Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Porsche, anyone?

Those of you who follow us on social media - Thank you; those of you who don't. Why don't you?  :) will know that last week I was asked to create a Porsche for a funeral tribute. 

Just for future reference if you look to the right of this screen, you'll see some logo's; clicking on any of those will take your through to the social media page they represent - then you can follow us too >>>>>>>.

Anyway; back to the Porsche. I've made a tribute for the same customer previously, so he knew he could trust me to do-my-best for him, which is also why he came back to me this time around. He knew he'd left it a little late to place the order, so we discussed various options, with me agreeing that making one was not a problem, however it would have to be in a 2D style - similar to the alien below. When making one of those, the main image is raised from the base, graduating from the edges to the centre to give it an 'almost' 3D effect, whilst being flat at the same time. 

Whenever tasked with any tribute that requires spray painting (Chrysants - which are the flowers we use for based work - only come in White, Yellow, a Pinky/Mauve colour, and occasionally bronze) we add the flower for all the coloured bits the day before. To get the green on the alien with no white showing through took 11 coats of paint. It takes roughly 45 minutes between each layer to allow for drying; when having to do several colours at once, things can get extremely messy (and the smell; oh my, that is not nice).

So, the morning before the funeral service arrived and I stood looking at a 24" square foam base, ready and waiting for me to draw out the Porsche shape onto it. As I grabbed hold of my pen to begin drawing, it struck me that I had time, and enough foam bricks floating about, to make a 3D one instead (which is what the customer really wanted in-the-first-place). And so I began.

At Christmas I buy in pine cones, baubles and all manner of glitzy bits to add to hand tied, baskets and table decorations. These come to me on small wooden canes, similar to the ones you buy in garden centres and hardware stores to stake up your smaller plants. They are always longer than I need, and so I keep what is left, using them to anchor odd bits of foam to each other, and to the bases, when making a 3D tribute.

The hardest part when it comes to carving the shape out, is not the shape itself, but remembering that it needs to have flowers added once cut. So often I'll look at the shape, be chuffed to bits with it (and, being totally, quite proud of myself) only to find I've been a donut and forgotten that it's not going to look the same once the flowers are on; adding them changes the proportions, so at times there can be some bad language thrown around the shop!

Depending on the size of the tribute I am making, I will sometimes leave the silver cello I use for where the windows will be, however, for this tribute they were there only for me to keep the shape when it came to adding the flowers. Once the bodywork had been sprayed (8 layers of paint went onto this) the silver came out and I replaced with plain white Chrysant. The reason I didn't/couldn't leave the silver in place is because of the size of the car itself, and the size of the Chrysant; once the flowers were in place they were quite large and the silver ended about 3/4 of an inch from where it should have been. Had the tribute been bigger, or the Chrysant not so thick I would have left it. 

All that was left, once it had been sprayed, was to add the finished touches (headlights, wheel trims, wipers and wing mirrors) and then I was able to call it, complete.

Considering I had never made one before (in fact, I think this was my first ever car) and that I was originally only making it in 2D form, I don't mind admitting I was really pleased with the end result.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Questions - and Answers

Recently, I was invited along to give a demonstration at a locally run club; whilst there, chatting as I was working, several people in the ‘audience’ asked me questions about being a florist, and owning a shop, which I answered. I love it when people interact with me in such a way.

As it was, it transpired one of the gentlemen present recorded the conversation, and he has just emailed me over a transcribed version; I thought it would be an interesting piece to share with you. Some of it you may have heard/read, before; some of it you may not.

I’ve copied them to this blog in the order they were emailed to me, save for one question, which I wanted to put first (mainly because I know a lot of people won’t bother to read to the end!!) and while it was a way down the list of questions I was asked, to me, it is possibly the most important; the one which sums up ‘being a florist’.


What annoys you most?

Oh my, where to start? (a rumble of laughter echoed around the room before the question had a post note added, saying “in regard to being a florist”).

That’s an easy one to answer. People who believe that it’s an easy job; that I’m just “playing at my hobby” all day. I am fully aware no offence is meant when it is said – several times each week – yet the perception floristry is an easy life really couldn’t be further from the truth. I am aware, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a hard job either, but it’s not all pretty-pretty in any way, shape or form.

Our customers, and the public on-the-whole, don’t see those late nights when you’re trying to get flowers finished for an early funeral the next morning and you find the lilies you got in 10 days before, for the all lily tribute, are still not open and they need to be or the tribute isn’t going to look how the customer wanted it to, and when it comes to funerals, we have to get it right. Just this summer, on one of the days when the temperatures reached over 30’c, I had to put the heating on in the office to try and get some to open. Same with weddings; often brides want lilies in vases, and as that is all they are having we have to ensure they open, or the desired effect won’t be created. We have no control over flowers at all, and they often put-us-in-our-place, reminding us they are a natural organism which nobody can control.

