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.