How to start a florist business

Our guide to launching and running a flower shop, to help you succeed in this blooming industry

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This guide shows you what you’ll need to think about to successfully start a florist shop:

Whatever the occasion, people have always enjoyed receiving flowers from family, friends and loved ones. And increasingly, flowers are not just for special occasions. Over half of all the money spent on flowers comes from people buying them for their own homes. Now more than ever, behind the bouquets and bunches lies a large and thriving floral industry.

According to Lantra Training, a training organisation for people in the land-based sector (agricultural and veterinary careers for example), the florist industry is mostly made up of small businesses, with IBIS world research stating that currently the floral industry is worth £993m and employs over 21,000 people. These figures speak for themselves and prove how much the UK population loves all things bright and beautiful.

Perhaps your passion for flowers or gardening extends to such a level that you could see yourself in business but haven’t dared enter the fray? Or perhaps you have got it in your mind to start a florist shop but you don’t know where to begin? Our guide will hopefully transform any hesitancy into a budding business, and help you create a florist business plan to use when you start your flower business.

How does the flower shop market work?

Of the 6,700 businesses, around 80% of these belong to a relay organisation such as InterFlora, Teleflower or Flowergram. The benefit of belonging to such an organisation is that by providing support in marketing and sales, product and design, and international links, they allow the business to compete with multi-national firms, and respond to a changing market. (For example, approximately 80% of Dutch-imported flowers in the UK now go to supermarkets.) A relay organisation allows a person in one part of the country to ‘send’ flowers to a person in another part of the country by using a network of florists. The operation is relatively straightforward.

The customer places an order with an authorised sending florist, the order is then sent to the scheme’s head office who then relay it to a florist in the area that the customer wishes the flowers to go to. Orders can be picked up either by phone, fax or email from fellow members around the UK or overseas as well as orders from people visiting the shop direct.

So that both parties are paid both the sending florist and the executing florist hold an account with the relay organisation. The sending florist typically retains 20% of the order and sends the balance to the relay organisation, while the executing florist receives the balance of the amount for the order, which is around 80%. Both are usually settled on a monthly basis.

  • Membership of the scheme may also involve:
  • An exclusivity agreement stating that the florist can’t belong to another scheme
  • A joining fee and/or annual subscription fee
  • Interest on overdue accounts as well as other terms and conditions of membership.

The remaining florist businesses are also made up of small shops as well as contract florists who remain independent from relay organisations. These outlets and companies either sell directly to passing trade or have contracts to cater for events, functions and parties or other businesses, for example. Of course as a relay organisation you can also arrange contract work.

There is always competition, and the florist industry is no exception. Andrea Caldecourt of the Flowers and Plants Association, set up in 1984 to promote sales of all commercially grown cut flowers and indoor plants to UK consumers, says: “About the same number of florists have existed each year over the past five years but each year about the same number go out of business as decide to set up in business. You are never going to get wildly rich as a florist, but then that’s not why people go into the industry.”

Yet specialising and adding the personal touch maybe the key to success. Caldecourt says: “If there wasn’t competition then it wouldn’t be a good business to go into. There are many more places selling flowers and indoor plants now, however very few of them offer bespoke arrangements to order, which is where many successful florists specialise.”

Who is being a florist suited to?

Being a florist involves several things. You will need to design and assemble floral displays for distribution and sale to members of the public or corporate customers. These items can range from individual bouquets – for events such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries – to displays for large scale events such as sporting occasions, conferences or even state occasions. But because the business is made up of a small team, each person has an important role to play. This means that as well as florist skills you will also have to be prepared to develop a variety of skills, such as sales, marketing, promotion, personnel, accounts, stock ordering, environment and hygiene, for the business to succeed. Caldecourt says you need to be multi-skilled and prepared to knuckle down if you want to succeed in the world of floristry.

“It’s physically hard work. You need to be an early riser, with plenty of stamina, as well as being dexterous and strong – a full florist’s bucket weighs about 15-20 kilos. You can’t be afraid to get dirty. You also need to have excellent people skills to deal with bereaved people ordering wreaths, or brides-to-be deciding on their wedding flowers.”

But it’s not all about hardy perennials. A certain amount of business nous is a vital ingredient of a flourishing business. “You also need some idea of how to run a small business. Many people start a floristry business having great floristry skills but little business sense – the successful ones have the business skills – or hire someone with those attributes – as well,” says Caldecourt.

Do I need any qualifications?

Becoming a florist is not just about buying and selling, it is also an art and a skill that is taught and developed over many years. Of course, you may already have acquired skills such as flower arranging by working for someone else or because of a hobby or an organisation you belong to but where can you go for professional training and advice?

Many Local Education Authorities run basic flower arranging courses as night classes that range from three months to a year in length. In addition, specialist horticultural or agriculture colleges (NVQ in Floristry), local National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies, Women’s Institute or church groups will provide courses and opportunities for flower arranging.

Caldecourt says a blend of passion and experience can count for a lot: “People often choose floristry as a second career later in life as there are no age barriers to success but previous experience in design comes in useful.”