Our customers aren’t there in the morning when you open the emails from your wholesaler to find flowers you ordered with them weeks ago, they were unable to get. The day before a wedding recently, I had a call saying “you know you ordered 200 of those roses? Well, we could only get 140”. I had a bride expecting 200 specific roses, yet 60 of them I was unable to get hold of. Admittedly, our T’s and C’s do state we cannot always guarantee an exact flower, and occasionally we must make a substitution, but that doesn’t make it any easier; that could potentially ruin a brides wedding day. Then there are the times we open a wrap of flowers to find half of them are broken, or have been crushed in transit, or (even worse) are rotting in the middle. The outside of the wrap can look perfect so you’re none-the-wiser until you unwrap them. People seem to forget that flowers are a natural, living thing; we have no control over them. I recently had a complaint because the stems of some flowers weren’t dead straight. Because of this I then had to re-write all my care instructions, to ensure I added that the straightness of flowers cannot be guaranteed. But hey, I’m just “playing at my hobby”

Our customers aren’t in the shop when we arrive at 7am (and earlier some days) to find the flowers which are meant to be waiting for us, so we can get the mornings orders made up before the shop door opens, haven’t arrived. Not quite so stressful if for delivery as unless it’s a funeral, we never guarantee a time, but when you’ve had a customer in at 4.30 the evening before, demanding you get them a specific flower by 8.30 the next morning, and those flowers haven’t arrived, things can get a little tense – yes, we do have many customers like that, and yet, apparently, we are just “playing at our hobby”.

How about those days when we’re knee deep in water – this happens often thanks to vases not always being as stable as they should be, and is most un-delightful on a cold, winters morning – trying to get an order made up for delivery, with several lined up behind to be made for customers who have pre-ordered when someone comes in the shop, demanding you stop what you are doing to make them something to take-away “now”. Just the other week, on a Friday, I opened the door at 8.30 (as usual) and all that day’s orders were ready when I did so. By 8.45 I had taken 7 phone calls from people wanting me to get them flowers ready to collect anywhere between 9 – 9.30. Halfway through making those orders a gentleman walked in and told me he wanted “flowers in a water bubble to take away now”. When I explained I had to finish the pre-orders I’d taken first but should be able to get him something ready by 9.45 he got abusive, nasty and quite threatening with me. I tried so nicely to explain that it wasn’t fair for me to stop what I was doing and make his order up in that instant, as my other customers had taken the time to pre-order with me (albeit not giving me that much time) and asked how he would feel if he’d ordered with me earlier and his order wasn’t ready when he arrived to collect. I won’t repeat the words he spoke to me for they were foul, and I was extremely grateful when another regular customer, who is a very solidly built chap came in. But hey, I was just “playing at my hobby”, right?

Our customers aren’t always around the when drunken men come in a Friday after they’ve been in the pub all afternoon; they’re loud, they’re rowdy, they always want what we haven’t got and unfortunately some of them can be quite menacing. I’ve had a guy stand the other side of my workbench holding one of my knives trying to intimidate me before. I had a whole family once come into the work area and surround me while their mother was placing an order; they stood there to ensure I organised exactly what she wanted. Dealing with these kinds of people is most definitely “not playing at my hobby”.

Our customers aren’t there when a family come in who have just lost a loved one. They are dealing with one of the worst times of their lives, and grieving their loss, and we must gently coax from them what they want, while acting as a counsellor to them at the same time. Many florists have completed counselling courses, because we’re there, at the forefront, during those customers most desperate hours. Dealing with grieving families is definitely “not playing at my hobby”.

We are constantly working against the clock. As I’ve mentioned above I had 7 hand tied bouquets in water, to get ready in just 45 minutes. I wonder if those people who tell me it must be lovely “playing at my hobby” would be able to do so. Hobbies aren’t meant to be against-the-clock, constantly, are they?

Even worse though, than being told it’s just a hobby, are the customers who say “make it a nice one” after they’ve placed their order with you. I (and all my fellow florists I’m sure would agree) know it’s never meant in a detrimental way, but it is the single most annoying thing we deal with. As if we would do anything else. 

It’s a great job; the best I could ever imagine doing. Every day I get to work with natures very own colour palette; not many people can say that, but please, don’t ever think that it is an easy job, or that we are just ‘playing’. Most of us have spent hours (years) training; we’ve scrubbed floors on our hands-and-knees, made copious amounts of tea and coffee for employers. We have our hands in cold water for several hours each day; we’ve worked hard to get where we are and put in more hours each week than we will ever be paid for. We go home at the end of the day wet, dirty (flower stems are not clean in any way) and with feet and legs that ache where we’ve been standing on them for 8-14 hours. We nearly always have a pulled shoulder muscle where we are lifting watering cans above our heads to fill up the water bubble on a hand tied bouquet. Almost all florists will suffer with varicose veins at some level (unless they work all day in compression tights; not nice, or comfortable) and more than 60% who spend their whole career as a florist will end up with rheumatism. Our toes are nearly always bruised, broken or cut where rolls of cellophane, scissors and knives seem to fall on them, almost hourly. Under our fingernails can never be clean; our hands and arms are often covered in deep scratches from thorns. There is always blood at some point during a day – we must be so careful in the winter when our hands are almost frozen, that we don’t cut the tops of our fingers off. I came close with some secateurs once because I couldn’t feel anything.

Did you always want to be a florist?

Goodness, no. It’s not something I had ever thought about, and I knew nothing about flowers or plants; I still don’t know much about plants.  Once, when I was 12 or 13 I’d visited a flower shop with a school friend who wanted to buy a few flowers for another friend of ours who had just lost her Dad. I don’t remember much about the experience, except it was a narrow shop, dark, damp and dingy with a smell that correlated to the damp. It certainly wasn’t something which jumped out at me in a positive way, making me think to myself “one day I will make this my career”. We left with the flowers and I never thought about the experience again until just a few years ago when I visited a shop in Wales which had the same smell.

What did you want to do then?

