Monday, 12 March 2018

Mothers Day - Getting it wrong

I got caught out on the amount of flowers I would need for Mothers Day this year - not something I have done before (unless, of course, you include Valentines this year, when I also got 'caught out'). I placed my usual flower order on top of the order I knew I definitely needed for my customers who had placed their own orders, before remembering how good things were in previous years, so I then doubled it; later that evening I added the same (original) amount again, hoping I'd not made a big mistake and was going to end up with a load of flowers left over which couldn't be sold.

I could easily have doubled this total amount again on the Saturday, as I totally got it wrong, for I sold out. Not just by 4pm Friday, but Saturday (by lunchtime) and Sunday before the day even began. I had to turn customers away - something I absolutely hate to do, however I literally only had enough to fulfill the pre-orders I had. Anyone who came in (or called) after lunchtime on Saturday I had to send elsewhere. I did try to get extra for the Sunday as several customers Saturday afternoon had told me the would come back in Sunday morning to see if I'd been able to get what they wanted. In a weird way I am glad I was unable to get hold of any additional flowers though, because those very people never made it back to the shop. Had I got the extra I'd have then been sitting with a shop full of flowers and nobody to sell them to. Thankfully I only had to turn away just 3 people on the Sunday morning - 1 gentleman who I then passed a bit later in the co-op (we did both comment - nicely - and smile inwardly) a lady who wanted to know if we were able to do a delivery for her on the day, and another who wanted a delivery made by lunchtime to an address on the very edge of our delivery area - this person called just after 10.30am expecting us to get it there by 12 noon. I know some people get caught up in daily life and get caught out by how quickly certain days arrive, but giving us just 1.5 hours to get a the flowers made up and delivered on our busiest day of the year, is asking a wee bit too much from anyone. I've said it before, I'll say it again "Miracles we can perform, the impossible takes a wee bit longer" :) 

A couple of customers had asked for deliveries by specific times because they had lunches booked, however, as always, no time was guaranteed to anyone, other than that all orders would (hopefully) be delivered by 12 noon (I have a Mum I like to spend time with on the day, both drivers have wives who are mothers so we all want to be away by lunchtime if we can) With 189 drops and 3 drivers it's just not possible to get all orders out first thing. This is where we did disappoint one customer who had phoned around 10.45 to see if I could let them know when their order would be delivered. It was next on the drivers list, however, he was in the wickham/soberton area at the time, with one of those deliveries in the middle of nowhere - the ones where you are giving a house name, postcode (which covers a massive area) and a mobile phone for the recipient who has no reception. You then find there is no name visible on the house meaning you can drive up-and-down the same road for 20 or 30 minutes, knocking on all the doors without a house name hoping it's the right one, or asking whoever answers if they know which house it is we need if it's not them. I told the caller the driver would most likely be 15 minutes, and had he not been caught up behind a tractor and someone loading a horsebox, he would have been, however, he didn't arrive until 11.15 by which time the recipient had gone out. It's not nice when that happens but the drivers are at the mercy of the roads and we all know how it can be when you get caught on a country lane. The customer and recipient are regular customers and have been for many years so hopefully they understood. Their's was the very last drop too, so all those 189 deliveries were completed 45 minutes before the guaranteed final time; I call that a success and cannot thank Chris, Jan and Clive enough for all their effort and hard work. The business doesn't work without them. 

After speaking to other florists last night I am seriously considering not delivering on the Sunday next year, instead, sending all orders out throughout the day on the Saturday. That way we would know every Mum has their flowers in time for the day itself, and my drivers don't have to add additional stress to themselves worrying about whether they are going to make a delivery in time - they'd also not have to put up with me phoning and asking "where" they are, or "how long" they are going to be. It's only an idea right now, but it seems to be one which works well, according to a lot of the florists I was chatting with.

As for why I got caught out, I honestly don't know. Being lower down the google list than others (see my previous blog entry for one reason why this is happening) I assumed we would actually be a lot quieter this year, than we have previously been  (I really should take the advice I've been given in the past about "never assuming" anything :) ).  I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with people becoming disillusioned with Interflora, Moonpig and all those other's who just take your money and do very little in return. I did notice both of the above mentioned 'order gatherers' took a right hammering over their poor quality, canceled orders (not canceled a day or 2 before, but actually on the day after they should already have been delivered) and more-often-than-not flowers not even turning up at all. I do feel so sad for the florists though, who are part of the Interflora network. Shop owners like myself, who paid out exorbitant amounts of money to become a member of the network, hoping it would generate business for them while having the backing and support of a multi-national brand. Instead they have been well and truly shafted, for very few shops receive orders from the HQ - instead HQ send out the orders from a central warehouse, in boxes, via couriers (people who do a great job, but who have no idea (or training) for handling flowers). This (along with the costs they demand) is one of the reasons why I never joined them (and why I refuse to join any of the others). Every single hardworking florist this morning who signed up to Interflora has just been tarnished with the same brush; the very company who should be helping to promote their businesses has most likely just killed off quite a few. 

I'm sure this is part of the reason I was so much busier. People now use google (other search engines area available) going direct to a local florist, who is independent of these big corporations, because they know it's always about the service and quality. Don't get me wrong; we (I) do get it wrong at times. All of us are only human after all; thankfully those times are far and few between and any mistake I make affects only my business. Because I'm not part of a corporation I am able to apologise in person to whoever has experienced the mistake, and rectify any issues. From what I was reading on twitter (a great place for info on such things) it would appear there weren't many customers out there of other businesses who were able to say the same. These big corporations getting it so badly wrong can only be of benefit to the small businesses like mine as we move forward into the future. I, for one, will definitely try to prepare myself better next year :) 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Stolen Identity?

Ok; it's not quite as drastic as the title of this post makes it sound, however, by the end of reading this entry (if you've not nodded off) I think you'll agree there's not really anything else I could have put - well, nothing which is repeatable on a family friendly page :)

The easiest way to explain, is to relay a phone conversation I had earlier. 

