Lush Blooms shows February some flower power
It’s February, which means Bionic is shining the spotlight on another small business niche. This month, it’s florists!
We celebrated by chatting to Anita Mattson-Hesketh, who saw her floristry hobby bloom into a fully-fledged business during lockdown. We found out how she started, why she loves being a small business owner and her big plans for supplying Glastonbury with tip-top flower crowns this year!
“My name is Anita, and my business is called Lush Blooms, we offer bespoke floristry in Cardiff.” Anita grins, telling us about her roots “Floristry became a hobby for me about six years ago, I still worked in finance full time as a mortgage advisor. I just found with all the high frequency, working with numbers and stuff, I needed a creative hobby or outlet. So that's what floristry was for me.”
But how did her hobby become a bonafide business? Did it happen quite naturally?
“I started by going to a few workshops. I only went to keep my sister company, which is funny because she was the one who wanted to go.” Anita tells us “But it just came naturally to me, I loved working with the materials and how sensory it was.”
She went on “Then I went to a well-known flower school based in Liverpool and did a few courses there.”
Covid threw a spanner in the works, but lockdown was no match for Anita, she used the time furloughed from her finance job to figure out what she wanted to do and work out how to make her career a little more flower-centric.
“When lockdown happened, I got furloughed straight away and I said to my boss ‘you're going to see me selling bouquets and doing deliveries and stuff because I will lose my mind with nothing to do!’ I need to keep busy” She laughs, before continuing “And then when they started calling everyone back into the office, I just thought ‘I don't want go back’, I love being my own boss and having the freedom to structure my own day.”
She adds “My boss agreed and said he didn’t think I should come back either, because I’d obviously found something I really loved doing. I was really lucky” Anita explains “setting up in lockdown was like a dry run. I was able to try it with no pressure. But I went full time and that was just over three years ago now.”
So how did Anita deal with the practicalities of setting up her business? Did she start off small with flower arrangements or go big quickly with weddings and special events?
“I started off with bouquets.” She says “Then I started doing weddings when they were allowed again after lockdown, and then I offered flower workshops. They're really popular now and we've since opened up a retail space in Barry and launched Cardiff Flower School.”
She continues “In the last year and a half, I've got into coaching too. So I coach other florists and female entrepreneurs, I show them how to scale and grow their businesses.” She says proudly.
The path Anita took was a unique mix that worked for her, but she told us there are a number of ways to become a florist. It’s important to choose the route that suits you best.
“You’re either bench trained where you go into a shop and they teach you for years, or you go to college, but that’s quite slow because it's over three or four years.” She says thoughtfully before going on “Or you can do a mix of classes, flower school and training in a shop with other florists, which is what I did.”
She said that there is some stigma around being self-taught and not having a college qualification, but she thinks hands-on experience is often more valuable.
“Some of the best players in the world are self-taught,” She tells us “There's a bit of stigma, some people think if you didn't go to college, then you're not on the same level as other florists. But the college course hasn't changed in over 50 years. Less people opt to go because it’s not very modern."
She adds “I think people are attracted to things like flower school because they know it suits what's going on today in terms of trends and fashion and colours. It really lets you put your own creative stamp on things.”
Flower crowns at the ready
And what has Anita’s proudest moment been so far? She says when John Lewis approached her to do a pop up in store, she was excited to show people what she could do.
“When John Lewis contacted me, that was quite cool,” she says modestly “Most people apply to them, but they found me and saw the bouquets I'd made, they wanted me to do a pop-up, so that was really exciting!” She carries on “Opening a shop was a proud day for me as well, so I'd say that was another big achievement. Just not knowing if it was going to work or if it was going to suit my business or not.”
“And I'm hoping the next big achievement is going to be that we go to Glastonbury this year to do flower crowns. We’ve applied, so I really hope we get accepted as a supplier!” Anita finishes.
And what has been Anita’s biggest obstacle been since setting up her business? She says she struggled coping with the aftermath of Covid, she was left with a relatively new business and had to work out how to make it blossom.
“Navigating all the changes after Covid, when the world started going back to normal was a struggle. I realised that pivoting is such a normal part of business and you should be prepared to pivot all the time, at a moment’s notice.” She says, adding “When everyone started going back to normal, all my bouquet orders dropped off completely and I just thought ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to do? Am I going to have to go back to a normal job?’ But I didn't realize that I could just pivot and do other things instead, which is what I did.”
And what about the cost of living crisis, has that been affecting the ways customers spend money on things like flowers, workshops and bouquets? Anita says in some areas she’s noticed a change in spending habits but not in others.
“In some parts of my business I have noticed a change and in some I haven't. Weddings for example, people still want to spend that chunk of money. They've got it saved up already and it was always earmarked to spend on their wedding.” She tells us.
“But when it comes to the shop, I think that's where the cost of living crisis has affected us most, but I always knew when I opened a shop it would never be the main source of income for my business.” She says, adding. “I actually see our shop as more of a marketing tool and a base for flower school.”