I planned to be a secretary. My Mum and Dad saved hard to buy me a typewriter, which at the time was top-of-the-range.  I remember sitting there for hours, practising “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”; apparently the sentence uses every letter from the alphabet which is why it was one we were taught when I took a typewriter class. I’ve never checked whether that statement is true, or not; I just did as I was told, typing the same bit, row after row after row. I can’t knock it now though; being able to touch type has it’s uses in the shop
If it’s not what you wanted to do, how come you are doing it?

I’ve asked myself that very same question, many times over the years, and my answer is always the same. I have no clue. Had I been allowed to leave school in the January I would have been working with children. I completed my 3 weeks work experience in a Nursery School and they offered me an apprenticeship but needed me to start before my exams. School wouldn’t allow me to leave early and so that put paid to that. I’m sure now they’d have let me on the condition I went back to sit my exams. Because of this, when they then set me up in the February with a careers advisor I was a bit peeved and went along only because I was told I had to.

I sat in a pokey office with this guy in a brown knitted jumper that had leather patches on the elbows; he was wearing dark wine-coloured cords and had unkempt messy brown hair. I kept thinking the whole thing was a waste of time – as you do when you’re a teenager – while he wittered on about different collage courses and how I would need to up-my-game if I wanted to finish school with good grades and prospects for a successful career. When he finally stopped he uttered the words “What are intending to do when you leave?” to which I replied, “I’m going to become a florist”. To this day I have no idea where those words came from; I can’t tell you how entertaining the look of shock on my parent’s face was when I told them (I can still see them both now, all these years later). I knew nothing about flowers, had never even considered them as being any part of my life.

That same evening, my Mum called my Nan to tell her the crazy thing I had come out with – I really wasn’t the kind of girl anyone would have thought would choose floristry. The next day whilst visiting my Great Aunt, my Nan had to take her to a florist to organise some funeral flowers; whilst there she mentioned to the owner what I had said the day before. Thursday of that week I was driven down to Portsmouth for a meeting with the shop owner, and by Saturday I was working there. That was one strange week, I can tell you.

Did you have to complete any training?

Absolutely, I did. I was put on the YTS scheme at the time (this meant my employer got me to work for free) and I spent 4 days in the shop, with 2 days at college for the first year. In the second year they dropped us to 1 day at college, 5 days in the shop. My boss was old school though. I scrubbed vases and floors and made tea. Back then we didn’t have foam frames, everything was made on wire with moss. I spent half my life with my hands in a bag of moss trying to avoid the sticks with thorns the size of daggers, the ant nests which would appear in spring; red ants usually. During wet spells the worms would be out in force; I didn’t mind these, would take them out to the garden and find a new home for them. I’d go home, and my hands would be black with dirt, my arms ripped to shreds from the thorns and edges of the wire frames where they’d not been smoothed off. They sure used to sting in the shower. Then, the next morning, I’d get up and do it all over again. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to oasis for making foam frames, even if I do end up with half of it in my eyes on a daily basis.

Do you have any regrets?

Only one, and that’s not about choosing floristry as an option. It’s about how I left a job. I’d been lucky enough after qualifying to get a job with an exceptional florist. I learned more in a year working alongside her than I had in the 2 years I’d been at college and working elsewhere. For 8 years I worked with her, going to Chelsea as her sidekick each year when she competed. She’d loan me out to her friends if they were busy or wanted time off (I wish I’d realised then what an honour that was). I once got sent to another shop for 2 weeks where I was put-in-charge. The owner was on holiday, didn’t trust the staff she had to run her shop, so borrowed me from my boss. I loved that job (my main one, not the one I was loaned out for) the people in the village where the shop was based, and my boss. However, around the same time I was going through my own personal crisis, so my boss was going through one too, and I was at work one afternoon when I realised I just couldn’t do it any longer. That evening I packed up anything I had to do with work, including my key to the shop, popped it all through the letterbox with a note explaining I wasn’t coming back. I regret that; not the leaving as such, although I’ve often thought about where I would be and what I would be doing now if I’d not, but the way I did it. It was a cowardly and quite pathetic thing for me to do; an awful way for me to behave. At the time though, I wasn’t exactly in the best place emotionally/mentally and I didn’t understand what she was going through either. As a woman, now at that same time of life as she was back then, I totally get her erratic, antsy behaviour. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, and what’s done, is done.

Have you ever been rude to a customer?

Yes, 2 in fact. One not that long ago who came into the shop, was extremely rude to me and bought along 2 big beefy young men who were basically trying to intimidate me. I asked them to leave, they refused, pushing me further-and-further, until I lost my temper. I won’t repeat what I said, but they did (thankfully) leave.

The other was a guy over a decade ago, when I was Worthing.