Customer: "I just wanted to check you are the florist in Fareham Park Road"
I replied: "I am indeed, right next to the chip shop" (everyone knows the chippy).
Customer: "Oh thank goodness; last time I called you I ended up ordering through someone completely different, and I've no idea how because I googled your shop".

I am hearing customers tell me this so very often now I almost feel as if I should be answering the phone with "Good morning (or afternoon) Moonstones, the florist in FPR next to the chippie" which I am sure will agree would be quite a mouthful :) 

In the past 2 weeks I've received 5 complaints about flowers - none of which have been ordered through me. Now, while this is great in one way, because it means whoever is receiving the orders is making mistakes, it's not-quite-so-good in another. If I've had so many people take the time to contact me with a complaint, how many haven't taken the time to do so, instead just bad mouthing my shop to their friends? This is not-so-great at all, for they could be bad mouthing me about an order I've had nothing to do with, and know nothing about.

People thinking they were coming through to me, when in fact they aren't, was brought to my attention earlier this year when a regular customer phoned me. He'd recently lost his phone, hadn't backed up his contacts to the cloud (always back up your contacts lovely people, it saves an awful lot of hassle :) ). As a result, when he went to call the shop he had to use google to get the number. He told me he typed in 'Moonstones Florist' - nothing more, nothing less, looked at the results (without actually paying full attention) saw there was a "Call Now" button, pressed it, and assumed he was going to be connected directly to me. He told me when the call was answered he said "Hi, Sarah, it's .................; can you sort me out some flowers for my Mum". Whomever he spoke to (and it could be one of many different shops/companies who are employing the decoy tactics I will explain in a minute) never bothered to correct him, instead leading him to believe he was talking to me. It was only when the person the other end asked him for his Mum's name and address he realised something was wrong. You see, I know his Mum really well; have done for years. I know her name, where she lives, I even know what flowers she likes. When he phones me he'll tell me if they're for his Mum, Sister, Girlfriend, Nan or Secretary - they are the only people he sends flowers to, and I know all of their names and addresses and the flowers they like (that's what I love about regular customers and local businesses - this is why you should always try to shop local; you won't get those personal touches with a large chain or company). He hung the call up, had another scootch through google, finally coming across my number and rang me as he intended to originally (storing my number in his phone, promising me he will always back up when he adds someone from now on).

How was he able to get the wrong number? Simple - whoever he called had used our name (Moonstones) in their keywords for their google advert. Because I don't pay to advertise on google they automatically came above me. He didn't bother to check properly, assuming because he'd only put 'moonstones florist' in, he would find me at the top. Had he put "fareham florist" or "moonstones fareham" he could easily have got anyone who uses the tag "fareham", however, just typing in our name, he should only have got us. It's a tactic employed by a lot of businesses, and while it's totally unethical, it's not illegal. Anyone, anywhere, can use the name of another business to direct customers to their business, and there's nothing any of us can do about it. From Bournemouth to Brighton, Brading to Basingstoke, anyone in could put Moonstones florist, Moonstones Ltd (our official name) or Flowers by Moonstones (all names customers use when searching for us) into their keywords, therefore directing customers away from us, to them. It doesn't just have to be florists; builders, bakers and butchers can do so too if they wish - in fact anyone who pays for a google advert can do it. 

A few years ago M & S started to use interflora words in their keywords, so they took them to court - ironic really when several of their members all over the country were using their own local competitors business names in their keywords to siphon off orders to themselves. A lot of 'order gatherers' employ these tactics too (these are people who set-up websites in their living rooms with photos of flowers on; people who have never stepped foot in a florist, yet they will take orders from unsuspecting customers, duping them into believing they are dealing with a florist, and then spend an hour ringing around shops in the area the order is be delivered, in the hope they can find someone to fulfill the order they have taken). There are many of these companies out there, and most can be found in the paid advert sections (those which appear right at the top of any search page). 

I know, and am fully aware, what they are doing is nothing like having your identity stolen - or is it? These businesses are masquerading as another business for the sole purpose of extorting money from the customers, just as someone who has stolen another's identity masquerades as the person whose identity they have stolen - for the sole purpose of extorting money. It may not cause the same stress as faking a person, but it can be just as damaging. Whilst distressing for anyone who has had it happen to them (I have friends whose identities have been stolen) they usually (in 99.9% of cases) are able to get their money back, have any issues sorted out and dealt with, and can move on with their lives; albeit in a much more cautious manner than before. A business can't recoup so easily. As I've mentioned above, how many people are wandering around out there right now, thinking they've called me and I've let them down? It takes 1000 good reviews to earn you 10 customers, but just 1 bad review to lose you 100. Those figures, to a small business, can be catastrophic. How many people believe they have ordered their loved ones flowers through me, when in fact they have ordered them through someone sitting behind a computer screen in their pyjamas, who has never stepped foot in a florist before? How many shops out there are using their competitors name to (backhandedly) steal customers away? 

I am all for competition; it keeps us all on our toes, makes us constantly think about what we are doing, and can only benefit our customers as we will go out of the way to ensure we never lose a single one. Competition is key to any successful business. However, competition should always be fair. It should be about who is the best, provides the best, put's themselves out the best. It should never be about using someone else's name to siphon off customers to your shop/business or web page. Not only is that unethical, it's also extremely sad. I'd rather earn my customers through my hard work and service, than duping them into believing they are dealing with someone else. 

