Finding unique ways to adapt when lockdown affected supplies as well as staying positive has helped Colchester-based florist, Flowers by Molly Louise, find new opportunities in tough times.
2020 was shaping up to be a bumper year for Molly, the eponymous owner of Flowers by Molly Louise. Launched in 2017, the business had grown quickly through social media and word of mouth and had a steady flow of returning customers. “I had a strong order book for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and my regular stand in Fenwick’s’ for Valentine’s Day had been a great success,” says Molly. “With wedding season about to begin, the order pipeline was looking good.”
Adapting to supply challenges
When the pandemic started and lockdown in the UK began, the effect on the business was immediate. “The first challenge was when flower shipments from the big Continental flower suppliers stopped for the first 4/5 weeks, as the UK ports focused on bringing in essential items,” she says. “At that point, I was still taking orders for funerals and general deliveries, so I needed to quickly adapt. The obvious choice was artificial flowers, but those aren’t for everyone, so I started creating vegetable wreaths and using foliage foraged from my family’s farm.”
The vegetable wreaths not only helped Molly overcome the challenge of a lack of flower supply but proved a sustainable and unique option that many customers appreciated. “Vegetable wreaths are a really eco-way of working, taking produce that’s wonky and turning it into something that’s beautiful. Then, when it’s left at the crematorium or the cemetery, wildlife such as deer or rabbits feel the benefits.
“Some people also liked the way it reflected the gardening interests of their loved ones much better. Although creating the vegetable wreaths started as a new idea to cope with the flower shortage, it’s something that I’m going to keep offering because it’s had a good response from customers.”
As the COVID-19 situation evolved, the cancellation of Molly’s wedding bookings began in earnest. “Although deposits were held, the postponement of the weddings until 2021 and 2022 has meant that the payments I was expecting have been delayed,” explains Molly. “From a cashflow perspective, weddings are great because they’re booked so far in advance and you have a forward book. However, my wholesalers allow payment in arrears, so that provides flexibility for buying flowers and then paying the invoices once I’ve been paid, which is great.”
Although creating the vegetable wreaths started as a new idea to cope with the flower shortage, it’s something that I’m going to keep offering because it’s had a good response from customers.
With funerals limited to small numbers of mourners and relatives unable to visit one another freely, Molly has also seen an increase in demand for flowers to be delivered instead. “Being able to send flowers to let someone know you’re thinking of them has become really important,” she says. It’s where Molly’s reputation for taking time to understand what customers need and offering personal touches, has made all the difference.
Digging deep for better times
She admits that there were worrying times, but a strong work ethic and positive approach has reaped rewards. “Even when things feel hopeless, you just have to dig deeper and keep going, taking each day as it comes. I’d built up a savings pot especially for tough times, which I used to support myself and the business until things got better. I also work in a bar on the evenings, so that offered another source of income when it reopened.”
It’s an attitude that has enabled Flowers by Molly Louise to not only weather the storm but emerge stronger. “I already had lots of bookings for weddings for 2021 and 2022, so with the ones postponed from this year on top, it’s going to be busy,” says Molly. “On top of that, for the last couple of years, I’ve had a stand at the department store, Fenwick’s in Colchester at peak times such as Valentine’s Day, but they’ve now offered me a permanent stand, so business really is blooming.”
As Molly’s thoughts turn to growth, she’s rapidly reaching the stage of thinking about taking on staff and finding new premises. “At the moment, I work from the summerhouse in my garden,” she explains, “but who knows, I may need to find a shop. I think it’s important to aim big! HSBC have been in touch regularly with me to check-in during the past few months, so I feel confident in their support whatever the future brings.”
Even when things feel hopeless, you just have to dig deeper and keep going, taking each day as it comes.