Heather Gorringe’s Great British Florist enjoys 10 per cent growth in demand
Heather Gorringe’s Great British Florist (GBF), an online specialist supplying flowers grown on its own plots or from 11 other UK suppliers, is seeing a steady 10 per cent increase in demand, generating a £500,000 turnover.
Season and weather sometimes mean imported flowers are in the mix, but to ensure absolute transparency, the company stamps its packaging with how many UK-grown flowers and foliage are in the design.
This has played so well with customers, Gorringe is now pushing for the industry to have its own accreditation mark.
“Food producers have the Red Tractor symbol, perhaps British flower growers should have a red wheelbarrow,” she suggests.
In theory at least the opportunities are considerable as 90 per cent of flowers are still imported in a domestic market worth over £2 billion.
The average Valentine’s bunch is estimated to travel 4,000 miles before it reaches its loved-up recipient, while the Dutch with their superior logistics now dominate the supply chain.
But a new trend is emerging around home-grown stocks of fragrant sweet williams, blowsy roses and the like. Partly triggered by environmental concerns, this is also about changing tastes.
We’re a close knit team who are all experts in their own way
More natural or cost-effective do-it-yourself arrangements have become popular and customers’ desires for craft, authenticity, local sourcing and seasonality are coming to the fore much as they have already done in the food and drink sector.
Gorringe, her farmer husband Phil and niece San set up GBF in 2012 as a brand within parent company Wiggly Wigglers, a natural garden products supplier that began with the idea of using worms to compost kitchen waste.
Both have been diversification businesses for the mixed family farm based in deepest rural Herefordshire that felt the full force of the recession.
Due to unpredictable weather foreign flowers sometimes appear but the company mark their packages
As discretionary spend budgets tightened, Wigglers’ trade shrunk with order values dropping from £36 to £23 and exacerbated by a free delivery commitment by the company that dented margins even further.
Added to that were supplier problems and lease contract on a warehouse they no longer needed but had to see out.
“It was a perfect storm and we were ill prepared,” remembers Gorringe who discovered a deeper resilience that has been with her ever since.
“The troubles made us analyse our systems and determine what products best survived a downturn,” she explains.
The company sell natural bridal bouquets
“We cut our ranges, focussed on the farm-produced ones and were surprised to see it was our luxury British Flower Bouquet that was doing the best.
“Floristry has been the way to keep our farm sustainable and make use buildings that are unsuitable for modern farming.
“Flowers by Wiggly Wigglers, especially for sensitive occasions like funerals was unlikely to fly, we thought, so the new brand was born.”
Developing GBF has taken £50,000, a combination of their own savings and crowdfunding investment via Funding Circle.
Their bank, the Hereford branch of Lloyds, supported them with an overdraft facility as they remade the business.
Through it all Gorringe never doubted the value of provenance, but her belief was shaken when she made a shocking discovery recently.
This was when stock she had taken from a key source that she trusted was British turned out not to be so.
“But as so often a major problem became an opportunity,” she explains. “Previously when a customer had stipulated British flowers we sometimes had to say we could not guarantee it. They would then go elsewhere, often settling for 100 per cent import and we lost the business.
“We could not go on doing ourselves down, so we introduced a stem count and started including non-British grown where there was no alternative.
A tight and expert team prepare and dispatch the flowers
“The result has been astonishing as we now sell more British flowers, customers prefer the total transparency and one of the distinguishing features about our business is there will always be some British blooms or foliage in our bouquets, hand-tied posies and the buckets of blooms for the brides who like to do their own arranging.”
Eight staff and a pool of self-employed florists dispatch the flowers that come from Wales and Lincolnshire down to Dorset and Cornwall.
“We’re a close knit team who are all experts in their own way but can also multi-task at the drop of hat. That keeps things fresh and interesting for everyone,” adds Gorringe.
The Wiggly Wigglers’ side is holding its own again too with a £700,00 turnover. Distribution for that is handled by PackIt, a nearby social enterprise for special needs workers.
So the upturn is firmly underway, but Gorringe, now a self-confessed “accounting freak” will never again assume the good times will just keep rolling and is busy advancing plans for GBF’s next venture to secure revenues.
Flower courses held in a local café have worked so well Gorringe is planning extended digital versions.
“Our next effort online will be workshops and courses which you can download wherever you are in the world,” says Gorringe, “and if you are in the UK you’ll be able to buy a flower kit too.”