Still, in a weird way I suppose I (and all those other businesses who are being spoofed) should be flattered. If another business has to use mine (their) name to get themselves customers, rather than earning them on their own merit, then I (we) must be doing something right :) 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Best laid plans :)

Goodness me; 5 weeks into the new year already and all my plans to update our social media pages daily (or every other day J ) and to write some waffle to fill the blog each week, have (as always) gone completely out of the window J

What a start to 2018 we have had. If the rest of the year continues in the same vein (not sure if that is the right vein to be using – I’m sure someone out there will correct me if I am wrong!!) then this could well be our best year ever. It’s been a phenomenal start, and for that, and each and every customer who has walked through the doors, telephoned an order through, or placed an order online, I am truly grateful and extremely thankful. You are the reason I drag my fat bum out of bed each morning J

The start of this year has also been a beautiful time for flowers (if you follow our Instagram you will have seen the gorgeous green hellebore I had in this week – they were stunning).

The quality we’ve been receiving has been second-to-none, and while flowers are costing more than previous year (the pound doing so poorly against the euro is really affecting prices) I think you will all agree that as with anything, you ‘get what you pay for’.  The 2 photographs below I took this morning; they are from the display hand tied I have in the shop, which I made up on Monday 22nd January. 17 days ago. As you can see they still look as good as the day I made them. Admittedly it is most likely slightly colder in the shop than in your own homes, however, in your homes you would have taken them out of their box by now, conditioned them every few days, and kept them away from heat sources and drafts; I have done nothing to these except top their water up, so in effect we’d be on the ‘same page’. I do still have some carnations indoors that I took home on Christmas Eve.

Spring flowers are coming in thick-and-fast right now too and have been for a few weeks. Double tulips this year have been the best I’ve ever seen in all my hundreds of years in the trade. I guess the dutch had good growing weather. I had some gorgeous double daffodils in for an order yesterday (which were mixed with lilacs and purples – such gorgeous colours together) although I do still prefer to see daffs in a garden (or the side of a road) than in a shop. Of course, a bunch in a vase on your dining or coffee table will always be a welcome sight; I just prefer if they are picked from your own garden. I actually saw some on Tuesday morning in full bloom at the edge of someone’s garden. I know the weather has been a lot milder (until this week) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them out quite-so-early. Our seasons really are causing our flowers to bloom at the wrong time.

I need to apologise to those of you who couldn’t keep track of me the week I was poorly – I’ll put the record straight now on what happened that week, for I have heard so many different reasons as to why I had to close the shop, some of which have made me chuckle and others have made me stand there shaking my head wondering what kind of person could dream up such a thing in the first place? Anyway. The real reason is because I caught chickenpox. I know, at my age! As a result a doctor signed me off sick for 10 days, however, I had orders coming out of my ears, and was busier than a busy person, so I still had to come to work, but, all the time I was contagious I wasn’t allowed to open the shop, hence why it was closed for a week. A couple of you I was able to serve through the closed shop door (sorry for scaring you with my spots J ) but many of you I had to let down by not being here, for once I had completed each day’s orders I did take the advice of my doctor and took myself off home again. I can tell you now I have never experienced anything like it, and would not wish it upon my worst enemy (if I had any, that is J ). We sure do need to be careful what we wish for, because as a child I desperately wanted to catch it so I could have time off like my family and friends were. I never got it, had to sit in school classes on my own while everyone else was off with them (and other childhood diseases). Some 40 years later they decided to finally put in an appearance and I still didn’t get to have time off!  Sorry about the grumpy looking photo, but I was concentrating more on getting the spots in focus than on my expression; this was taken on only my 2nd day. The following morning all the gaps I had between them were filled with more. It’s been over 3 weeks and I still have some.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Firstly, I’d like to start by wishing you all a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2018. I hope Christmas brought you much joy, and your hangovers on New Years Day were minimal J

I’d also like to apologise for the shop being closed between Christmas and New Year – several of you told me off for this yesterday (you know who you are J ) and one customer, on Christmas Eve, called me “unprofessional” because I was closing. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that there are no decent flowers at the markets between Christmas and New Year. Most are what is left over is from the week before Christmas, and as you all know, I will not sell something if it’s not fresh. I could have re-opened on Tuesday 2nd January, however, the wholesalers and markets weren’t open again until the Wednesday, so there was no point in doing so. Anyone who had flowers on Tuesday had to buy them before the 30th January and keep them held over – not something I am prepared to do. The 2nd reason is that in the run-up to Christmas I worked 27 out of 28 consecutive days. Most of these were 14-18 hour days, and all of those were done whilst dealing with a very poorly dog back at home (without my Mum to look after her for me during the hours I was working, I would have had to close the shop, for my pets and my family will always come first). She died on the 22nd December, so I then had to work through my busiest 2 days of the year dealing with an immense sadness; how I didn’t end up sobbing on customer’s shoulders is something I still consider to be a bit of a miracle. 

I also worked consistently last year, averaging 12 hour days, 7 days a week, with just 9 days off during 2017. A few of those were when I treated myself to a little jaunt to Wales, the others were on a bank holiday weekend when I went camping with friends, and I had 2 days off for visits to the vets. The shop is open for a minimum of 47 hours over 6 days each week although I can often be found open an hour before the official time and long after I should have closed. That’s just the hours the shop doors are unlocked for customers. That doesn’t include the hours before I open when I am getting the days flowers conditioned, and orders made up ready for when our driver arrives. That doesn’t include the evenings I am locked in the office catching up on paperwork (I hate paperwork; I’m a florist for a reason!) so when the opportunity of being able to close for 8 days arose (thanks to the lack of flowers) I grasped it with both hands and made the most of each and every second I wasn’t here (having said that I still found myself at the shop on 3 of the 8 days). I’m not complaining, I love my job, I love this little shop, I love my customers (well, most of them!!) and in the current climate as things stand, I know I am very lucky to have a business which is running as well as it is, but sometimes, I also need a little bit of “Sarah” time. I need to recharge my batteries, so I can continue to provide each and every one of my customers with the service they have become accustomed to. I’m sorry to anyone who was annoyed at me for not being open, and hope you understand my reasons? J

