Start-ups with (flower) power
A blooming good business idea, writes Samantha Kalisa
'The thing to remember," says Gerda Tuffin, "is that you're in a business and you need to make money. You are not a charitable organisation, although your clients might sometimes think you are. That extra rose that the customer never paid for, that you feel you need to put into that arrangement because it looks incomplete, is money down the drain.
"It is a bit of a tussle between artistry and business, but business must win more often."
If anyone should know about flowers, it's Tuffin. She has spent her life around them, having grown up on a flower farm.
She bought her florist, Flowercraft, in Pinelands, Cape Town, in 1992 after graduating from the Constantia School of Floristry and from the University of Stellenbosch with a BSc in horticulture.
Her husband, Bernard, joined her in the business in 1994.
Flowercraft now has four shops around Cape Town and, in response to repeated requests for flower-arranging tuition and training, she started the Cape School of Floristry in 2001.
Tuffin has won many flower arranging competitions over the years: Teleflorist Western Cape Champion for 2001, Interflora Western Cape Designer of the Year for 2003 and 2005, second place at the National Interflora Designer of the Year 2006 and second overall winner in the Interflora Western Cape Designer of the Year 2007.
"I have trained so many people in the creative and artistic side of things and seen so many fail because they don't take the business end of things seriously. You need a good business plan, you need to be able to do basic bookkeeping and always be aware of your business's profitability," says Tuffin.
"But it is an art form and you must want to please your client and always present quality. You'll be waking up at the crack of dawn to get your flowers from the market or the wholesaler, working without breaks to fill an order and then have to deal with clients who think theirs is the only arrangement you have to do. Never mind the other 10 clients who have already called and who want their order yesterday."
It is a creative industry, but it is not a platform to indulge your more way-out fantasies.
"Even though we live in a modern world and the old ideas about what flowers to use for what occasion no longer hold, you're still dealing with companies or clients who are more traditional or conservative in terms of design. You need to get to know their preferences and learn to interpret their intentions in flowers. It is an emotional business.
"If I could wish for one thing in my business, it would be for more time - more hours in a day."
- The courses offered at the Cape School for Floristry cater for the absolute beginner, the more advanced flower arranger and for those wanting a refresher course.
Some florists belong to nationwide or even worldwide networks of florists who work together to deliver flowers to clients.
The easiest way for flower shops to get their product into customers' hands is to deliver the flowers themselves, and many, including Flowercraft, have delivery vehicles. The best type of delivery vehicle is a small panel van, so that flowers or foliage won't be damaged.
"Each of our four Flowercraft shops has its own dedicated delivery van and driver who delivers within a certain radius of the shop," says Tuffin.
"How do we decide how much a bouquet or basket is worth? This is first of all based on the cost of the products. Obviously we purchase from a supplier and put on a certain mark-up. The various flowers are also priced like this. We get some that are more special, like lilies and roses, that come in at a higher price.
'Then there are those that we call bread-and-butter lines - the more bulky, filler flowers such as chrysanthemums, michaelmas daisies and mini carnations. These can assist in making an arrangement look fuller and bigger. Greenery also plays an important role in enabling one to be more creative and also to use fewer flowers. It doesn't come free, however - many people are under the impression that greenery is cheap; it is no longer so.
"There are skills which you develop over time as you work in the industry so that you can determine the size of an arrangement for a certain average price. This holds for the more traditional work, but with modern arranging, the pot can sometimes be worth more than the flowers, but the effect could be stunning. It all depends on the occasion and the customer's needs."
WHAT YOU NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN OPENING A FLORIST SHOP
Ulrich Stark, small and medium business analyst, says there are typically two business models to choose from when considering starting a florist business. There is the florist with a brick and mortar presence that relies on customers to make purchases in a face-to-face environment, and there is the virtual florist where orders are made by customers for delivery.
Today many supermarkets sell fresh flowers, and you will be hard-pressed to find a stand-alone florist shop. In comparison, a virtual florist provides the ease of delivery we so appreciate in our hectic, fast-paced schedules.
But that is not to say that opening a physical florist shop is a no-go. A florist shop has one important thing a virtual florist cannot offer - a customer experience. If your shop has a great location, and provides customers with an experience they look forward to every week, you could quickly build up a loyal client base.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
A big challenge in the florist business is that you are trading a perishable good. There is a limited time in which the product has to be sold, otherwise the total cost of the product is lost - pretty risky stuff! In this regard it is advisable to start off slowly. Buy a small amount from your supplier with the aim of getting everything sold in one day. If the demand from customers exceeded the amount you bought, buy a bit more next time, and so forth. You will not be able to take out formal insurance for product losses until your business has grown sufficiently.
