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Shutting the shop ... a cautionary tale!


The pandemic changed a lot of people’s life choices and not only did we see a legion of people set up florist business from home but a lot of retail florists shutting and moving to home or studios.


Now, with fears of a recession looming, inflation at a 40 year high, energy and fuel prices rising endlessly, a war that shows no signs of stopping but is making itself felt around the world, constantly fluctuating flower prices and incredibly hot weather which is making everyone and everything exhausting, the number of people talking about shutting their shops is rising again.


But is this the right way?


Is the grass always greener the other side or is it that fake stuff that may look good but is actually not the best experience never mind totally unsustainable!


Our Editor has had shops, visited more shops around the world than most and absolutely understands how tough it is. But if she didn’t have crumbly knees she’d open another one like a shot given half the chance.


Indeed she is still convinced that, however tough it is, the best opportunities for bespoke florists looking to take market share and make more money is from a commercial shop, in the best foot flow location possible. We asked her to explain why.


Shop, Studio or Home ??

... give me bricks and mortar every time!

Would I work from home ... not on your nelly!! On the rare occasions I do flowers these days – be it prepping for a shoot or a charity event I’m helping with – however tidy I try to be (not easy when cutting, conditioning, making at speed) the house looks like a herd of elephants has gone through it, my husband rolls his eyes and harrumphs and even if I am knacked I have to clean up and restore the house into some semblance of order because it’s his home too!!


Would I have a studio? If I was only doing weddings and events ABSOLUTELY ... that makes total sense. However, as a bespoke florist offering impulse buys, gifts, funerals and plants that's another 'not on your Nelly' moment! Yes, I would have the space and the dead days could be used for marketing etc which would be essential given little or no footfall. But I would miss the interaction with customers, worry about waste and IMO not having a window/being involved in my community would be a major loss in terms of promotion/showing off what I offered.


Would I have a shop again? If I was 20 - nay 10 years younger I'd do it like a shot – I loved having a shop!! Age may have ruined the knees but now I know what NOT to do I would revel in using everything I’ve learned, become part of the community and go for it.


That said I know that having a shop is a big responsibility which can play havoc with health and seriously impact on family life, never mind a big cost. That's why I totally get why people might think about giving up a shop or not even think about having one in the first place. And I know that for some being shop-less has, and does work brilliantly.


However I also know a lot of florists who have made the switch and it’s all gone horribly wrong and they have deeply regretted their decision. So here are some of my top tips on what to think about before deciding which route to go.


WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

If you have simply fallen out of love with it then chances are you're looking for a complete break and that would be right. Wouldn't matter how much money you did or didn't make, how many hours you were or weren't open - unless you have the passion then you are probably best to leave completely. Floristry is not, in my experience, a job you can confine to a Monday - Friday 9 - 5 life; well not if you want the full on experience and pleasure!


If shutting the shop is just to save money that may not be a good enough reason on its own either. Unless you are specialising in weddings and events what are you really going to save?


For example what is it going to cost you to relocate? How much extra time and money will you need to spend on marketing. Will you need to make redundancies and what will that cost? Will you get lumbered with lease ending costs? Would you be better to really make the push for increased sales/growth with the space you have than the cost of moving or building a workroom?


And, whilst this may sound harsh, if your business isn’t working from a shop it may be time to ask other questions. Is it really going to be any better being at home or in a studio? You may save rent/rates etc but if you don’t retain the current turnover and a reduced turnover isn’t going to be enough to support you what’s the point?


THINK DIFFERENTLY

A lot of florists shut the shop because they can’t cope with a six day a week trading pattern; be it because of family or lack of staff. Again I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason.


I know of many shops who learned from the pandemic that they could change their working practices. Be it closing Monday/Tuesday because it’s as dead as a dodo, or keeping shorter hours i.e. 10 – 4.


You need to really analyse when your sales are happening and how you can adapt. And if you are worried about paying rent for time not trading think about opening the shop for classes or workshops or simply use the non-trading days to do admin, marketing and sales.


Chances are you’ll easily cover the cost by focusing on the business side and getting that right as much as the floristry. Oh yes and take some time out for yourself!


DO THE TRADING NUMBERS

How much of your business is over the phone/website and how much is passing trade. What are the other, ‘invisible’ positives of having a shop – never underestimate the power of having a shop front and your role in the community.


Have you done a proper analysis or are you just basing your thoughts on a feeling in your waters or because it's currently dead as a dodo. The waters can be accurate but nothing beats a proper health check of your business and a forensic search of where and how you get your sales and what those sales convert to in hard profit terms.