On the whole, 2017 ended up being an extremely good year for us, however, there were a few moments (weeks) during the early part of summer where Clive and I did sit down and have a chat about whether it was really worth it. Not because the shop was quiet or we weren’t seeing enough custom. It was because suddenly the wholesale cost of flowers rose far higher than they should have done. I went from paying 21p per stem for a certain flower, to 57p. One wholesaler also  changed their free delivery minimum order spend from £50 to £200. There were a lot of growers who had faced a nightmare trying to battle weather conditions to be able to produce enough flowers for everyone to get their share – they had to put their prices up to cover their losses. The cost of fuel went up (when doesn’t it?) so the costs of shipping flowers from around the world to the markets went up, thus affecting the wholesale prices. This meant we were faced with a dilemma. Either the price of everything in the shop had to go up (at which point our customers would have had to spend more than usual) or we absorb the extra costs (which is what we ended up doing). This is fine on a £30/£40 handtied bouquet, however, when it came to some of our summer weddings we actually ended up losing money. Once a bride has paid, I cannot then ask her to hand over more money because the wholesale prices have risen, so a lot of weddings ended up costing me more than I had taken. A lesson learned.

I did lose out on a several large weddings and lot of funeral work in the early part of 2017 where homeworkers were undercutting me by quite some margin. Most pay their fair share of taxes and insurances (which are still a lot lower than those of us who have shop premises) yet there are some who pay none, therefore allowing them the privilege of being able to undercut those of us with shop premises who have to pay umpteen different taxes, insurances, business utilities (which are always higher than personal home utilities) and numerous other bills a normal house doesn’t have to worry about. Oddly, later in the year a lot of brides found their way back to me as they had been let down (almost at the last minute) by the homeworkers (and I believe a couple of different shops also) who had decided “enough was enough” and had closed down their businesses. One homeworker outside of our area who covered a lot of hotels and wedding venues didn’t even give her brides a phone call; she literally emailed them, said she wasn’t “doing it any more” and left them without flowers for their wedding. One of her brides came to me with just 7 days notice (luckily I was able to fit her in). I had a family in for funeral flowers who had been let down, with the funeral being the very next day.  Because the homeworkers weren’t registered businesses, the brides have no way of getting their money back, without the extra expense of taking the people who let them down, to court. Please be careful when ordering your flowers; as with anything in life, if it appears to be “too-good-to-be-true” then chances are, it is.

2018 is only 4 days in (how has it flown by so fast already?) but it’s already shaping up to be a great year. 

Monday, 9 October 2017


It's that time of year again: autumn, cold temperatures, frost's creeping in, colours changing on a daily basis. Such a beautiful time to get out and about on a day off (what's one of those again?) and explore areas of this wonderful country of ours (or yours, if you are reading this overseas). 

It is also "that" time of year again. You know the one? That's right. I've sent Clive up into the attic where he's fought cobwebs, been attacked by a giant cactus (one day I will get around to using it in a window display). He's had Cordelia's hand smack him on the back of his head (she doesn't get out much these days). He's dealt with dust, and banged his head on more that one occasion (our attic is not very high). He did all this, so that I could have down the boxes of Halloween bits and pieces, because it's "That time of year again" :) 

Those of you who are regular visitors to the shop, who know me, or who just follow our social media bits and pieces, will know how much I love Halloween (although not the trick-or-treating part). Every year I forward plan (I already have ideas for next year). Every year the plans I had go completely out of the window and I make it up as I go along.

This year, originally, I was going for a green and white theme - I know, not typical Halloween colours, but where's the fun in doing the same as everyone else? However, after my camping expedition when Vlad joined us, I changed my mind, opting instead for a Hawaiian Theme - Vlad really does rock a grass skirt. As a result, this year everything is bright pink, turquoise, yellow and orange, with a bit of 'traditional' thrown into the loop. 

It still didn't go exactly to plan (I'm not entirely sure anything ever does) however, I was quite pleased with the finished result and have had some lovely comments. The best reaction though was when a lady came in, looked around and said "Wow; I love this". I don't mind admitting I committed one of the '7 deadly sins' and felt quite proud of myself at that moment :) 

In this job we spend a lot of time being serious, dealing with such sad occasions, it's nice to be able to show that floristry can also have a fun side to it, whilst remembering that we are dealing with sadness, so everything has to be kept tasteful. I think, this year, I've "pulled it off" - ooh, there's that sin again. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Flower Care

Prepare yourselves, for I am going to have a "little moan" ! :) 

As you all know, we get our flowers in on a daily basis; we are so lucky to be able to do so (I know many shops cannot) so this gives us a slight advantage over some competitors - never a bad thing :) The flowers are shipped over from the markets in Holland, to our wholesalers who make every effort to ensure they arrive with us in tip-top condition (often they come to us already in water). 

Every single flower that arrives in the shop is then conditioned by myself (or anyone else who may be here helping). That means any leaves which will be below the water line are removed (thorns also) their bottoms are then cut and they are placed into fresh water (no new flowers go into old water). Before a vase is filled it is scrubbed with bleach (and a loo brush - don't knock it, they get into the bottom and work well :) ) before being filled with tap water. No flower food (or any other kind of powder/liquid/coins! is added - only water). No flower is in the shop for longer than 48 hours to ensure we are always supplying the best quality and freshness we can (if it comes in Monday morning and it's not sold by Tuesday teatime it doesn't get sold - Tuesday morning/Wednesday teatime; so-on-and-so-forth).

Once they have left the shop though, it is up to you 'the recipient' to ensure you make every effort also, to keep your flowers looking as good as you possibly can, for as long as possible. Every single delivery that leaves the shop does so with a "care card" attached; these are not attached 'just-for-fun". 99.99% of the time if I get a complaint, it is because the care instructions have not been followed (I can't tell you how frustrating (and insulting) it is to us (the florist) when we have to face this issue - thankfully, not often). The amount of times, a week later, I have been told instructions "have been followed" on a hand-tied, only to find the flowers are still in the box they were delivered in - had the instructions actually been 'followed' those flowers would have been out of the box after 3/4 days.