But Anita says she’s introduced ways to help customers and make it easier for them money-wise.
“I've made changes like introducing payment plans and lowering some prices. I’ve also set up Klarna, so people can spread the costs at 0% percent instead of using credit cards.”
Speaking of marketing, although the shop gets her business out there, and reels in passers-by, how else does Anita market Lush Blooms?
“It's a bit of everything. I always say yes to radio and interviews like this. Social media is probably our main platform, we use Instagram and Facebook, but we also do things like wedding fairs.”
She goes on "Connecting with other suppliers is really important because they often pass work on to you or buy things from you, even if it's not wedding related.” She explains “The shop is good for word of mouth. We also send out mailshots and I've got my own list which I email to once a week. I don't always sell to them, sometimes I just tell them a funny story or something cool that happened that week.”
“I don't know if it's luck, but it's the way I've always viewed it. I've never believed that you have to spend thousands of pounds on marketing to get your name out there” She says thoughtfully “because there are more organic ways to do it, ways that don't cost you anything.”
Pretty petals for every occasion
Out of curiosity, Bionic wanted to know what the busiest time of year was for Anita, is it February as Valentine's Day approaches? Is it Wedding season or Mother’s Day?
“Yeah, it's like peaks and troughs. So the start of the year is when we start winding up and thinking about Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. There's a little peak there and then usually wedding season hits, which is sort of April throughout the summer, although December weddings have become quite popular in recent years.”
“It’s quite steady work” she says “but when the months are quieter at the start of the year, I use it to rest and update my website or do any admin.”
Does Anita have any staff members to help her with the everyday running of the business? And how does she hype them up and keep them motivated?
“I've got a few freelancers that I call on to work for me at different times and help me with weddings,” She tells us “We kind of bounce off each other, they keep me motivated as well. Picking the right people is essential and I need people who are going to cheer me up when I need it as well.”
She adds “One of the main ways I keep them motivated is the fact that I'm not afraid to hand over tasks to them. A lot of florists are real perfectionists, and I am too to an extent, but they have to do everything themselves. I'm not afraid to challenge people and be like ‘can you do this task for me? Take this off my plate and let's see how you do.’ I'm not afraid to push them and keep them stimulated in that way.” She smiles.
So what’s next for Anita and Lush Blooms? Apart from her Glastonbury plans obviously.
I'm really excited to grow flower school.” She says excitedly “Because before now, if you were based in South Wales and wanted to go to flower school, Bath was the nearest one, which is still quite far. It's why I set this one up in Cardiff.”
I've also got a DIY wedding flower range that I'm looking to grow, this year is more about growing what I've already got rather than adding new things. That's the priority for me.”
Does Anita have any petals of advice for other florists? She says each florist is unique and should focus on the aspects they are really passionate about to succeed.
“I'm all about doing the fun stuff” Says Anita “I tell other florists that you don't have to offer everything. Try it once and see if you like it. I know lots of florists who can't handle funeral work because it's just too sad. But then I know other florists who can't stand weddings and the stress they bring, so they don’t offer that service. It's about not offering things that you really don't enjoy.” She explains.
“But I’d also say lean into your creative style as much as possible. A lot of florists don’t do that when they first start out. They do things that other people expect them to do, or things they think they should do, they're really afraid to lean into their edge and their own style. But as soon as you do, that's when your tribe kind of finds you.”
“But also, work out what’s important to you. Being flexible in what I do and how I do it is something I enjoy most about running a business.”
And what about general advice, does Anita have anything to share with those wanting to start a business from scratch?
“I would just say be prepared to work on your mindset. it's a really important element that you cannot skip, especially if you're female. I find that females have a lot more mindset work to do than men, in terms of not being afraid to be successful, to grow. Don't be afraid of having a tax bill to pay because you've earned so much money. It’s about getting comfortable with all that." Anita says, adding “Mindset work looks different to everyone. For some people, it's getting a coach. For some people, it's meditating, listening to podcasts, having a mentor of some sort.”
Anita tells us that having a good support system is vital as a small business owner, this could consist of friends, family members or even Facebook groups for like-minded individuals.
“Speaking to other business owners and being in a group of some kind is important, having a support network, a group of people you can chat with and bounce ideas off is really essential to success.” She tells us, enthusiastically, continuing “I've set up a Facebook group called the 'FemalePreneurs Club', we've had really useful conversations in there. For example, ‘what is everyone's cancellation policy’ or ‘what would you do in this scenario?’ or ‘I've had a complaint. How do I handle it?’ All those business milestones that you come across at some point and need help with.”
She adds “There are so many Facebook groups out there for businesses and there will always be one for your niche.”
And is Anita happy with her business journey, if she could go back would she change anything?
“I wouldn't” She answers after consideration “I'm happy with the way things went, a lot of luck was involved. In life, it’s all about timing, but if anything, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to be so scared because it all works out okay. But when you first take that leap as a self-employed person, I think it's going be scary no matter what.”