w&h New Directions: Our gorgeous products make business a pleasure
Three readers tell Fiona Wright why their passion for beautiful gifts made their businesses so successful
anna day, 35, and eLLie Jauncey, 34, are founders of The flower appreciation society, a floristry business. They both live in London. anna says:
We were both between jobs: I was about to train as a midwife and Ellie had been made redundant from her job as a textile buyer. Both of us were working to earn some money at our local pub. We became friends and bonded over our love of flowers, chatting over how we hated formal arrangements and cellophane, and how flowers should be wild and loose to show off their natural beauty.
I had a background in illustration and had done a floristry course for fun. Ellie’s mum was a florist and she’d helped her out, so we both had a bit of prior knowledge. We persuaded the landlord to let us do posies to put in the bar. She paid us about £30 a week and we reinvested that in the flowers, visiting New Covent Garden Market and having lots of fun choosing different blooms.
We did this for about two years and customers started asking us to do arrangements for them. I did a friend’s wedding and got Ellie to help me out. It was our first real paid gig and we charged mates’ rates. Even though we still thought of it as a hobby, word spread. We did a few more weddings and personal bouquets, and we started to make money.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
Ellie found cheap premises. She was more driven than I was at this point because I’d embarked on my midwifery course – I studied and helped out when I could. We did weddings as well as one-off arrangements. We worked really hard at the social media side of things – the business could never have happened without Instagram
– it’s where we can showcase our designs. I don’t think it would’ve been possible to launch the business the way we did, even ten years ago.
I designed our website and a friend of ours helped us build it, so that didn’t cost us anything. Because of our work in the pub, lots of people wanted us to do all sorts for them, from weddings, to dressing houses and shops. We even got some coverage in The Telegraph, which found us on social media. This led to lots of work, and because of our activity on Instagram, we were picked up by Harvey Nichols, Liberty and retailer Anthropologie.
We did arrangements for photo shoots and launches for them. We also created sets for shoots on Miss Vogue, Marie Claire and Numéro magazines. Lifestyle fashion brand Toast asked us to decorate its Marylebone store with herb garlands to launch the spring collection. We even contributed a guide to edible flowers on its blog.
By this time, I’d finished my midwifery course, but I knew my heart
“We showcased our English flowers on Instagram and got spotted by Harvey Nichols and Liberty!”
lay with flowers – and we were making enough money for us both to draw a salary from the business.
Our USP (Unique Selling Point) is using English flowers with handillustrated tags. We turned a disused garden that’s near our studio into a cutting garden where we grow amazing flowers – everything from sweet peas and cosmos to dahlias, with the aim of using as much homegrown stuff as we can.
Definitely the launch of our book, The Flower Appreciation Society: An A to Z of All Things Floral (Little, Brown). We were approached by an agent and a publisher almost at the same time. It was so exciting and we’re very proud of it.
Growing our own flowers has its downside. We planted 400 tulip bulbs and waited for them to appear. Then in April there was a heatwave and they all flowered over two days. We didn’t have any events planned – seeing them looking so beautiful but not being able to use them was awful.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
It’s still just the two of us. We outsource things such as marketing and PR, and have a freelance assistant and seasonal freelancers. We’re expanding and have lots of exciting projects with lifestyle brands, and we also run workshops alongside the business, including hen parties where you can come and make your own headdress. BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER HAD Start small and build up gradually. It is possible to grow alongside demand. It’s not a get-rich-quick plan, but it’s less stressful and more fun. >>
“When top people loved my pens I knew they really were stylish”
Sally Page, 55, is married with two adult daughters and lives in Dorset. She is founder of Plooms, a company making luxury fountain pens.
✢ THE IDEA
I was working as a consultant charity fundraiser and often wanted to send handwritten notes to people. I couldn’t find a decent fountain pen that wrote smoothly, was a good weight and didn’t cost hundreds of pounds. I also wanted one that looked beautiful on my desk, and was surprised at the lack of imaginative colours and elegant shapes.
I’d always wanted to work for myself and start a business, and decided to work part-time and build it up gradually in the evenings and at weekends. I took an old fountain pen to pieces and had a go at designing the sort of pen I’d buy for myself. My husband is great at the techy side of design, and made my sketches into technical drawings online.
I had about £20,000 in savings to invest in the business, so I had several trial models made in quality metals and finishes sent over from China. I was incredibly excited and pleased with the colours and how elegant the pens looked. I chose five shades – red, orange, green, purple and pink – and ordered 1,000 of each, and I found a UK-based company that did the sort of luxury packaging I wanted.