Below, I'm going to show you an example of the difference it makes if you follow the instructions. 

Last Monday, I got in some beautiful blue hydrangea and some oxypetalum for one of our weekly account customers (having dealt with them for over 10 years it can get a bit difficult coming up with 'something different' and hydrangea were not something I had sent them before - purely because they are so expensive). Sadly, no matter how many times they are asked to make sure they 'top-up-the-water' they often come back to me the following week looking in a sorry state. That's when I got the idea for this blog; I knew I would be able to show you an example of how important caring for your flowers is. As I was only using half a bunch of each for the customer (and because I knew being so expensive I was unlikely to be able to sell the remainders) I bought the rest for myself. I made both the vase for the customer, and the one I was purchasing, as identical as was possible. Below is a photo of their vase before it was delivered.

Before any of you are wondering why I "bought" the remaining flowers and didn't just take them home, the answer is simple. Just because the shop is owned by me does not mean I have the right to take whatever I fancy. I've not paid for those flowers, the shop has, therefore if I was to take them, I would in effect be stealing from the business. I have a few friends who find it hard to understand that I pay for everything I take from the shop, but it's not my money that has purchased those flowers to begin with, it's the shop's money, so therefore I have no right to just take them.

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the vases. Knowing today, the one from this particular contract customer would be returning to the shop (they have fresh every Monday) I decided to do a comparison, so took photo's of the vase I have at home. Obviously I have cared for the ones I have at home and followed the instructions I send out with all the orders. I think you will agree there is a massive difference between the 2 vases (the photo's from my vase are on the left; the contract customers  are on the right.

I'm sure you'll all agree that the difference is quite noticeable.? I know it can be inconvenient to have to change the water in your vase every few days, and that you don't always feel like scrubbing the vase before you fill it back up, but I hope the example above shows you the difference your making that little bit of effort will make to how long your flowers last. Had a general customer received the vase last week and done nothing to their flowers I think it's safe-to-say I would be looking at a complaint this morning. Please remember, we don't put the care cards in your envelope (or attached to your bouquet) just for show - they are there for a reason. We want you to be able to enjoy your flowers for as long as it is possible. We also put a lot of thought and research into our care cards before we sat  down to write them - please don't make that effort go unrewarded (for either of us)  :)


Monday, 24 July 2017

Flower of the month

As I am sure you aware, just as there are certain planets and birthstones associated with specific months, there are also particular flowers - you can find a list on our website; click here to be taken to it.

This month it's the turn of the Delphinium, the name of which derives from the latin word for Dolphin (there is also a star constellation names Delphinus which can be seen by the naked eye in the western hemisphere (not sure about the southern hemisphere).

The delphinium flower is one of my personal favourites. One of my great aunts lived in a small cottage on the outskirts of Berkshire where she kept and tended a traditional cottage style garden. Her back stone and flint wall would disappear from view  at this time of year, due to the array of magnificent delphinium she would grow. She had them in so many different colours and sizes. From blue and purple, to pink and pale mauve - proper delphinium too, not the larkspur variety, which is also part of the same family (Larkspur is great for drying and pot-pourri but the worst flower to put in a vase, as the petals drop everywhere no matter how fresh they are!!) My aunt had Delphinium with a black centre, yellow centre and even one with a green centre. How she kept the slugs from devouring them I will never know - she swore she never needed to use slug pellets or any kind of chemicals to keep them at bay; I'm not entirely convinced. I remember one year a particular blue variety grew to be over 5ft tall; it was phenomenal. A striking bright royal blue colour with flower heads lower down the stem almost as big as a carnation.

As a cut flower we aren't able to purchase a wide variety, mainly just the smaller blue - volkerfrieden being the most popular; a perfect royal blue colour. The wholesalers this week have had a white and lavender, both of which they have given no name for so I can't tell you what variety. However, aside from the blue I have mentioned and another called butterfly (also blue) the delphinium we receive are about 30 inches from bottom to top with the flowers themselves ranging from the size of a 50p piece, to a 5p piece. As beautiful as they are the flower sections are often to heavy for the hollow stems and they can snap in half very easily - this is why, if I can avoid using other colours in weddings, I will.

According to Wikipedia they belong to the Ranunculae family which is made up of over 300 different species. "All members of the 'Delphinium' genus are toxic to humans and livestock" That sounds about right; anything so beautiful would have to have a fault somewhere! I've happily cut these flowers and used them in many an order over the years without any kind of issue, however, I'd advise you always wash your hands thoroughly after you've handled them and never ingest them in any way - please seek medical advice immediately if you do ingest any part of them (flower, sap, leaves).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sweet Peas

The humble sweet pea - small, delicate, beautifully scented; growing like crazy in the gardens of many people at this very minute. I love them, to me they are the epitome of summer and the one flower I think of when asked what I would suggest for "summer flowers", however, while I would think of them, I will never suggest them, for they are also one of the most expensive flowers on the market right now.

Crazy isn't it? A flower which is growing so freely. A flower I could pop home to my garden, where I would find half a dozen stems ready for me to cut and use. An array of colour would be before me. Yet instead, I had to purchase the ones I needed from a wholesaler, where I paid an extortionate amount of money. 

The reason for the huge amount I paid? I wanted just one specific colour, which any of you who have ever grown sweets peas will know, is virtually impossible to guarantee. 

For this one small bunch you can see in the above photograph - 10 little stems - I paid £8.40 (84p per stem). That's the price I paid, not the price I would sell them at. You're sat there now digesting how something so small and currently in abundance can cost so much, aren't you? I know I was when I placed my order for them, and that's not the best part. I wanted just 1 bunch (10 stems) yet had to order 6 bunches (60 stems). One wholesaler quoted me £1.11 per stem and I would still have had to have the 60 stems.