It was Valentines Day. There were 5 of us working in the shop, myself included, and our 2 bosses were out delivering. Around 10am this man came in wanting a delivery to be made by 12 to an area outside of Worthing. The owners hadn’t been out with the deliveries to the area at that point, so I agreed to add his order to their list. He wanted to spend just £10, including delivery. I don’t know of any florist who would agree to do such a small amount, but our bosses would not let us refuse any order, regardless of how much someone wanted to pay. I did inform the customer there was no way we would be able to guarantee by 12 though, and the flowers would most likely not arrive until after 2. Our workload that day was phenomenal. I also hate Valentines Day and if I didn’t have to work them, I wouldn’t. They are nothing but stress and hassle from start-to-end.  At 12.05 he called the shop, yelling down the phone that his order hadn’t been delivered. The girl he was yelling at passed the phone to me, and I did my best to calm him down, once again explaining I’d not guaranteed a delivery time for him. I did tell him the orders for his area were on the van and they had worked the route out to try and get to him in time. This didn’t placate him, and he hung up on me. ‘Fair enough’ I thought and carried on with the million and one other jobs I had to complete. 15 minutes later, as it turned out the same time the delivery was being made, he came steaming into the shop, shouting. I sensed the younger girls I was working with shrink back a bit, so made my way forward, into the shop, where he got up into my face as close as he could, pointing his finger at me, going for me like I had just murdered his favourite cat. I did everything I could, speaking to him calmly, quietly, trying to explain all I had explained to him earlier. The whole time he continued shouting at me, ignoring me and being so rude I still don’t know now how I never punched him on the end of his nose. Eventually though, I had enough. I managed to free my arms enough to throw them out to my side, making myself as big and wide as I could, before I shouted at him “What do you want me to do?” I’m not proud of myself for doing it, but I could take no more. I’m not sure either, who was so shocked by my doing this. Him, or me? He winced a bit, taking a step back, so I pushed myself forward in an extremely aggressive way, before I again shouted, this time saying “Now, Get out of my shop”. He went to argue back with me, at which point I pushed forward a bit more, and within a few steps he was outside the main door. I finished with “if you ever step foot back in this shop, I swear to god I will smack you”. With that he ran off, and I turned around, livid, to see all 4 of the girls I was working with, have looks of utter shock and horror on their faces. The second they realised I was looking at them, they put their heads down, and avoided making any kind of eye contact with me, going about doing their work. He never did come back.

Has that been your worst day at work?

No, not by a long shot.

What has been your worst or hardest day, then?

There have been 3 of them. One was the day I got a call from my best friend to tell me the man (who the last time I’d seen him had said to me “You do realise, we will get married, don’t you?) had just died. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day; I know I dropped the phone, and at some point, our postman took me outside, sat me on a wall and smoked a couple of cigarettes with me. I had to stay at work all day though as my boss was on holiday and the girl I was working with wasn’t a florist; she was our office girl, and we couldn’t have shut up. That was a hard day.

The 2nd was 6 years ago when I answered the phone to my best friends’ eldest daughter. She spoke just 2 words to me “she’s gone” and I knew the hard-fought battle my friend had been fighting, against the cancer ravaging her body, had finally been lost. She was just 42 years old. All I wanted was to get the shop locked and make my way to her kids – they were 20, 12 and 9. As I was about to leave the shop, a family came in to order flowers, for the funeral of their 98-year-old grandmother. They were in bits; to this day I don’t think they ever knew just what was going through my head as I served them. I’d taken one of the worst calls of my life, literally minutes earlier, yet they had no clue how broken I was inside.

The 3rd was December 23rd last year. The day after I’d had to have my dog put-to-sleep. I was heartbroken, yet every customer who walked through the doors, or phoned the shop got their usual “happy, Sarah” dealing with them. Between visits and calls I was to be found sobbing in the kitchen, however, I never once let on to my customers.

That’s what is hard at times about this job. People only see the good bits when they come in. The cheerful people behind the counter serving them. Nobody sees what turmoil, stress or heartbreak we can be going through in our own lives, as we serve them. I sometimes feel that customers forget we are humans to, who are dealing with our own demons at times.

Have you ever cried in front of a customer?

Oh yes, twice, but they weren’t for personal reasons. One was an elderly lady. She came into the shop I was working in at the time. She was quite frail, and I could see she was visibly upset, so I took her over to the seating area we had, sat down opposite her and began to take the details I needed. She was ordering funeral flowers for her husband. He was the only person in her life she had left. She’d had no children, her siblings had all died years previous, and there were no nieces or nephews. She had nobody, and before I knew what was happening, I was crying alongside her. I’m not sure which one of used the most tissues.

The second time was because of an 8-year-old girl. She was born of a second marriage, having 2 much older, adult siblings. Their father had just passed away. That little girl came in knowing exactly what she wanted to order for her Daddy, right down to the colours and flowers. I’ve never experienced such bravery from such a young person before; by the time it got to her choosing the card she wanted to write on, I was beginning to feel very emotional. When I then watched her carefully unfold a sheet of note paper, upon which she had written a poem she wanted to put on the card, I couldn’t stop myself. I began to tear up and ended up spending a good 5 minutes in the bathroom, just sobbing. I had to go back later to apologise to her sisters for my unprofessional behaviour. Thankfully, they totally understood and said they’d had many moments themselves due to the little one’s bravery.

How about happy days? What’s been your happiest day at work?

Oh my, there are way-too-many of those to pick just one day. I worked with a girl once for almost 8 years, and we laughed pretty much the whole time we were together. We used to have some customers come in just to be cheered up by us. I’ve no idea why were like it, or how we came to be so chirpy around each other, but we bounced off each other constantly. She only worked part-time and I looked forward to the days she was in. Of course, when we had to behave professionally then we did, but if we could get away with smiling and laughing about things as we worked, we made sure we did. Many a time I thought I was going to pass out where we had laughed so much I couldn’t breathe. With anything in life, the people who are part of it, are what can make-or-break your day. Sadly, it doesn’t matter how happy, kind, friendly or helpful I am, there will always be one-or-two people who leave the shop unhappy, but on the whole, I like to think most people leave with a little bit of cheer, or positivity. Those are the happy days.

How many “Bridezillas” do you get?

