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Moses baskets, flowery Friday's and a couple of Awards!!

She started working in a shop when she was 14 – a love affair with flowers encouraged by her grandmothers, she’s had two children, both of whom were an integral part of the shop given, like most shop owners maternity leave simply wasn’t an option and she’s won the BFA Florist of the Year not once but twice!

James Crompton caught up with Donna Cornish, and yes she does come from Cornwall - Launceston to be precise, to find out how receiving an Award via Zoom and surviving a pandemic felt!

Tell me a little bit about your shop and how you got into the industry.

I was encouraged by both my lovely late Nan’s; one was a very keen gardener, the other a keen arranger and my great grandfather was a horticulturalist so it was in the blood I guess. Once I’d shown an interest in flowers, I was taken to the local floral art groups, watched demonstrations, picked flowers to recreate designs and then entered the local shows.

During Work Experience Week I was lucky enough to get a placement in a beautiful Florist shop and was given a Saturday job where I cleaned buckets and conditioned flowers until I finished my GCSE’s and off to floristry college I flew.

Seven years passed, I was still in the same shop, I gained my Higher Diploma in Floristry, got married and 12 months later started ‘Flowers by Donna’ from my garage with a sign written van. I’d dash around delivering bouquets and meeting customers. It soon became apparent that the garage was becoming too small so I opened the shop in November 2011, selling giftware and plants alongside our lovely fresh flowers. This was the life.

A year later I had our first daughter. She was born on the Saturday and I was back to work mid-week with my little bundle in tow in the Moses basket. I decided to have the best of both worlds bringing our daughter up in the shop, how hard could it be!! The play pen was built and away we went 6 days a week with her quickly becoming the star of the shop.

Fast forward almost three years she started preschool, perfect timing with another baby on the way. After being born on the Friday, we had a weekend off before bringing the Moses basket back out again on the Monday morning to begin work again. They are now settled in Primary school enjoying a break from shop life!

BFA Florist of the Year award 2 years running, how does that feel? How often do you say that out loud to yourself?

It still amazes me today! It’s a huge ‘pinch me’ moment in time that I will forever be honoured to have achieved, a Cornish girl from a small market town in Cornwall. Winning such a prestigious award not once but twice in consecutive years! Customers still congratulate me today – I’m always happy to hear this, it never gets old - lucky me!

Rewind to 2020, you’ve just won the award but you’re watching the presentation on your laptop, glass of wine in hand. Thrilled as I’m sure you were, did it feel just a little bittersweet?

How did you know I’d have a glass of wine in hand?! Of course, I did. As a family we dressed up ready to watch the awards. I admit it all felt a little strange but so lovely of the BFA to continue with the awards in the best way they could. Well, the glass of wine soon followed by celebratory champagne!!

It was such a strange time for us all in the industry – trading in such testing times, I have to say it was a surreal moment. I absolutely loved watching it on YouTube with my young family, they were so delighted and shouting at the screen “that’s you Mummy!”. I have to say I was overcome by emotion and just cried such happy tears! A moment with them I’ll treasure forever. The phone calls from fellow florists that followed congratulating me made the moment much more special. What a way to celebrate a very unusual year!

Fast forward to 2021 and you’re up there winning the same award again, this time in person and you finally get your moment in the spotlight, talk me through your feelings that night.

Never in a million years did I think I’d be lucky enough to win AGAIN, and wow what a moment! Thank goodness I didn’t burst into tears this time in front of all the wonderful florists and industry peers in the room that night! It was just an amazing feeling to hear my name being called and such an honour to collect my award in person – I was on cloud nine!

I LOVE your #flowerfriday concept! Can you share how that works? How do you select your flowers for that promotion?

Gosh my Flower Friday Special! This beauty was set up in the first lock down, when I knew I was allowed to trade - albeit behind closed doors – and offer safe contactless delivery.

I came up with the idea that I could have a promotional seasonal bouquet to be delivered on a set day of the week allowing customers to send an affordable ‘I love you’ ‘I miss you’ ‘Thinking of you’ ‘Thank you for doing my shopping’ ‘stay safe’ gift.

I didn’t quite realise quite how popular it might be but it escalated to a great success very quickly! I tend to select the best flowers the markets have to offer at the best price I can find and simply present them adding a card message as the customer wishes. I advertise them through my social media platforms on a Thursday during the day, with a simple photograph along with a description on how to order and this week’s cost. It has also helped build up my monthly subscription service without advertising it along the way – bonus!

Your business seems to have gone into overdrive these last few years; two BFA awards, Good Florist Guide accreditation. Has your approach to business changed or is this simply the result of the preceding years of hard work?

Thank you, I like to think it’s years of hard work and dedication paying off. I find you have to adapt how you work quite frequently to keep up with the ever-changing markets, standing still is never an option.

Having started the business just before having my young family meant that I could enjoy being a Mum and running my own business at a size that was manageable. Now my girls are at school I have found that I have a little more time to adapt and change the business to continue to grow it at a rate that is manageable, I still have many plans for Flowers by Donna in the think tank yet!

You are obviously one of the most successful one-woman band given all of your achievements. How do you cope with the day to day struggle of finding a reasonable work/life balance?

Gosh I don’t know about that. There are many very successful florists across the country! I find I’m incredibly lucky to have found a job I love and have loved from a very young age. Like most though I occasionally struggle to find a balance. Covid has certainly taught me that saying no sometimes is okay! I think you just have to set your goals, keep a diary and stick to your plans if you can.

Since Covid I no longer open my shop on a Monday though still offer a delivery service. I try to make sure this is my day of planning, ordering and editing the website and planning social media for the week. I do find this helps have a few evenings off – though some weeks even this goes out the window.

It’s no secret the industry was on a rollercoaster ride throughout the pandemic but are the biggest challenges now?

At the moment I’d have to say the costing of materials – availability of sundries has been pretty shocking, so you have to be super organised with holding stock or ordering in advance.

I have operated fixed pricing on fresh flowers for a few years now though through the pandemic and to this day it needs constant comparison and a close eye kept on this side of the business. It’s time consuming but so important as no one wants to be a busy fool.

Which aspects of your business would you really like to improve?

I’ve been working really hard on my website and have just changed from running it myself to a florist based provider, I have to say it’s been my best move yet.

I do make sure I use images of all my own work.

No stock images, so next stop to improve the website further - by adding the availability of ordering funeral flowers online if the customer would like to do so alongside already being able to order bouquets and arrangements for delivery.

How did you design your shop? What special features does it have? Is there anything you’d change about it?

My shop is based on the edge of our small market town, opposite a busy bus stop and car park and I have my work bench in the shop, so I can chat to customers as I work. I find customers love this and are always keen to know what I’m creating next.

The shop is always filled with bouquets, arrangements, and plants ready to go at different price points but I don’t keep a traditional fresh flower stand in the shop which I find helps with purchasing stock and streamlining sales.

The shop underwent a rebrand recently, something the customers have loved. The next thing on my list to change is the lighting within the shop to complete the rebrand and look for more environmentally friendly options.

What are your long term goals for Flowers by Donna? What thoughts do you have on growth and expansion?

Tough question. I have so many ideas and plans but at the moment I’m just working week to week through the pandemic – it isn’t over just yet - and hoping for a successful 2022. I do know that one day I’d love to write a book!

Flowers by Donna is based at 33 Westgate Street, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 7AD

Tel: 01566 775178. To see more about Donna visit her website here and to find out how she promotes her Friday Flower Special see her Facebook page here




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