You might be asking yourself right now "Why bother?" to purchase them in the first place when I now have 50 stems left over, that I can do nothing with (even if I put them out at cost price, who is going to pay such an amount for so little?). I am wondering that myself too, but when a bride specifically asks for a certain flower, isn't it down to me (her florist) to try and make sure she has exactly what she wants on her 'special day' ? (I also didn't think they would be so expensive when I took the order). With the exception of hydrangeas (a flower I always try to talk a bride out of having in her bouquet - cut one, keep it out of water for a couple of hours and see what happens to it! that is not the look a bride wants in her photographs) I will try to source the exact flowers a bride requires. It's part of the service, it's part of what being a florist is all about. However, after today I may have to have a re-think. 

Thankfully I was able to use a couple up in a small presentation bouquet I was asked to do (so I shouldn't got bankrupt this week!! :) )

Next time you want to place an order for just 1 item please try to remember that for you to have that 1 stem, we may have to purchase 20, 30, even 60 stems to get 'your one'; please don't be too unkind with us if we have to charge you a little more than you think you should be paying, because if we can't sell the excess we are left with, we're basically just throwing our money in the bin, and I promise you that florists are not making 'easy money'. You'll probably find 97% of florists earn less than minimum wage. 

Why do we bother doing the job when we make so little out of it? Because we love what we do - at least I do, I can't speak for anyone else. How many of you get up in the morning genuinely looking forward to going to work? I have friends who earn 10 times the amount I do for working 20/30 hours each week less then I work and they are miserable. I'm never going to drive a Rolls Royce, I'm never going to have a large garden with heated swimming pool, but I go home at the end of every day happy, because I get to do something I love (ok, that's a bit of a fib, I don't go home every day happy, there are sometimes I may have had 'one-of-those-days with one-too-many bridezillas 😁😁

As for Sweet Peas; if you have them in your garden right now, go out, pick some, pop them in a vase and think about how much money you've just saved yourself 😁😁

Monday, 26 June 2017

Wedding Season

Goodness; it would appear after last week's blog entry, I have a lot to live up to - no pressure, or anything. The shop's never had such a good response to a single entry before; ever. Shared 48 times from the blog itself, it was viewed by 17757 people in 32 hours - that number is still rising. Thank you to every single person who shared it (I saw it shared on facebook, twitter and google+; we even had a couple of shares on tumblr - phenomenal) the only place it wasn't shared from was Instagram :) Thank you to all of you who took the time to contact the shop (and me personally) regarding it. It's always a worry when I sit down to write something that the wording is going to come out wrong. It's so easy to think about what you wish to say, yet when it comes to the written word things can very easily be taken out of context, or read in a way that was not intended. As all the feedback received has been positive I'm taking that as a good thing - I have no doubt if someone took issue with it they would have contacted me without hesitation. If you didn't get around to reading it or have just stumbled across this blog by accident, you can find it by Clicking Here.

Today's entry is about a wedding; "it's the time of year for them", or so they say (who the 'they' are I don't know). Maybe back-in-the-day the summer was the 'time-of-year' but not these days. We have weddings practically every single weekend. 52/53 weekends each year. Having weddings throughout the year definitely helps us, that's for sure. My rule is to never take on more than 3 wedding bookings on any one day - sometimes if the 2 already booked are large ones (church, reception, lots of bridesmaids etc) I will not add a 3rd to the mix, not just because of the work and time involved, but also because it's not fair on our brides. They need to know they are important to us; taking on more work for the sake of a few extra pounds in the till is not taking their big day seriously. Having said that, I have in the past taken on 8 weddings in one day - only 1 of them was big, the rest just a couple of bridesmaids, some church pews/pedestals and a few reception flowers. 3 of them were getting married at the same church so I only had to make one lot of church arrangements that they happily shared between them, which was lovely. Would I ever take on so many again? Not a chance; I learned a lesson that day, hence why a maximum of 3 now. I do feel bad turning brides away (sometimes!! :) ) It's never nice to turn down business, however I am sure the brides I do have to refuse understand; I'm sorry if you are a bride I've said no to.

I actually only had 1 wedding this passed weekend - a very unusual occurrence, with a bride who wanted mixed summer flowers; mixed not just in variety, in colour also. There was everything from pink to cream, purple to orange. My stress levels rose a little bit with the weather being as hot as it was, due to the fact some of the flowers do not usually react well to high temperatures (crazy really when you think all flowers are grown in hot greenhouses). I'm hoping everything held up ok for the day; they all looked good, perky and ready to tackle the heat when they left the shop.I did have a mad panic moment when I answered the phone shortly after the bride had received her flowers. I knew as soon as she spoke it was my bride; my heart stopped, I felt sick to my stomach, waiting for her to say she didn't like it, or I had got something wrong. The sigh of relief when she told me she had to phone to say "thank you" because I'd got everything "perfect" could probably have been heard over on the Island.

A while back I was asked if there is a particular way I work when I'm making up wedding flowers. A good question. One I can answer too :) If the bride is having a tied bouquet then I always begin with her bouquet, before moving on any bridesmaids. I then make the buttonholes, followed by the corsages. If the bride is carrying a shower bouquet I start with the bridesmaids, following the same order from them as with the tieds, making the bridal bouquet last. The reason for this is because a shower bouquet is pretty much out of water so needs to be made as close to the wedding time as is possible. They are made in holders these days filled with foam but the water drains from those fairly quickly and no amount of spraying the flowers will make much different - especially at this time of year. I then make the table decorations for guest tables. If I am decorating the church those flowers will be made next (often these are taken the reception after so serve 2 purposes) before moving on to any other flowers at the reception (window sills, bars, pedestals). Then the top table gets made. The reason for leaving this until last is so that I can add to it any extra flowers I have left over from the rest of the church/reception flowers to save them going to waste - they will, after all, be the most photographed flowers on the day after the immediate bridal party. The 'thank you' bouquets are the last items I make. Once they are complete I know the wedding is 'good-to-go'. A few last minute checks before the drivers head off and then the panic sets in. Right up until the very moment I know the wedding is taking place I worry each time the phone rings that something may not be right.