I am so lucky, in 32 years of being a florist, I have only ever really had to deal with 2. One, I will admit, got me so angry I kicked a cupboard door. It’s still not properly fixed. She wasn’t in the shop at the time, I was talking to her on the phone. I don’t believe she ever knew how lucky she was not to be here, because I think if we had been face-to-face things could have ended up so differently.

The second wasn’t so much of a bridezilla, as extremely awkward. She wanted fresh flowers that don’t exist in the colour she wanted them, and it didn’t matter how many times I explained to her, I could not get her to understand. She emailed me 19 times in 2 hours, sending me photographs each time of the flowers, all of which were artificial. I even called a wholesaler who deals with the Dutch markets to ask him to speak to her, and he followed up with a detailed list of the only colours the flowers she wanted are available in, and still she continued to argue with me about them. In the end I emailed back, explaining that as I wasn’t going to be able to source the flowers she wanted, it might be best for her to try elsewhere.

Several weeks later she came back to me, having tried numerous other florists who had all told her the same as I had, to ask me to make her bouquets without the flower that doesn’t exist. I was tempted to turn her away, but that’s not good business, and I was available on her chosen day, so I made the decision to book her in. This was a mistake. Just 6 days before her wedding, she decided she wanted to change half the buttonholes, along with the colours in her bridesmaids’ flowers, and again she asked me “why?” the non-existent flowers weren’t listed as being in her bouquets. I’ll go out of my way to help anybody, to supply them with exactly what they want, but I called upon the Terms and Conditions she had signed, when she agreed to the order, which stated she was unable to alter anything less than 21 days prior to her wedding date, although I did end up adjusting the buttonholes for her.

And everyone thinks florists have such easy jobs, getting to play around with flowers all day!

Talking of weddings, how do you feel about people like M&S offering wedding flowers?

I don’t like it. Not because they’re taking business away from florists though. At the end of the day there is room for us all and competition is a good thing. I don’t like how they operate. I get that a bride might want to keep things simple and ordering via their website is easy. The name the company has suggests quality and their prices aren’t too bad, although they are a lot dearer than I thought they would be. What I don’t like though is their lack of personalisation. I accept that’s what the bride wants flower wise, but I am sure they don’t think about the logistics of everything, because they don’t need to. They automatically assume anyone selling wedding flowers is going to operate in the same way; they are wrong. To a florist, our brides are people, they have names, faces, opinions. We work with, and alongside them, creating their dream flowers. To people like M&S, they are just another pound in the bank account. They don’t warn brides about the pitfalls of ordering through them. They just take their money, churn out something half decent, shove it in a box and get a courier on a zero hours contract, who has no idea how to handle flowers and they must try to squeeze as many boxes into his car or van as he can, to deliver. I’ve had a bride come into my shop on a Thursday afternoon, whose M&S flowers had just turned up, damaged, broken and brown. They should never be delivered 2 days before a wedding to begin with, and they certainly shouldn’t be on their way out when they do arrive. That’s why I don’t like them. Once they’ve got their money it doesn’t matter to them. Those flowers had to have been made at the beginning of the week, or possibly even before. That is totally unacceptable for any bouquet, let alone a wedding bouquet. A florist friend of mine had a bride in on the day of her wedding, because the order she’d placed with M&S hadn’t arrived at all. These companies wonder why their businesses are starting to fail; I think any fool with half an ounce of common sense can see why.

What, or who, do you see as a threat to the high street florist? Supermarkets, or home workers?

Neither; to me, the only threat to those of us with shops, at this present moment in time, is our colleges. I’m getting people come into me, looking for work, who have completed their first year at college and have been passing their assessments with distinctions, thus believing they know-it-all and can work in a busy shop. Some even believe they are then ready to open their own shop. This is fine, I’m all for someone taking a risk, however, the work they are being awarded distinctions for, I would not even deem good enough for my bin. I’ve spoken to several other owners of shops around the country, who are experiencing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some who deserve their marks, but overall, the standards are anything but acceptable and marks are being awarded which are far from deserved. That is the biggest threat to our trade. People passing off shoddy work. I understand the colleges must achieve certain levels to ensure they get funding for the free courses they offer the following year (floristry is not one of these). I assume the free ones, are funded by the fee-paying courses still running, hence why they need to show good results. It’s not just the public being seen off with unskilled staff and substandard work, either. The florists paying to be trained, are also being seen off, for the sake of a few pounds in the college coffers.

There’s a place for the supermarkets, and for home workers; there is no place for bad workmanship and poor-quality floristry.

Have you ever failed at something?

Yes, I have indeed. One of my previous employers was quite big in the Interflora world, back when Interflora meant something, and set high standards – like the colleges, that is no longer the case. Because of her involvement, she would make me enter all competitions on offer, and I had to take several of their own exams, which lead me towards a diploma. For the floristry section, we had to make 4 different items, one of which was a traditional wreath for a funeral. A girl I was working with at the time, also took the same exam. Back then, when we were assessed on anything, our work would be turned upside-down and shaken vigorously. If just one small piece of foliage fell out, we failed. Not just the one item, the whole exam. I can’t tell you how nervous I was when I took my City and Guilds exams while at college, as they worked in the same way. 4 hours to complete 4 different items testing all we had learned, from basing, to mossing and wiring. Training back then definitely made us more aware of what we were doing and how we were making things, as well as ensuring we were able to work with good speed. While these days they can be given an hour to make one buttonhole, we were given 1 hour to make 100. Anyway, as we were leaving my co-worker said to me “I’ve failed that; as I put my wreath on the floor for inspection, bits were falling out of it”. I told her ‘not to worry’, it would be fine, she was going to pass. I was right. It was me who failed. Apparently when they shook mine, one, just one, spray carnation head fell out. That was instant failure. I had to wait another year until I could take the exam again. My co-worker always joked that she’d swapped our candidate numbers over when I wasn’t looking and passed mine off as hers. Sometimes, even now, I still wonder!

