“Take that chance, as one day you’ll be a very successful and skilful florist”
Ever wondered what advice you would give to yourself when you were first starting out? Do you ever wish you knew then, what you know now? Strelitzia user Joy Gill, owner of Flower Centre in Northfield, Birmingham, pens a letter to her 16 year old self and shares her advice looking over the years.
The first thing you will read on your school leaving certificate is your headmasters comment: ‘Joy is an intelligent girl with considerable ability. She is a quietly conscientious worker who should achieve good grades in her examinations. She is a pleasant and rather retiring person.’
You gain those grades, but you have no idea what career path to follow. You are only 16, and after a lot of thinking, you see a sign in a florist’s window advertising for a junior position – take that chance, as one day you will be a very successful and skilful florist and even own your very own business.
Yes, you will be a florist in Northfield for all of your working life. Your training will consist of mossing funeral tributes and wiring flowers for the florists to make into wedding bouquets – at times, it is dull work, but keep at it. Your shyness might sometimes hinder your progress in the shop, but don’t worry; you will learn to get over your introverted manner and you will become very natural and confident with your customers, serving all manner of folk in various stages of emotional turmoil or happiness. You will go from being happy to let other people serve the customers, to learning to kind of love people and their nuances, strange requests and demands (and there will be a lot, believe me!!).
In 1972 same delivery will not be possible; all orders are delivered by midday when the driver will finish. Over time, you will learn to be prepared to deliver not only AM or PM but in two or three hour slots, and even send a photo and an email to say that they have been delivered to the sender. Right now, you only have three types of cards that you write – Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary or blank; flowers are for special occasions only. Fast forward to where you will be today, flowers now speak volumes and are for any and every occasion.
Your manageress will constantly smoke in the workroom at the back of the shop – not only will you see this banned in closed public spaces but you will also have to deal with health and safety , risk assessments, COSHH and all manner of legislation running your own business. Yes, this will prove tiresome, but you will do it, as knowing your business is the best it can be, along with your never-ending love of floristry, is extremely important to you.
When you have your own shop, reaching your customers will get easier. The only nod you have to technology now is a land line telephone. Forty odd years down the line you will communicate by email, have orders coming through on a website 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, have computer software to help run your business and be able to buy flowers direct from Holland on a PC or your small handheld device called a mobile phone. In fact, you won’t believe the ways in which communication will evolve. And you will continue to evolve with it. That’s why you will always run such a successful business; change doesn’t scare you, you will always embrace it.
When you turn 19, another chance will arise. Please, take it! A small shop will open, owned by the local funeral directors, called ‘Flower Centre’; you will apply to be a florist there. A change of scenery, you will think. Little do you know that within two years you will not only be running and organising the shop but you will also be going to the then very busy Birmingham Wholesale Market to learn how to buy and then sell your flowers. You will always love this aspect of the job, sourcing the product and then making it into designs that sell and delight your customers. It’s this moment, Joy, in which you will realise that you will forever love flowers.
You will also learn how important pricing, rotation of stock and waste management is as you also have to do the books. You will go to night school and do O level book keeping to further understand, and you will begin to acknowledge how important it is not only to cover overheads but also to make a profit and therefore be able to pay yourself a reasonable income. This is what I am most proud of you for; you will become a very good business woman.
You will nurture a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day, the most stressful peak. Your first Valentine’s Day will see you in the shop making around 15 single roses in boxes, and that will be it. Valentine’s Day will become not only really busy, but one of the most challenging peaks as it is all centred on one day. Not only will you be delivering single roses, but dozens, 50’s and 100’s along with champagne and wine, (yes you will have a premises licence to sell alcohol) chocolates, balloons and teddies. You will learn over the years that with any peak there are only so many orders you can make and deliver given the time frame you have and the amount of stock you have ordered. Top tip from me? Learn that it’s ok to say no. Don’t worry, you will learn from experience. Take copious amounts of notes each year (always do a peak de-brief) and trust your gut feeling. It’s nearly always right. You will deal with all sorts of strange requests. Just you wait for the lady who will order £100 worth of flowers and then send them to herself to make her husband jealous. Bite your tongue when she asks if she can ring the shop to ask who they are from in front of him.