The first time I made the hanging flower balls we set up in marquees I panicked all weekend; I even checked the local news sites for I was terrified the ropes the marquee people supply to keep them in place weren't going to be strong enough, and one of the balls was positioned directly above the bride. I know they say any publicity is good publicity, but a flower ball crashing down on a bride at her reception is not really the kind of publicity any florist needs.

Monday, 19 June 2017

How much?

Two of things I often hear after a customer has asked me to quote them for a bespoke tribute is “I didn’t think it would be so expensive” or “really, that’s dear?” They're the ones that actually take the time to reply; so often I get asked to quote for items via email and never receive a word back. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do get where they are coming from; I often shock myself when I work out the costs for an item, yet what they don’t realise is just how much the raw materials cost me. A spray or posy in foam has minimal cost – the tray to hold the foam and the foam itself working out to roughly £3 – which is why they can be so much cheaper to make than say a 3D Submarine can be. I can’t just go to a wholesaler (or other business) and purchase the frame for a bespoke piece in the same way I can buy a packet of spray trays or dishes and a box of foam. A bespoke tribute has to be made from scratch.

Below I've added an example of what I mean – before I continue please be aware I am using the recent Thomas the Tank Engine tribute I made as my example; the customer who ordered this did not once quibble the cost of it and has emailed me a lovely 'thank you' for making it. I’m using it purely because it is the most recent bespoke item I have made and I have a copy of my costs close to hand. In fact I’ve screen shot my actual working out figures I kept as I was making it for you to see exactly how much the tribute cost me.

Shocking, isn’t it? These are not retail costs either; they are the price I paid for the materials. I also never included the ribbon I used on the edge of the design sheet, the wires, the paper, printer ink or laminating sheet. You will also see I have not included my time. This is the bit that really gets me when I am told I’m “ripping off” someone or over charging them. I charged my customer £225 for this tribute. That leaves just £20.21. This amount is my ‘profit’ if you’d like to call it that. However, what about my time and hourly rate? That has to be factored into the equation also and in this instance is grouped in with the 'profit'. Let's face it, in reality I made no profit at all on this tribute and my hourly rate works out at just £5.52 per hour (the tribute took in total roughly 4 hours to make). That’s £1.68 below minimum wage for someone of my age (I know, I know, hard to believe I’m over 17 J ) That remaining £20.21 isn't wages either though for out of any money left there are bills to pay. Electric, Phone, Internet, Water, Sewerage, Business insurances - shop, personal liability, building and contents; there is rent to pay, drivers to pay, an accountant, hmrc, bank charges, credit card charges, rental for the credit card terminal we process debit/credit cards through.There are website charges, online payment charges, council tax, fire extinguisher servicing. The list is endless and it all has to come out of that small amount made on items we make. 

Now, let'a just say I was to add a 50% mark-up to the cost of my raw materials – this would become the retail price (I am aware many businesses have more than a 100% mark-up from their wholesale to retail prices) – that takes the total which should have been charged to £306.03. Then let’s add an hourly rate for a skilled worker; this is where it gets tricky. How much is my time worth? I actually did some proper research into how much a skilled worker with decent qualifications in their field of work should charge. I could only dream of such money. If you look below you’ll see that I’ve listed some different average hourly rates for people who (aside from the builder) aren’t even creating anything. Some of them are extortionate yet we all pay without too much complaining because we know they are providing a service we want - remember this is just their hourly rate; the amount does not include any raw materials they use, it is purely the cost for their time. I figured with my experience, qualifications and the fact I am providing a bespoke service I could easily command £55 per hour (if not more) although for the purpose of this example that’s the figure I’m going with. Add 4 hours at this amount and you get £220. This figure then gets added to the material costs and we have a grand total of £526.03 - £301.03 less than I charged.

I am sure there are people out there who could make the item’s cheaper if you are happy to have gaps in between their flowers exposing the foam, or you are ok for their spray paint not to cover all the flowers. I’ve heard of some floral creators keeping costs down by reusing foam from tributes/arrangements they (and others) have previously made that they've taken from the church/crematorium after the mourners have left – yes, really, there are some very unscrupulous people out there. I could never do that; neither could/would any decent florist.

The same principle and costs apply to anything that’s not every day run-of-the-norm, including weddings. It’s not just limited to funeral tributes. Every single wedding is individual and unique to each bride. While we can give a ball-park figure on average costs, until we have met our brides to discuss their requirements it’s very difficult to give an exact figure; we have to factor in the time of year (how easy/difficult it is to get the flowers they require). We have to factor in how big we believe the demand may be for their specific flowers (certain times of the year the demand for specific colours/flowers can be massively higher than other times). We have to try and allow for the exchange rate fluctuations (I got caught out after Brexit having quoted for several weddings to then find when it came to purchasing the flowers they were costing me anywhere between 35% – 289% more than previously - I lost a lot of money on at least half a dozen weddings because of this). We guarantee our brides the best quality flowers for their big day, often ordering weeks in advance having spoken to growers and wholesalers about the best length to purchase to get the size flower head we need. We could just take a chance a day or 2 before and hope to get what the bride requires (or substitute with something similar) in the way I know a lot of the cheaper wedding flower makers do (I’m sorry I can’t call them florists for they really aren’t) but I’d rather lose a bride to one of these cheaper workers than supply them with anything less than the very best for their big day. No bride deserves 2nd grade flowers.

