Photo of Ellie and Anna by Lizzie Mayson
Interviewed in March 2016
Ellie Jauncey: We started our floristry business, The Flower Appreciation Society, in 2009 and this is our sixth year. My background is in textiles, and I used to have a small knitwear company of my own, which I don’t do any more. I worked in production for fashion designers and I got a job at The Conran Shop as a textiles buyer which was my dream job, only to be made redundant after six weeks. After that painful experience I got a job in the pub round the corner, where I met Anna, who was also working there.
Anna: At the Scolt Head! The busiest shift to work was Sunday night, which the locals call ‘smash it up Sunday’!
I’d gone to art school, worked as an illustrator for a bit but found it very solitary and not enjoyed hustling to find enough work. I’d then done a qualification in floristry and was working at the pub and doing flowers part-time, although I’d already decided that I didn’t actually want to be a florist and was training to be a midwife. I was quite indecisive!
I didn’t want to work for someone else but I didn’t want to be a florist on my own. I completed the training and went on to work as a midwife for two years.
Ellie: My mum is a florist. My granny was a very keen gardener and my great granny was a florist; we are a green-fingered family. I never wanted to be a florist though, it was only because I needed some money that I spent a summer doing flowers with my mum when I realised; not that I loved it but that I was really good at it. I thought; I can do this! Maybe I should do it . . . but it was quite a gradual realisation.
Anna: We realised we should work together when two of my friends got married at the pub and I was doing the flowers. I’d been up till four making the bridal bouquets the night before, then I had to start at nine to get everything together. It was my second wedding and I was really slow and didn’t really know what I was doing. Ellie was working behind the bar that day and she came and helped me. I did think, wow, she’s really good at this! She was doing things I hadn’t even thought of and I was like ‘you are so proactive!’
Quite soon after that we decided to do it together and came up with the name, The Flower Appreciation Society and started doing the flowers for the pub every week. We didn’t make a business plan or anything like that but the partnership was agreed. I think it was good that we weren’t close friends before we started working together. We are friends, but it was flowers that brought us together, not the other way round.
Ellie: I can’t remember how quickly or exactly how it came together, but I was very driven to do it. I needed a new direction and at that time Anna didn’t, because she was doing her midwifery and if anything, this was an inconvenience . . .
Anna: But it wasn’t though because I enjoyed it so much it didn’t feel like work. It was a really fun way of earning a tiny bit of extra money.
Ellie: It wasn’t about the money though, we earned about £30 a week! Money didn’t start rolling in for the first two years and we were both doing several other jobs, the pub and other places. We also used the pub as storage for all our equipment. Doing flowers isn’t a nine to five job anyway, unless you have a shop, but there are peak periods, quiet times and it’s very seasonal. It’s only been for the last two years that we’ve been busy in the winter. Until then we weren’t sustaining ourselves all year round, we had to earn the bulk of it during the summer. I gave up my last ‘other’ job three years ago.
Anna: I finally gave up midwifery last July, having done one day a week for the previous year. It’s all happened organically, we never made a business plan or got business advice. Also, we made a mistake with our accounts, which was passing it all over to an awful accountant who has really screwed us over and who we’re not with any more.
Ellie: If I was giving advice to anyone it would be ‘take control of your own accounts and know what you are doing’ as we just passed it all over completely and we should have been keeping an eye on it. It was our fault and we have learned the hard way. Now we have someone new, but I think in some ways you get what you pay for and we hired someone who wasn’t expensive, which we decided at the time was what we needed because we’ve never had any investment, we just started from nothing and built it very slowly.
Anna: Neither of us are business-trained or have worked in an administrative role.
Elllie: We were just making it up as we went along.
Anna: It depends what kind of business you have. Some people do need capital and need investment whereas we got into it because we loved it, we haven’t taken risks with the business and we have grown at a rate we can cope with.