You will be competing with supermarkets and other florists based on price, variety, freshness and location. It is important to think carefully about your location. Your business should be in a place that is convenient to your customers, while as far enough away from other florists to minimise direct competition.
Because the quality of your product relies on freshness, you need to ensure that you have "speed to market". You need to make sure you have a way to get your flowers from the flower market to your place of sale - quickly, early and reliably.
To get any finance for any business, you need a track record. To buy your first batch of flowers and to set up your shop, you will have to get hold of some money. This will probably have to be from your own money, or borrowed money from friends or family.
Once you start selling, it is very important to keep a record of your purchases and sales. Be sure to receive invoices from your supplier, and give your customers receipts. These invoices and receipts should then be added up to see the profit and loss made on a monthly basis. It is advisable to get the help of a book-keeper if this is not your field of expertise.
This is needed because a typical small business financier such as Khula Enterprise Finance, the Umsobomvu Fund or National Youth Development Fund, or a lender like Business Partners will have to see how the business has performed in the past to give you money for the future.
Remember, your business only exists if you are serving the needs of your customers. Always keep track of which flowers your customers prefer, and when your customers buy the most. Maybe it is better to only sell on weekends, or it may be better to focus on doing the flower arrangements for weddings. You should always keep track of changes in the price and seasonality of different flowers. Your customers want the best, and for that you need to be the best.
Although experience is preferable, it is not a necessity in order to start a florist business. What is a necessity is some kind of passion for fresh flowers and organic products. Picture yourself running the business 10 years from now. If that image excites you then you probably have the passion to build a florist business. You will need the passion to drive you to keep learning and improving and never to get bored and distracted.
Being a florist is more than just dunking two roses in a vase and sticking a card on it with a ribbon and a message. A love and passion for flowers and people is paramount. Quality consciousness and a healthy dollop of creativity, not to mention an impressive amount of knowledge about business and the world of flowers, is needed.
If you see yourself doing this then the opportunities in commercial floristry are unlimited. South Africa not only has a growing cut-flower industry with a considerable turnover, but top SA designers also compete in prestigious international events such as the Chelsea Flower Show and the Interflora World Cup.
On-the-job training is not always possible. Floristry is a busy, hands-on business that requires dedication, hard work, creativity and long hours. Orders often leave florists exhausted and in no mood to train.
- Technikon SA, in conjunction with Interflora, offers a national diploma course in commercial floristry. It covers subjects such as floristry design, horticulture, communication and small-business management.
Graduation from such a course should ensure that prospective florists will not only be able to keep abreast of developments in the field, but will also be able to ensure the constant availability of high quality products, and have a good understanding of the market trends and personalised customer service.
- There is also the Cape School of Floristry:
Tel: 0215316823 or 0215311770 (Gerda)
Fax: 086 5799 289
Cellphone: 082 664 1084 (Gerda)
Other websites include:
www.saschoolofweddings.co.za and www.floristrycourseonline.com
- You can also check the website www.old.spice4life.co.za for up-to-date listings of floristry courses in Johannesburg, led by experienced florists from Electric Butterfly Flowers. There is a course fee involved and all floristry equipment and flowers will be supplied. All work done in the class may be taken home.
Tools of the trade:
- Fresh flowers
- Multipurpose scissors
- Floral knife
- Bunch cutters
- Foam knife
- Floral wire and clay
- Floral styrofoam
- Containers: plastic, baskets, urns, glass and ceramic vases, metal containers, trays, boxes
- Floral tape
- Cardettes (cardholder)
- Delivery tags, care tags, guarantee tags:
- Small selection of floral paint
- Trash can/boxes
- General household cleaning supplies and tools
Where to get supplies:
- Your local wholesale florist
- Stationery and gift stores if you're buying small amounts
- Multiflora market: Johannesburg - you'll need agent representation who will add on handling fees and bid on your behalf and, if you're outside Johannesburg, freight costs.
- Multiflora has a chart detailing what flowers are available in which season.
- Floristry wholesalers (who will also have added on a charge).
- Flower farms (who deal directly with clients).