We also came exceptionally close to failure with the shop. Had we not moved premises when we did, I wouldn’t be standing here now, talking to you all, telling you stories about my little shop. Our first premises were not right for us, and we were sinking without a trace. Had we not been lucky enough to find our little shop in Fareham, we would have had to pull the plug; our success now, has come from that failure. They say that sometimes we must fail to succeed; I fully understand that and have learnt some valuable lessons from those failures.

Is there anything you ever wanted to make, that you’ve not been asked for, yet?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to make an alien *laughter rippled around the room*. I can see your faces and tell you’re thinking I’ve finally lost the plot, but of all the tributes I have been asked to make I always thought I would get asked for one. Thinking about it after the fact, I should have made one for my best friend’s funeral. We always used to joke about being abducted, and had I really sat and thought about it I would have made one. Because I never did, the wanting to make one has grown stronger. Maybe one day, if I get a spare hour, I’ll make one up just for my portfolio.

I bet your garden must look wonderful!

It doesn’t look bad, at times, however, that’s not my doing. That’s another preconception people have about florists, that we’re good at gardening. I can just about keep a shrub alive, on a good day. Plants are living, they need nurturing, tender hands to get them started, time to look after them. I love to see gardens full of plants and flowers, but they will never grow well if I’m in charge of them. As florists, we do with plants and flowers, after they’ve been cut. I can tell you the best way to stop a rose from drooping, or a chrysant from losing its petals, once it’s been removed from its roots. How to get it to that stage I leave to the horticulturalists; they’re the ones who should have the amazing gardens. They’re the ones who know-what-they-are-doing while a flower is growing.

Is the summer your busiest time of the year?

No, it can be one of the quietest. People often think the summer is “wedding season” so therefore, we must be busy. Back 50 years ago, that may have been the case; these days though, not so much. Weddings happen all-year-round, and on every single day of the week now. There is no “season” any more. Early Monday weddings are becoming increasingly popular, with most people, except us florists. Nobody wants to be up at the crack of dawn on a Monday, and everything must be made on-the-day. The rest of the week we can prep the venue decorations on the previous day; Monday’s we can’t do that as fresh flowers don’t come into the country on a Sunday. Whilst there is no real set “busy” time, there is also no set “quiet” time, either. We literally must take it, one-day-at-a-time. Today, we could be rushed off our feet, tomorrow we may not see a soul. There is no rhyme-or-reason to any of it.


These were the floristry related questions I was asked. The other stuff you don’t really need to know! 😊

I did learn, reading through this, that I have a tendency to say "Oh my" a lot. I must work harder on my vocabulary.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Flower Care

Firstly, how are we all coping with the heat? I'm hearing this morning that it could be around for another 6 weeks with temperatures not dipping below 25/26'c (which, let's face it, over here is sublimely tropical). I believe in our little part of the world it has now been 58 days since we last had rain (although, I am sure those 4 tiny drops a few Mondays back as I got my washing in one evening will be enough for someone to discount that and say it's only been 21 days instead :) )

I will say, I've seen an awful lot of people walking their dogs during the hottest part of the day, and several have been tied up outside the co-ops in full sun while their owners shop; please, PLEASE do NOT take your dogs out between 9am / 7pm (and hour earlier and later would be even better) at the moment and ensure when you do take them out (at a sensible time) that you have water on you for them. It breaks my heart to see these poor creatures being dragged around in this heat and what the tarmac must be doing to their paws is something that doesn't bear thinking about. As for leaving your dog in a car; I don't care how far down you may leave the windows, I will be one of those people who breaks in to get your dog out, and I will push for you to be banned from ever owning an animal again. You do not deserve to be owned by a dog if you are going to treat it in such a way. I know this has nothing to do with flowers but sometimes I have to deviate a little. 

Ok, so, let's get onto flowers; that's what I'm really here for (my bit about the weather does play a part in this post).

Every bouquet, hand tied, basket, and other lovely flowery bits and pieces which are not a funeral tribute, that leave this shop, do so with a Care Card attached. I know a bit of paper/card can be annoying when all you want to do is find out who they're from and admire them, and I also know a lot of them get taken off the wrapping (or removed from the envelope) where they are they dispensed of in the recycling bin (at least I hope you recycle!). That's fine; it's your prerogative to do what you wish with them, however, in the past 3 weeks I have received 2 complaints about flowers which haven't lasted, and the reason they've not lasted is because the care instructions have not been followed - both complainants admitted to not reading them - in fact one sent me a photograph of the flowers, still in the delivery box 10 days after receiving them (they should be left no more than 3) sitting on a westerly facing window sill; nothing should sit on a window sill in this weather, let alone something which is going to be badly damaged by the heat and sun. Our care cards categorically state to not do this and had the recipient read the one attached I may not have received such a phone call. The other was from someone (who again admitted not bothering to read because she's had flowers in the past and knows how to look after them) who'd not even bothered to cut the stems on the bouquet she'd received (which was out of water) and had popped them into a vase with flower food (something I recommend you never use; I don't buy it at all and never have it in the shop).  