Next time you ask a florist to a quote for something a 'bit different' or that is specific just to you, please try to remember that no decent, self-respecting, hard working florist will ever set out to rip you off. We are all just trying to keep the wolves at bay (like everyone else) by ensuring we can cover our bills and maybe, just maybe, take home a few pounds each month for ourselves (I believe these few pounds are called 'wages'?). We don't like the costs involved any more than you do. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

On the up

Today we received our "end-of-year" figures back from our accountant - we could have had them a lot earlier but I hate paperwork so put it off until the very last minute (it's also hard to find the time when I'm so busy in the shop too - at least that's one excuse I can get away with 😃) 

It's always a scary moment opening them up for as much as I can keep a weekly check on how well things are going - very well, thanks for asking 😄 - I'm still never entirely sure what's going on until the accountant gets back to me with just how well the year has been. I'm extremely happy to report that our business has increased by a whopping 10%. Now, to some of you that may not seem a lot but to a small business tucked away on the outskirts of a town as we are, that's a phenomenal amount. Also, when you take into consideration how one of the "big 4" supermarkets was down by 27%, another by 8.2% and shops like M and S over 10% down on profits (although they were up by 2% on sales) it shows what a great year we have had to have gained as much as 10%. Year on year we've grown and as much as some of that is down to us (the work, quality, price and choice) a lot of it is down to you - our customers. You are the ones who come back to us year on year, you are the ones who tell your friends about us; let us also remember that unlike the big boys and some other independent shops we do not advertise anywhere; nobody gets a single penny from us to advertise/promote us. We also do not offer businesses an incentive of any kind to use/promote us. All of the people (and other businesses) who recommend us do so purely because they like the flowers we have provided them with and they deem us worthy of a recommendation. They haven't been offered a single thing to do so. 

I know if we had taken up the offer's some of the local funeral directors have made us we could have increased our margins by maybe 50/60% but when they are asking anything from 20 - 40% from us to recommend us to their clients. we refuse their offer; to accept would mean putting our prices up to you (our customers) to cover the amounts we would have to pay them. That is totally unacceptable to us. To let them charge you £100 for something we would charge you £50 for is wrong, for we would only receive £50 from them if they were to take the order from you whilst you are at their offices organising your loved ones funeral. If they were to send you to us we would still have to charge you more to cover the costs they would demand from us for them sending you to us. Thankfully, we have a couple of directors who do recommend us; for doing so they get a "Thank you". Nothing more, nothing less. 

A prime example of the costs involved and charges made via funeral directors happened to us recently. We had a family in the shop who were organising some flowers. The funeral director had already told they would sort out the spray for the top of the coffin. Whilst going through everything I talked to them about what they were having and they asked me what I would charge for it. I would have quoted them £120. They were charged £395. My friend's Mum passed away in October of last year. For a garland around the edges of her wicker casket with a few roses they were quoted £280. It cost me (my customer) £62 for the exact same thing. As you can see I'm losing out on quite a bit of business and money by not entering into agreements with funeral directors and other businesses but I could not sleep at night if I knew I was overcharging people for flowers they are not receiving. 

We're quite excited about the year ahead now, wondering if we can top our 10%? Wedding bookings are on the rise (so many Tuesday and Wednesday weddings happening these days) and our internet orders seem to be doubling on a daily basis, every day. Don't get me wrong it's not all happiness and sunshine. We still have the odd day (sometimes week) where we're sitting around scratching our heads wondering why we don't have more orders but thankfully those are very few and far between - and we're completely honest sometimes it's not such a bad thing for it means the floors get a scrub and the kitchen gets to look like a kitchen again instead of a dumping ground.

Thank you, all of you who have chosen to trust us with your orders. Without you we would have nothing. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

First of 2017 :)

Firstly, I’d like to wish you all a very happy New Year; I hope that you all had a wonderful festive season.

Secondly, apologies (once again) for my tardiness. I had all these great plans to keep this and the social media pages up together on a regular basis, yet time just seems to whizz by and I find once again, that I have lapsed in all manner of social departments – it’s not just work that’s affected either. My personal life falls by the wayside too, not that I am complaining because it means the shop is nice and busy, or is it just really bad time management on my part? That could be some of the reason too!! Great time management is most definitely why I am able to sit here and waffle away to you all right now for the shop has been exceptionally busy since the start of the year.

I don’t mind admitting that I was dreading Christmas now that Rebecca has found full-time employment elsewhere. Finding myself completely alone (many times I burst into my amazing rendition of “All by myself” in my best Celine Dion voice, of course). Knowing how busy it has been over the previous 9 Christmases that we’ve been here (has it really been that long?) and that with 2 of us we have struggled at times to keep up with the demand I thought being alone would mean that I would pretty much leave home at 7.30 on the Monday morning and arrive back there at 12.30 on organised if I put my mind to it. In fact at one point I found myself wondering what to do next. This then set off alarm bells that maybe I was finding myself with free time because I wasn’t busy enough Christmas Eve. However, that was not the case and I was able to prove to myself that I can get– thankfully working out the figures after proved my worries were unfounded. In fact we were up 37% on business in the same period last year, whilst being down on staff by 50%. Maths was never my strong point so I’ll let you work out how much extra I ended up doing on my own J. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed it all – I kept worrying over Christmas that I’d missed something or forgotten a book of orders somewhere, whilst knowing there was no way I would have done such a thing.

What got me through and kept me on top of everything? Lists, lots of lists which grew at an alarming rate each day. I was never one for lists in the past as I used to remember things so easily, however, these days with more things to remember I find when it comes to the shop, I can’t manage without them – I always put the things I don’t want to do at the very top too, that way they are over and done with first and don’t need to be thought about again. Who said I have to keep them because I’m getting older? Hush now, that’s not the reason at all J

Of course we couldn’t do anything and certainly wouldn’t be the business we are today without you, our customers, so once again, thank you, to each and every one of you that has helped me to make the shop the great little business it is. I know some of you were dreading going back to work, I’m so lucky I don’t have that dread and that is all down to you. Thank you. Here’s to 2017 being even better that 2016.