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Flowers Across Melbourne on how to scale your business

Expanding your retail footprint, growing your e-commerce platforms or scaling up can be an exciting, yet daunting process. We’ve seen the skeletons of retailers past who have succumbed to market conditions or tried to grow but misread the market and its potential. Pumpkin Patch, Payless Shoes, Shoes of Prey and Toys ‘R’ Us are just a few of those that should serve as a warning to us all.

Pair that with Amazon entering the market, and many non-retailers would wonder why any of us would be investing hard-earned (or won) capital to expand in today’s economy.

Yes, it’s a precarious world for us retailers right now. But I thought I’d tell you our route to expansion and growth to show that, although it’s not the easy road to follow, it is very achievable and reaps amazing rewards if you follow some simple steps.

Fifteen years ago, my partner and florist extraordinaire Nadina and I decided to buy an established – but ailing – bricks and mortar florist, and over several years we built it into a thriving small business, increasing turnover by more than 400 per cent.

As we grew, we realised that much of our growth was increasingly fuelled by online sales and deliveries outside of their local area, but the inflexible nature of our off-the-shelf style website was stunting that growth and was costly to keep updated. So, I taught myself how to code and built the entire e-commerce site we use for Flowers Across Melbourne now, from scratch.

Five years later, we decided to enter the Sydney market, with Flowers Across Sydney. We’ve seen an average of 42 per cent growth every year, and our vision now is to expand our customer base and range to cater for weddings, corporate gifting and funerals as well as build up sister companies Hampers Across Melbourne and Plants Across Melbourne.

Here’s my top four must-haves to ensure that as you grow you manage cash flow, limit the amount of issues arising and, most importantly, stay sane in the process.

Always put customer service as #1

At the core of our business is the tenet that at every touchpoint along the journey the customer is surprised and delighted at how easy it is to quickly obtain a thoughtful gift for a loved one.

Customer feedback is a great barometer for the health of your business. However, many businesses disregard the warning signs.

When we set up our business we went against the grain quite considerably to the rest of the florists at the time. What you see on our website is what you get delivered. It’s extremely rare that we need to substitute flowers – which is the norm in the floristry industry – as we’re working in the consumables trade, ie, what blooms were available yesterday may not be available today.

We also don’t use relay services and organise every part of the buying process, from first clicks to the delivery and logistics of everything in between. We keep as much as possible in-house so we can control customer service at every touchpoint.

Customer expectations keep increasing, for example, even if you’re a micro e-commerce site, customers still expect a global, Amazon-quality website and service. Customers are super-savvy now, and with tools at their fingers like “sort by price”, it can be seconds before they find a cheaper, better, more user-friendly website to buy from instead.

We’ve seen this in delivery timings for example. On our website we offer same-day delivery. If a bouquet is ordered and delivered within three hours, the customer is definitely delighted, but that’s the expectation we’re trying to meet now. And as any retailer will know, you need the best systems to be able to meet those standards.

Build systems before you scale

To grow you need people, systems and product.

Create systems and processes which replace the need for your team to ask you questions on how to fix small problems. As the CEO, if I’m kept out of the loop, I know our systems are working well.

From the get-go we set up a Wiki page, which is a central resource online where anyone can add solutions to problems in the business. We then empowered staff to add processes to this with the rule, “If it’s landed on your table more than twice it should be made into a process.”

For example, I created a short video 10 years ago to show how to fix our rose-stripper machine and I noticed that someone watched the video last week.

Building a culture of continuous improvement has been a key part of our mantra. As part of your system building, get everyone involved in looking for ways to continuously improve the business, find efficiencies and build new systems to help everyone do their jobs more productively.

Ingrain company culture from the get-go

Something we learned from expanding into Sydney was that we took our company culture for granted. From our company values to the “how we do things here” mentality, all had to be built from the ground up and adapted to suit the Sydney market. Even systems that worked well in Melbourne didn’t quite translate to Sydney.

We’ve spent a lot of time refining our hiring process to ensure we’re getting people who are a great culture fit for us. Once we find the right people, we then have a rigorous training program which can take months to show the whats, the whys and the hows of the role and the business as a whole.

The way that our company works is different to 99 per cent of other florists, so we need flexible florists who are happy to learn new ways of doing things.  

Get involved in the minutiae

We entrepreneur types might not always be happy to get involved in the detail and navel-gaze when we need to set the vision and lead teams using big-picture thinking. However, to set up systems that work for the whole team you need to get into the detail to make this happen.

From the first click on our website to final delivery, we have gone into the absolute minutiae of every single stage of the buying process to ensure a quality end-to-end buying experience for our customers.

We recognised at a very early stage the importance of keeping customers informed and we were one of the first to offer delivery notifications. This consisted of a simple email message ensuring the sender knew when the recipient got their bouquet or gift delivered.

We’re now looking at personalising every delivery, with details on who made your bouquet that day, and video instructions on how to care for the flowers.

Scaling up and growth are the current buzz words in the startup and entrepreneur scenes. My advice is to take an honest look at the timing for your growth, external market pressures and the robustness of your systems and people and decide whether scaling up is the right thing for you to do at this time. Even moving your brand to a new state has hundreds, if not thousands, of small issues that will need to be resolved – as we found out, often the hard way.

A strong foundation is key for growth, get that right and scaling up will be far less painful.

This story first appeared in Inside Retail Weekly. To subscribe, click here

Rob Lampert is CEO of Flowers Across Melbourne and has the luckiest job of delivering bouquets of gorgeous, fresh blooms across Melbourne daily. They are a premier online florist delivering fresh, premium quality flower arrangements, plants and hampers.

Flowers Across Melbourne has two sister companies based in Melbourne, Plants Across Melbourne, and Hampers Across Melbourne, as well as a branch in Sydney called Flowers Across Sydney.

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