Bloom­ing suc­cess

A pen­chant for op­u­lence in flower trade

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - CHIMWEMWE MWANZA chimwemwem@fin­

WHO WOULD IMAG­INE a thriv­ing transna­tional trade in some­thing as del­i­cate as flow­ers? Yet with ev­ery change of sea­son, com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als – par­tic­u­larly those in the harsh climes of Europe such as the Nether­lands – splash out big money on a bil­lion rand flower trade known as op­u­lence flow­ers.

With their tem­per­ate sub-trop­i­cal cli­mate, East African coun­tries that have iden­ti­fied a gap in that mar­ket are cash­ing in on de­mand. In Kenya, farm­ers are al­ready mak­ing a mint from the boom­ing de­mand for hor­ti­cul­tural prod­ucts by grow­ing fields of colour­ful flora.

It’s an easy sell, says Roelof Del­port, CE of ex­otic flower re­tailer Op­u­lence. “Flow­ers lit­er­ally grow wildly in back­yards in Kenya,” he says. But mar­ket­ing the prod­uct to Europe wasn’t what Del­port had in mind when he started Op­u­lence. Based on a vari­a­tion of the Kenyan busi­ness model his strat­egy was South African. “To grow flow­ers lo­cally and mar­ket to cor­po­rates and in­di­vid­u­als in SA.”

How­ever, with names such as NetFlorists, In­ter­Flora and Wool­worths dom­i­nat­ing the SA mar­ket, why would a qual­i­fied quan­tity sur­veyor swap his pro­fes­sion for an in­vest­ment in a seem­ingly over­traded busi­ness?

“First, its pas­sion, then my love for na­ture. But – most im­por­tantly – I’ve iden­ti­fied a gap that not many peo­ple are keen to ex­ploit,” says Del­port. The 35-year-old Cape-based Del­port says in­cum­bent ser­vice providers mostly sell flow­ers like any other con­sum­able. “That ex­plains why my strat­egy and ser­vices are dif­fer­ent to those of­fered by the in­cum­bent flower ser­vice providers. Mine goes be­yond sell­ing or­di­nary or scented flow­ers. In fact, as op­posed to an out­right sell my strat­egy is to rent out my prod­uct to a client – be it an in­di­vid­ual or com­pany – and in so do­ing gen­er­ate ex­tra in­come by pro­vid­ing an af­ter-rent fee by pro­vid­ing an ex­tra care and main­te­nance ser­vice,” he says.

Sound out­landish, maybe even es­o­teric? Per­haps, but both com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­ual South Africans have quickly warmed to his ser­vice, at least judg­ing from the num­ber of or­ders he’s pro­cessed since launch­ing the busi­ness last year.

“You’d be amazed to see how many South Africans are tak­ing to the idea of rent­ing op­u­lent flow­ers, be it for a spe­cific event such as a wed­ding or just for dec­o­ra­tions in the work­place,” Del­port says. He’s seen de­mand rise by more than 70%. The fig­ure could have been much higher but for the fact the com­pany has a lim­ited ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing bud­get, he says.

A unique niche Del­port has ex­ploited as part of his strat­egy to dif­fer­en­ti­ate his prod­ucts is his spe­cial­i­sa­tion in grow­ing three types of op­u­lent flow­ers – Pha­laenop­sis, Vanda and Cym­bid­ium – which mostly bloom in win­ter. He adds his mar­ket is the high-in­come bracket with a pen­chant for op­u­lence. “So un­like your usual ser­vice provider who sells ev­ery flower you can think of to the or­di­nary per­son in the street, I spe­cialise in those three and mar­ket them to a wealthy client host­ing a func­tion or want­ing a rar­ity,” he says.

De­voted to the green revo­lu­tion cam­paign, Del­port grows plants to cut down on green­house emis­sions in a green­house on a farm in Mil­ner­ton out­side Cape Town. He has an­other green­house in his back­yard in Dur­banville. In to­tal, he has a stock of 4 000 pot­ted plants ca­pa­ble of serv­ing 500 sites. But ow­ing to the in­fancy of his busi­ness, he cur­rently has fewer than 100 clients on his books.

The vi­a­bil­ity of his busi­ness is ap­par­ent from prize money worth R1m he re­cently won as the En­ab­lis en­tre­pre­neur of the year. The prize money has come in handy at just the right time. “With less than 500 days to the 2010 Soc­cer World Cup kick-off, the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is poised for re­mark­able growth. Without a doubt many com­pa­nies will be looking to hire my prod­ucts on an ad hoc ba­sis.”

Del­port plans to use part of his prize money to mar­ket and ad­ver­tise the busi­ness. “Even bet­ter if we could have a coun­try­wide dis­tri­bu­tion of our ser­vice in the build-up to 2010,” he says. While he re­mains firmly fo­cused on es­tab­lish­ing him­self in the SA mar­ket, he doesn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of ven­tur­ing into ex­port­ing. “The op­por­tu­ni­ties are enor­mous out there. But I’m con­strained by my busi­ness strat­egy for the mo­ment. I like to main­tain my prod­uct so that when the rental con­tract ex­pires I then get my prod­uct back. Cur­rently, that means main­tain­ing an SA client base as best I can with the re­sources I have. It’s part of my de­vo­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.”

Wants to cash in on 2010. Roelof Del­port

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