At the age of 28 the funeral directors will offer you the lease of Flower Centre, and along with Steve Hallard, your partner in life and soon to be business, you will buy it. A very good decision!
This will be in 1984 and the economy is recovering from a recession. This will turn out to be the first, but not the last, time you will deal with recessions and their effects on your business. There will be dark times; but believe me, you will keep on going. You will do it because it is your life and flowers run through your veins. You can’t think of anything else you would rather do, and you will fight for your business.
The most challenging recession will be in 2009. You will see your turnover and therefore profit hit dramatically. This will take place at the same time as the advancement of the internet. You will see a new type of flower seller emerge. They will be coined ‘order gatherers’, and along with supermarkets, they will make a play for your customers. But you will do what you always do; change and evolve, adapting your goals and plans to fit in with a new type of consumer that will appear.
When you employ staff, you will realise you can teach someone floristry as long as they have an eye for colour and design. You cannot change attitude though. A florist needs to be a people person, to engage with customers and build relationships. This side of running your business will be challenging. Make sure you keep strong and level-headed throughout. Always remember, you have far more to lose than they do. There will be the time when the cleaner can’t come in because she’s ‘too drunk’, the junior florist who’s journey to work on a very busy Saturday will be impossible because there is a goose blocking the road, and a driver who will quit because he just can’t face delivering to the same area of town twice in one day. Let it all wash over you – you will laugh about it one day.
You will learn that you are not only a florist but wear many hats including diplomat, accountant, social worker, computer expert, photographer. Some members of staff will stay loyal to you forever. Some will not. It’ll be hard but don’t let it get to you.
When you take the shop on you will have no formal qualifications and whilst you will realise this doesn’t matter to the general public (they simply want what they ordered to be delivered as they asked), you will not help but think new qualifications will be a real asset to your knowledge and push you further in your career.
You will think about doing the National Diploma of the Society of Floristry – don’t think about it anymore than you have to. Do it! It will give you a framework and enable you to analyse work produced by your team, push the positives and use the right words to improve the negatives. Following this new found love of education, you will go on to attend some excellent courses run by Pat Reeves and Hilary West, and locally by Linda Owen which are not only design and style led but commercial too as they own their own shops. You will go on to teach C&G Floristry at Pershore College, demonstrate floristry all over the country, you will be a chief examiner for the Society of Floristry and a verifier for City and Guilds. You will do some amazing things, and meet some brilliant people. You and Steve will also manage to buy the freehold of Flower Centre and during the early 90’s Steve will project manage and do as much as he can to extend the shop into the building it is now.
As you reach your forties, though, you will realise floristry and all your career commitments outside the shop have taken over your life (well done for keeping up the squash throughout, though, – you’ll realise you’re pretty good at that as well!).
You will realise you and Steve need some free time to enjoy other activities and achieve other goals. Time away will allow you time to think and plan not only for your future but that of the shop and the direction it should take. You both also need time to be Joy and Steve the couple, as well as Joy and Steve the business partners. This is important – take my advice.
And so Steve will buy you a bike – at 40 you have never ridden a bike in your life!! But, even when you think the bike is a terrible idea, you will grow to love it and the biking holidays abroad that will follow. Your favourite achievement on your bike will be cycling Leh to Menali in India, the highest navigable road pass in the world, cycling at 14,000 to 18,000 feet.
The flower shop over the road will eventually close and the owners will speak to you after and personally recognise what a great job you are doing of running your business. You and your team will win Retail Florist of the Year, organised by the Flower Council of Holland, and Interflora Florist of the Year in the 1990s, and star, alongside Steve and other members of the team in a cable TV series.
You will have many compliments and letters from customers throughout your career, including on a feedback form from an Interflora group meeting that states ‘The Brummie Bird’s demonstration was the best bit.’
So Joy, carry on doing what you’re doing, but make sure you take the time to enjoy all The Brummie Bird’s best bits, happy moments and successes – together they will be a major part of your life.
Joy has been a Strelitzia user for 8 years. To see what other florists like Joy think of Strelitzia, click here to view our testimonials.