✢ WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
I didn’t have a marketing or PR plan as such. My husband created a website for me, and I took the pens to trade shows. I also did the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which was very successful, and had a stall at the Burghley House Horse Trials in Stamford. I used social media and made a YouTube video about how to improve your handwriting with an ink pen, which got lots of traction. Sales were mainly word of mouth and through the website. After two years, I was able to resign from my job and take a small salary from the business.
Doing talks about launching a business at start-up events also pushed website sales up, and I was invited to the Cambridge University Union to talk about female entrepreneurs. I was on a panel with Harriet Harman MP and BBC Radio 4 presenter Martha Kearney.
I was very flattered. It felt great to be helping others and networking at the same time. I also realised how important the customer service side of things is. I made this central to the business and handwrote the labels on the gift boxes – I still do today. I make sure customers know that I really care that they love the pens.
Selling pens to Alexandra Shulman (ex-editor-in-chief of Vogue) and Martha Kearney. It gave me confidence that my pens were stylish.
My Chinese supplier’s internet server went down for eight weeks and I couldn’t get in touch with them, which was incredibly stressful. I eked out supplies and created a waiting list. There’s very little you can do to guard against things like this.
✢ WHERE I AM NOW
I still run the business from home. I sell about 100-200 pens a month, fluctuating seasonally, and I employ freelancers to help me at busy times. I sold briefly in Fortnum and Mason, but high street retailers don’t really work for me. My aim is to get into Not On The High Street and keep increasing website sales. I also sell coloured inks and beautiful writing paper and stationery, adding new products every year.
✢ BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER HAD
Anyone can eat an elephant, you just have to do it a bite at a time! Start a business slowly, part-time while you’re still earning a salary, and build it up.
“It took two years of slog to create my rock samphire gin, but now it’s sold in John Lewis”
Rubina Khan, 50, is founder of Curio Spirits Company, a botanical gin business that makes rock samphire gin and a range of flavoured vodkas. She is married and lives in Cornwall.
✢ THE IDEA
I was working as an enterprise facilitator and was used to working with start-ups. About three years ago I was given a flavoured gin as present. It was delicious and I wondered if I could create my own. I experimented – the result wasn’t great, but I became really interested in the process. I didn’t like gin that was heavily flavoured with juniper; I wanted something that wasn’t too sweet, but light and citrusy. Rock samphire grows wild near us and has a fresh, lemony flavour with a peppery aftertaste. I kept trying until I got something drinkable.
My husband, William, and I used around £70,000 of our savings over two years to support us while we worked on the business, and I continued working too. To do it properly, I wanted to make the gin from scratch and I needed a licence. The process was really rigorous. I had to be vetted and show that I had a good business model and the budget to buy the equipment and ingredients.
✢ WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
I got the licence, bought a gin still for around £500 and foraged for wild rock samphire. It took about two years of tweaking, then one weekend, I tasted a batch and it was absolutely delicious. I was so excited. I repeated the recipe and it worked again. I created enough to fill seven recycled wine bottles. I made labels, put corks in the tops and sealed th them with c candle wax.
It I took them to Helston F Farmers Market. I went round with a sample tray – and I sold every bottle for £15 each. I visited lots of markets and gradually upped my stock and the price each time. I approached local shops, wineries and delicatessens and came back each time with more and more orders. It was so thrilling to have my idea validated, and I plucked up the courage to hand in my notice. Two years later, I managed to get into John Lewis, which has put my gin into 12 of its large stores, including Oxford Street. I’ve also gone into Harvey Nichols and Not On The High Street.
That moment when I tasted the batch that worked. It was amazing to know I’d created it, and that it was proper gin. I also loved the first time I saw my products on a shelf in the shop with all the other “proper” brands!
Suppliers that didn’t turn up, deliveries that didn’t happen – things that make you feel like giving up. But you’ve just got to keep going.
✢ WHERE I AM NOW
William now works with me and we’ve branched out into flavoured vodka and a fruity punch cup. I sell over 2,000 bottles a month retail, and we’re planning to sell wholesale. We’re also moving to a bigger site, planning gin-tasting events and launching new flavours.
✢ THE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER HAD
Build demand and then supply it. We had orders before we’d made enough batches and had a waiting list. It creates a buzz around the brand, but you must deliver when you say you will and make sure service is really good. w&h
flower power for ellie, left, and anna