book, feeling that finally we have more time to dedicate to this exciting project. This is perhaps how others can keep positive, progressing long-cherished plans, especially creative ones, that they couldn’t dedicate the time to before.
We are using Zoom to keep in touch with clients and students alike. I know that it’s very difficult for all of us financially, but the important thing now is health, both physical and mental. So I would join others in advising you all to concentrate on nurturing yourselves in every way, reaching out to others, staying positive, living in the moment, keeping busy but at a much less frenetic pace than we florists are used to, and also making flexible plans for the future. The day that the New Covent Garden Flower Market opens again will be a very exciting time indeed!‘
Thank you so much to all these wonderful florist shop and flower school owners. I hope you’ve enjoyed their invaluable insights.
P.S. Just in case you missed it, here’s a link to last week’s Floristry Industry Insight, which featured five more florists and flower school owners.