I will always replace flowers if the effort has been made to look after them and they have then failed to last as long as expected. At the end of the day they are a living organism of which we have no control over, and as such there are times we could end up with a 'bad batch'. It doesn't matter how much time and effort the growers put into the flowers they produce for us, there are times when the seeds may be defective, or not as strong as they could be. Neither they, nor us (further down the line) have any control over such things. All any of us can do is look after and nurture what we have when we get them. We hope that you (the customer) will then do the same thing once you are in receipt of them. On rare occasions though, it doesn't matter how much we all do, that one batch of flowers can be sub-par (through nobodies fault) and they won't last as they should. I ask for them to be returned to the shop (or we'll collect if local) so that I can send them back to my wholesalers (who in turn will send them back to the growers). That way I can get a refund, as can they, and you (the customer) can be issued with a replacement bouquet. I do, however, refuse to issue a replacement if I can see the flowers have not been looked after. I will not issue a replacement if the flowers have not been returned either; you'd not go to a clothes/shoe shop for a replacement without the faulty clothes/shoes, so I don't understand why some people feel it's ok to pick up the phone, tell a florist their flowers are dead, and expect that florist to send out some more. I actually had an answerphone message left once regarding flowers not lasting. I've always remembered it as it was a complaint about some flowers delivered on the 11th (I had no record of the order in my order book) which were (apparently) dead by the 18th, but the caller didn't phone until the 25th (and left a message after listening to my answerphone greeting stating the shop was closed until the following week). No name or number was left for me to call back, so I like to think it was a hoax, however, I've been in this business long enough and have come across many people to know it may well have been a genuine complaint; I never heard from them again. 

With regards to the care cards, there are generic ones I can buy in bulk (as can all other florists) however, I'm not entirely convinced they offer the best advice. Firstly they tell you to use flower food - oh my goodness, I cannot believe in this day-and-age people are still being fobbed off with such nonsense. There is no need (ever) to add flower food to your water (lemonade, sugar or anything else is also going to make no difference to how long they last). Over the years I've had many a discussion with makers/distributors of the food and have proved each and every time that it is not necessary and doesn't make a single jot of difference (in fact, I've found with lisianthus, gerbera and roses, flower food speeds up their deterioration, rather than helping them last longer). The generic instructions also state to change the water "at least once a week" (have you seen how murky water goes after a few days? This is due to bacteria building up, bacteria which will cause your flowers to wilt quicker - never leave it a week between water changes) I can wholeheartedly assure you if you put flowers you've received today into a vase with some flower food and left them until next week to orchestrate a water change, you'd be looking at a half-dead vase of flowers before Monday arrives. Even in the deepest depths of winter this is not a good idea, hence why I sat down before we embarked on our little business, and wrote easy-to-follow care instructions, for which all you need is a good pair of scissors and fresh water. 

I didn't write the care card, nor do I attach the care cards, to be annoying to you all (I can do that to you in many other ways :) ). I do it so that you get to enjoy the flowers you've received for as long as possible; so that you give those flowers (I refer you back a few paragraphs where I've mentioned them being a living organism) the best chance at living as long a life as is possible for them. The same day I received a complaint about them dying within 10 days (because they'd not been looked after) I also had a "thank you" from someone else because their flowers were just past the 5 week stage when they began to look as though they needed to be sent to the big compost bin in the garden. At this time of year, in the ridiculous temperatures we've been getting, to hear how some had lasted 5 weeks really gave me hope and made me smile. It proved to me that when you make the effort, take the time, and don't discard things, it really can make a difference and provide you with something so beautiful for a long time.

Below is the front and back to our care cards; the inside holds what I believe to be the best way to look after your flowers (I would share but have to be careful who might be reading and will steal my words for their own - believe me, that happens a lot!!! :) ) If you click on the image it will take you through to the Flower Care page on our website. 

Before I finish, let me go back to the beginning and reiterate on the dog's being walked/exercised/left in cars!! 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Online Reviews

My plan is to discuss online reviews with you all, however, I need to (kind of) go around-the-houses first to get where I hope to eventually end up. Most of you who read this regularly will not be surprised by such actions; those of you who are reading this for the first time (welcome and thank you) will hopefully be able to keep up :)

I have some florist friends (know of other florists) who can only be described as amazing. What they can do with flowers, their vision in creating items that will blow your mind, never ceases to remind me that there is always something new to be learned (and even though I've been part of this world for 32 years I am still learning, every single day - I know, hard to believe when I'm still only 37 ;) ). To them floristry is easy; to me it wasn't quite so. I had to work at everything, force myself to think outside-of-the-box, practice, practice and practice to make sure I got it right. I could look at a single flower, leaf and piece of twig and see just what they are - leaf, twig and flower; the friends I've mentioned will take those 3 items and turn them into something which will make you say "wow" out loud to anyone who may (or may not) be listening. When I say I had to work at floristry, I mean I really had to work at it - hard. Nothing came to me naturally.