Once you’ve done that, see if there is a way of making improvements before making the change. Assuming you aren’t a complete failure, building on existing sales, reputation and location is a lot easier than starting again or running the risk of losing business.


WHAT ABOUT THE WASTE?

Another plus point of a shop is being able to hold enough stock to look interesting or fill orders but turning it quickly enough to avoid waste.


Unless you are only working on pre-orders, working from a studio or home may not give you that scope and you could find yourself either losing sales because you can’t get supplies quickly enough or wasting flowers because you didn’t sell enough and had no passing trade to shift it.


THINK OF THE IMPACT ON YOU!

If you are going to move to your home have you really got the space and what will be the impact on your work/life balance. If you are in a studio would you miss people passing by, smiling, coming in or are you happy to be on your own all the time.


If it won’t send you stir crazy that's fine but solitude isn’t always a good thing; it’s tough enough running a business without being on your own and not seeing a soul all day!


And never underestimate the ability to lock the door without having to sweep the floor/put stuff away etc because you are tired. Unless you have a decent sized workspace at home it can be an absolute nightmare and your family may not thank you for it – especially if the bath is regularly being used for flowers!!


You can get the phone switched over which will retain some loyalty but are you sure YOU can switch off. A decent work/life balance is as important as revenue generation and having a shop or studio makes the divide a lot clearer.


MARKETING MATTERS

Google does not like residential addresses so this can impact on your website. Yes you could, as I have seen some florists doing, cheat and pretend you are still in a shop location but I really wouldn’t recommend it and anyway do you really want strangers turning up at your door?


You also need to be really hot on your marketing. Sticking pretty pictures up on social media isn’t enough unless you are only aiming at the big ticket and event market (a whole other story!!) and if you really want to generate decent sales to generate a decent salary you need to keep your customer base as high as possible and have the workspace to achieve it in.


WILL IT BE LEGAL?

There are actually strict rules about working from a residential address and you need to make sure you are abiding by them.


Councils are not keen on people trading from a home for both financial reasons (they lose rates etc) and environmental ones, especially when it comes to waste etc so you should advise them to get clearance before someone else does.


Because large lorries delivering flowers and turning up at odd hours of the night can often not sit well with neighbours; I have heard some horrendous stories of florists being pursued by unhappy neighbours and it costing a fortune in legal fees.


You'll also need to make sure your mortgage isn't impacted by running a business from home - some lenders have pretty strict rules - and if you're renting you should check with your landlord.


Oh yes, and make sure your insurance is right too. Not only do you need it to protect yourself if making deliveries or working on events in hotels/churches etc - at least £1 million cover - but a normal house cover policy may not cover you if it is found out you were working on a revenue generating business.


WILL YOU LOSE CUSTOMERS?

How would a move to studio/home be perceived by your existing customers. Will you still be seen as a ‘proper’ florist or could it have a negative impact. In my opinion a florist is one of the local heroes of the retail scene and needs to be seen.


I can just about see a move if you are at the end of your career and this is a wind down situation pre-retirement or you are dropping the day to day part of your service but if you’re still young and have everything to go for, then in my opinion you need to be out there and visible.


You see I personally think the scope for decent florists is still HUGE (yes even with all the economic gloom) but not if you hide away behind a website or social media; that takes away your whole USP and you are no better than any of the online players.


SPRINGBOARD OPTIONS

For start-ups I totally get that committing to high rent/long term leases is a real risk and scary. This is about the only time I can advocate starting out at home - and then running your own pop-ups to test and build up a customer following AND taking space at local markets and events to get your name and face out there.


However always make it your goal to move out into commercial premises ASAP and rent the highest footfall locations you can possibly afford. If you can get a site near a cool coffee shop/uber trendy grocer/deli et al or one of the big brand chains so much the better.


You can have the most gorgeous shop but if it’s in the back end of nowhere it is unlikely to work as well as it could. Think Location Location Location but deffo think Bricks and Mortar!!


THE CHOICE IS YOURS

Whatever you do please think long and hard about the consequences of your choices. I know many florists loved working behind closed doors and saw their internet sales soar but as we report in our News section, in the same way Pop Up shops are on the rise again, online sales are dropping and dropping fast.


The pandemic was a one off that will, please God, never be repeated and customers are back out there and looking for a shopping experience. Make sure it’s your shop they visit not someone else’s.



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