How to start a florist business
For early risers with a good eye who are unafraid of hard physical labour. Expect to earn up to £25,000 a year, though probably much less in your first few years. You'll need tens of thousands from the bank if you want premises.
Check our day in the life video on floristry for more of an idea before reading the rest of this in-depth guide:
Floristry is hard work. You'll be working long shifts, weekends, and all the big days of the year (Valentines, Mother's Day, and so on). You also need to be a natural early riser: you need to get to the flower market at least three times a week for 4:30 am, if not earlier, to snap up the best produce. Then you head back to your premises to make everything look beautiful for the day ahead.
Floristries are normally open from 8 am/9 am until 5 pm/6 pm. Your day will involve putting together custom bouquets as well as ready-made bunches, and you may be managing deliveries too. If you cater for events, which is where the highest profits are, you'll be designing the layout, negotiating prices, and coordinating transport and set-up. You also need to keep the shop looking lovely and tend to the flowers throughout the day, as well as welcoming customers and managing your stock and any suppliers.
Vigilant stock control is crucial - watch our life in the day of a florist video to find out more about it. Flowers wilt fast and you only want to display the best, so you'll need to become an expert in buying wisely and anticipating your orders. You'll also need to be very organised with your waste - talk to your local council to find out what you should be doing with it and how much you'll be charged.
The industry and market
The £1.5bn floristry industry is becoming increasingly competitive, and moving online. But there are still more than 8,000 florist shops in the UK, and nearly 7,000 florist businesses. It's an industry made up mainly of very small business: one in four florists have no employees, and 66% employ between one and nine. Most small businesses then team up with a much bigger relay company such as Interflora, becoming part of their relay network. This means you can offer customers nationwide delivery - you place their order with the most local florist in the network to the destination address, and you each take a cut of the profit. You may need to pay to be part of the scheme, but you usually get marketing and sales support included in that price.
The competition you face will depend entirely on how many other florists there are in your area, and how wealthy your area is - obviously richer towns and cities are going to spend more on flowers.
You need to be aware of the online side of things, which has really picked up in the last couple of years with sites like Arena Flowers, FlowersDirect.co.uk and ClareFlorist.com holding good ground against the more well-known brands like Interflora. Online floristry is a pretty saturated market, so unless you have a big budget for PPC and SEO it's unlikely you'll be able to break it.
That means you do need to have a clear plan for how you're going to get customers to use you rather than an online service - whether that's better prices, more personal and friendly service, or a wider range of flowers and styles (see this feature on 37 ways to beat your competitors for more ideas).
- A natural eye and flair for creativity.
- Good with your hands.
- Good with people too - not just because you'll be dealing with them in-shop all day long, but for occasions like funerals and weddings where emotions are running high.
- Physically fit - there's lots of heavy lifting involved.
- You definitely need training to become a florist, and you get it either on the job, in a college or horticultural school (there are more than 100 around the UK), or through a combination of both.
- On-the-job training is the most valuable, because it gives you deeper understanding of the commercial pressures of floristry.
- If you're totally inexperienced and looking for an entry-level job before starting up solo, expect to start on or near minimum wage sweeping floors and having to work your way up gradually.
- Courses can teach quite outdated methods of arranging, and miss out on vital lessons such as how to dress cheaper flowers and foliage up to look expensive (to protect your profit margins).
- There's an NVQ in floristry which is apprenticeship-based to cater for those who want to get a combination of on-the-job and college training. But getting a placement is not always easy. Read this article to find out the pros and cons of different training options available.
- Many councils and local education authorities run introductory floristry courses which are perfect for dipping your toes in the water, and there are plenty of more in-depth courses available elsewhere. Check out the resources at the bottom of this guide for more info.
- Most florists choose premises in a visible location at street level, with a high footfall of shoppers or commuters. That means premises will be pricey.
- Cut premises costs by starting with a stall near a busy train station or street to start generating revenue before committing to a full property lease.
- You don't need massive premises - most florists have a fairly small floor area and most stock is kept on display rather than in the back room.
- Make sure there is some way to control the temperature of the room to prevent your flowers wilting or shrivelling.
- Rental prices vary widely across the country.
- If you decide to sell online or only do flowers for big events, just make sure you have enough space to keep your stock as and when you need it.
- As mentioned earlier in this guide, one in four florists have no employees, and it's a business you'll be able to run on your own if you need to.
- If you do want to take on staff, which will save you from some of the long hours, make sure they have plenty of hands-on commercial experience - this is more valuable than training.
- Inexperienced staff are usually only paid minimum wage or close to it, but it goes up with experience to more like £19,000 annually.
- Managers get up to £25,000.
- Ask on the busy florist forum on Floristnews.co.uk to get an idea of what you should pay if you're unsure.
- Start-up costs vary massively according to whether you have premises and where they are: anything from £15,000 - £100,000.
- Starting without a shop will allow you to lower those costs significantly.
- Expect to need two to three times your purchase price in cashflow over your first year.
- Ask around in the forum at Floristnews.co.uk for guidance.
- Factor in the cost of a van to transport your flowers - along with all the normal costs such as accountant, solicitor, marketing spend and shop fittings (read our ultimate checklist for starting a business to find out other essential costs).
- Floristry isn't a high-paying industry - experienced florists earn around £19,000 annually, store managers around £25,000.
- Most business owners can expect to earn somewhere between those figures if they successfully fine-tune their business model - although earnings will obviously depend on your business nous.
- Get at least a year's worth of commercial experience working for someone else before starting up solo.
- Look at commercial property prices and availability in your area, and see if distances to the nearest flower market are feasible.
- Talk to your bank early (RBS's small business chairman explains why and how to approach them early in this video).
- Get advice from the places listed in the support and resources section of this guide.
- Read our feature: How to start a business: the ultimate checklist.
- Be prepared for seasonal peaks and troughs. Valentines and Mother's Day are your obvious highs, while January and August are normally dead.
- Events are the biggest profit-makers as you can make things look great with plenty of foliage.
- Aim to earn at least double on your stock prices.
- Learn to use foliage cleverly to cut costs.
- Find a speciality - fairtrade flowers, orchids, potted plants, really knowledgeable staff - anything that makes you stand out from online and offline competitors.
- Establish good relationships with flower market traders to get the best deals.
- Buy stock which lasts, such as potted plants, to stand alongside your perishable stock, to help control your stock levels and cashflow.
- Get a website - your customers are online, you need to be too.
- Consider joining relay networks to broaden up your market.
- Figure out early on how you'll transport glassware and bouquets.
- Hire staff with in-shop experience.
- Buying too much perishable stock and having to throw loads away each day.
- Not abiding by your council's waste disposal guidelines.
- Mismanaging your annual cashflow so you get hit by the January and August sales troughs.
- Not having enough commercial experience.
- Not being able to compete with the big online names - which means you have to create a reason for customers to come into your shop. Use our feature on 37 ways to beat your competitors for inspiration.
Support and resources
Use what's out there to help you. Software like Smarta Business Builder will make it easier to keep track of all aspects of your business. Other resources include:
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