Training to be a florist back when I set out on this path was also a lot harder than it is today (I'm sorry to those of you have recently qualified, or are in the midst of your training but it's true). Back when I was starting out I went to college 2 days a week, worked in a shop 4 days a week (a shop which at the time was also about 20 years behind the current floristry trends of the day). On my college days I was taught how to make something different each day (one half of which was spent learning the botanical side of plants and flowers) before being sent home again. At the end of the year I was set 2 exams - 1 written, 1 practical. The practical one we were given 3 hours to make 4 different items. Another year I was given 4 hours and 5 items. Failing on just one of those 4/5 items meant the whole year was failed, and you had to go back to the beginning and start again. It was slightly soul destroying to fail - I know this for a fact because I did fail one. For this particular exam I had to make 5 items in 4 hours. I had a traditional style bouquet, a tied sheaf (my nemesis) a wired wedding bouquet, based cushion tribute and a loose wreath. We may have only made those items once, way back at the beginning of the year - this didn't matter though; the rules were the rules. If we didn't complete all the items in the time, we failed. Thankfully, I had completed everything and I was extremely pleased with them all (especially the tied sheaf). Back then though, the examiners (who were not the people who had been teaching you every day - as they are now) didn't just look at your items from a distance to make sure you'd covered all the florist foam, didn't have any gaps in your basing work (which had to be level, smooth and compact - 1 small gap the size of a finger tip meant instant failure), checked to make sure you'd used the correct wire on every single flower which had a wire attached, while also looking to ensure everything had balance; oh no, back then they would also turn everything upside-down and shake it - vigorously. This is why I failed; 1 (that's just 1) flower head fell out of my wreath. Instant failure. All 4 other items I received a distinction for. That 1 flower head caused me a whole other year of grief and stress. These days they are taught how to make something, get all day to practice, are tested on it at the end of the day or the next. If they fail for any reason, they can remake their item up to 3 times until they get it right. I don't think I have heard of anyone failing a floristry exam in over 15 years now. The quality of some of the work being awarded distinctions these days would have been instant failures back when I trained, but that's a conversation to be had with people in charge of the industry - I'm here for reviews, although this does tend to lead someway towards the reason for this entry. 

Floristry can be a very 'fickle' world to belong to; for every one great florist you meet, there will be 4 more in the background wanting to trip you up on a Saturday night - it really does seem to bring out the worst in some people (the best in other's). There are several world wide organisations aimed at florists, but your face has to fit to be accepted in (you also need to pay them quite extortionate amounts on a yearly basis). Others you can join (for a fee) which will allow you to promote yourself as a 'better' business, however these also tend to be very "cliquey" (similar to your face fitting but not quite so strict). Then there are the free ones - internet forums, google and facebook groups (I'm a member of several of these) which are great for putting like-minded florists in touch with each other. These also tend to be much friendlier, offer great advice, encouragement and support when you need it and I've been blessed to make some pretty amazing friends around the world via a few of them. Being on my own, in a shop tucked away around a corner, these groups have been invaluable to me and 99% of the time the people who comment know exactly what you are going through (having been there before) or can offer some great ideas on how to solve a particular problem. It's also lovely to be able to pass on my own titbits of wisdom to those younger florists just starting out, who (like me) may not find it quite so easy but want to be a florist above anything else. I would have given up when I was training had it not been for a lady called Janette who took over our class; her encouragement gave me the strength to keep going (in a way I owe everything I am and everything I have to her). I love being able to pay forward some of the hints and tips she gave me, to younger (newer) florists who might be struggling in the same ways I did. 

These groups are also great when people in the real world might tackle you when you are not ready for them. 

We live in a world where anyone (with a computer, phone, tablet and even games consoles) can leave reviews for businesses. Good reviews can make a business, bad can (obviously) destroy one (although not always - some people will specifically visit businesses with bad reviews to see if they really are as bad as other's have made them out to be). In this regard, I have been extremely lucky - in fact in just these past 5 days I have received 3 x 5* reviews on the web - 1 on google, 1 on facebook and another on a florist site where local shops and everyday customers can send orders to us online. 

This is where all of the above has been leading (have you kept up with me ok, so far? :) )

On one of these forums the other day a fairly new florist was distraught as someone had left her a very negative review, even though the order had not been one of hers (turns out it was a local competitor of hers - never a nice thing to do and goes back to what I was saying above about faces not fitting!). She was having to jump though hoops to get it removed and was worried about how it would affect her business until it was removed - something I am sure we would all be concerned about if it had happened to us (I know I would be). Another florist then said "I wouldn't worry too much; any shop with just 5* reviews can't be trusted anyway. Leave it where it is, people are more likely to use you if you have some negative reviews". I found this a very odd thing to say and mentioned how I am so lucky that all but 2 of the reviews left for me on the web (those 2 being a florist for one who never left a reason why only 4 stars, and a customer who also gave us 4 because he didn't think we offered enough choice and options on our website for sale) have been 5 stars and how proud I am of each and every one of them. I've worked hard for those great reviews - blood (often there is blood from those knives and sharp scissors) is spilled, sleepless nights occur with way too much regularity and grey hairs spring up hourly. I love that my customers have taken the time to say such lovely things about the shop (and some have said nice things about me too :) ) and having not always found this business the easiest to be a part of they really do mean the world to me. Don't get me wrong, I don't always get it right, have made mistakes (I'm only human after all) but they just add to my being proud at the reviews, because it shows that I am still working hard to get-it-right.

I wondered what you all think? Would you avoid using a shop because they only had 5* reviews, or would you use them because they only had 5* reviews? Do not think for one second I want one of you to randomly leave a bad review - all our reviewers have to be verified customers to leave us a review or they get removed, but I just wondered what your thoughts are on such things? You can contact me in the usual way :) 

Ooh; quickly, on the subject of verification. Both Google and Facebook have now given us the little blue ticks which show (and promote) us as verified businesses. Looks like I really am doing something right :) 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Mothers Day

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 :)