Ellie: I’d say; work out what you are good at and find help for what you’re not. Another piece of advice would be; learn some new skills and broaden your skills set – you can’t teach yourself everything. We’ve done photography and planting and growing worshops and each thing adds another string to our bow.
Ellie: Both our backgrounds in art mean the way we style both the flowers and our company branding, with illustration and photography collage lead to our tagline ‘not your average florists’. Our customers find us through the internet, word of mouth and to a certain extent, press coverage. Of the online platforms, wedding blogs are the biggest driver. And Instagram too, but that doesn’t translate into paying customers, although it’s good for brand-awareness. Wedding blogs are win-win as it’s the photographers who submit the pictures with our flowers in, we don’t have to do any extra work at all, then brides look at blogs to get their inspiration and find us.
We don’t have a social media strategy, we don’t have a posting schedule. We take pictures as we are making and on Saturday, for example, post pics after we have finished delivering to the weddings as we’re too busy before. Should we organise it a bit more? We could sit down and schedule it but is that the best use of our time when we could be making the garden beautiful? [The Instagram figures] are growing all the time anyway, but maybe we could double the followers . . . I don’t know.
As well as weddings and other events, we put on workshops, which are fairly unique to us, in that they are for our customers, rather than other florists. Headdress workshops, at hen-do’s, for example, are popular. Originally it was all for people who like messing about with flowers, although the next step, which are in the process of launching will be a bit more serious, we’re calling it ‘an introduction to floristry’ and it’s aimed a bit more at people who want to be florists. We want to do something where people are actually learning and there’s more to teach.
Anna: It’s good for us to be proactive and put these things on, rather than waiting to get work. Especially in winter because there’s much less wedding work at that time.
Ellie: The response is great, they always sell out, so there’s a definite demand for it, even the more expensive, serious ones.
Buy The Flower Appreciation Society BOOK
Anna: We also produced a book, which came out last summer that we’re very proud of. If I see it in a bookshop I’ll go in and place it more prominently. It was weird, a publisher and an agent approached us both on the same day out of the blue. We met them both and took on the agent, who got two publishers interested and then went for the one with a shorter deadline to keep up momentum.
We invested a lot of the advance on making the book, gave each other £500 to go on holiday, ploughed back into the business and paid for our book launch! It just got swallowed up.
Ellie: You might imagine that writing a book changed everything overnight and people come knocking straight away but there’s no instant effect, although it definitely helps.
Anna: It took over our lives – we had no evenings or weekends. We shot all the pictures ourselves and we had to style all the flowers specifically for photography. The process never seemed to finish.
Our latest project is a garden, so we can start growing some of our own flowers. And we’re being a bit more businessy, including creating a plan for where we want to go from here.
Ellie: We have taken on a creative business mentor, her role is purely “mentor” and we pay her for her advice.
We’re working out how to grow the business. After a certain point you can’t do everything yourselves and you need more hands on deck but which bits do you delegate and which bits can you keep for yourself? We wouldn’t get someone else to arrange the flowers or go to the market because that’s what we do and it’s the fun part! So maybe we could get an admin person. We have our assistant Issy for two days a week, doing flowers with us.
Ellie: Compared to normal jobs, we do much longer hours in the summer, like up at 5.30am to go to the market and don’t finish until seven. So that is long, although we don’t do late nights, we often work weekends.
Anna: Recently, we have started having alternate Mondays off, so one of us now works five days a week rather than six which has done wonders for our sanity. So just one of us works on Monday, although it might change in the summer. We’ve sacrificed a lot of time to have this job, and money too, as I think I could be earning more as a midwife. But we are very happy, because we love the work. And working for yourself makes you much more ambitious. I’m far more ambitious about this than I ever felt in my twenties or in any other job, like I want the business to grow.
Ellie: I’ve never felt resentful that I don’t earn enough money, I’ve always felt happy that I do this . . . although it was slow to get to this point.
Anna: We have a nice life! Another piece of advice would be; don’t do it for the money. That’s what has worked for us, anyway.