Where do I start when launching a flower shop?

Once you have decided to open a florists and how you are going to finance the venture, you will need to sit down and carefully consider the following issues.

You need to decide what sort of florists you are going to be, what you’re going to sell, and who you’re going to sell to. Are you going to sell purely to the general public, form part of a relay scheme, take on contract work with local businesses and functions or a combination of some or all of these avenues?

If you want to establish trade sales links then count the number of suitable businesses in your area, decide what you want to offer them, whether some sort of discount system should be established, then approach them to see whether they’re interested.

If a competitor has already got there first, then give them a good reason to swap over to you. This could include a wider choice, lower prices and your expertise.

What will your product range consist of? Will you be selling fresh or dried flowers or perhaps you could diversify into greeting cards, confectionery, balloons and banners? Will you cater for weddings, birthdays, and funerals or specialise in one particular field?

Caldecourt offers some advice. “Any kind of specialisation is beneficial. Florists should also emphasise the additional design input and technical skill that goes into their work. This often has a personal touch – just as artists and clothes designers are recognisable by their work.”

Market research

Tied into the niche or style of florist you start is the location and the size of premises you intend to lease or purchase outright. Do you want passing trade in a more urban environment or would you prefer people to come and find you in a more rural location? Locating next to a hospital, railway station or just off the high street can bear fruit.

Also, ask yourself how large you want your shop to be. Make sure you have enough space for a retail area to interface with the public, a cool storage room, a preparation area to construct arrangements and a wide frontage in order to present your flowers outside and create attractive window displays.

Colin Archer, a business agent at the Colin Archer Business Partnership, says that the right image is vital. “People associate flowers with life, therefore your business needs to be clean, well-maintained, bright and cheerful and inviting to your customers.”

You will need to carry out some thorough market research of the area, the type of people that live and work there and the existing competition. Firstly estimate the number of people that are interested in purchasing flowers and establish a level of demand for certain products.

If you start out as a florist with high levels of wastage then you’ll quickly find yourself out of business. If, however, there are enough potential customers and not many competitors then you’ve found yourself a niche.

The flower industry has changed in recent years and there are a lot more outlets dealing in plants and flowers, so check out the competition by counting the number of outlets selling flowers, what they’re selling and who they’re selling to.

Then scan your area for other specialist florists, nurseries and garden centres, DIY stores, petrol stations, greengrocers, convenience stores, supermarkets and mail order and home delivery services. Using a record sheet for every competitor is always a useful exercise. Draw up a list in tabular form and include the following categories, ticking off and writing comments as you go along:

  • Name of outlet
  • Specialist florist
  • Other outlet, newsagent, supermarket, etc
  • Product range, opening hours, shop appearance, services offered and whether it belongs to a relay scheme

You will then need to establish a relationship with a wholesaler who can supply you with freshly cut flowers and plants with the majority imported from Holland. However, there are dozens around the UK. For more information contact the Flowers & Plants Association.

When first starting a retail business you will also need to advertise in as many avenues as possible. Do this by firstly putting together an attractive shop front and regularly updating your displays, then produce some leaflets including product shots and your contact and website details (if you have one, if you haven’t then get one). Having a good social media presence will also be beneficial to you business, especially as it will allow you to connect with customers and showcase your work.

You should also advertise in your local paper or directories such as the Yellow Pages or, establish links and promotional exchanges with other businesses in your catchment area as well as producing a series of business cards and placing them in related businesses such as bridal shops, for example. If you belong to a relay scheme, make sure that the sign of the organisation you belong to is prominently displayed.

Rules and regulations when running a flower shop business

There are no specific rules when opening a florist’s but if you employ staff you will need to comply with employment legislation such as the national minimum wage act, working time regulations and the Employment Rights Act. The Health and Safety at Work Act that covers all aspects of health and safety at all business premises will also have to be complied with.

How much can I earn?

As long as you control wastage, running a florist’s can be a very profitable business with an average starter wage of £15,000 and a profit margin of up to 60% in some cases. However, as Caldecourt explains, you have to be very careful when dealing with your stock:

“Controlling wastage is one of the key problems in floristry. Unlike other small businesses, where if the stock doesn’t sell you can just leave it on the shelf or sell it back to the wholesaler, any unsold stock will go in the bin. On the other hand, if you don’t have enough stock, you could lose out on potential business. This takes trial and error and experience to judge.”

Archer says: “You can make a lot of money from floristry, especially if you diversify, something I always recommend to people who are going in cold to the business. As long as you have artistic merit, are good with people and have the potential to diversify your products and include garden equipment or garden ornaments, for example then you can expect a high profit margin.”

Remember that although many still use cash to buy flowers, it may also be worth considering accepting card payments (we’ve got a guide on the best card machines and mobile card readers for small businesses).

Useful contacts for a florist

Flowers and Plant Association
Tel: 020 7738 8044

National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies
Tel: 020 7247 5567

The Health and Safety Executive
Tel: 08701 545500

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