LORNA DUNLOP opened the Henley Florist and Flower School in Hart Street in November. She ran a florist in her native Edinburgh for 10 years before deciding to move south. She is a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen and the British Floristry Association. Lorna, who is in her 50s, has an adult son, Finlay, and her hobbies include listening to music, attending festivals and doing Taoist tai chi.
Describe your business
I run a flower shop and a flower school.
How many people does it employ?
Four part-time employees and a delivery driver.
What were you doing before starting your business?
I ran a successful flower shop in Edinburgh called Rowan Flowers and Crafts. Before that, I worked in accounting, software training, catering management and tutoring.
What was your goal in starting your business?
Following a passion for creativity with flowers and teaching others how to get the most out of flowers, which I consider the art of nature.
Who or what influenced you?
When I started I had a lot of support from a social enterprise called Enterprise Mentoring. Its aim was to help people with disabilities get off benefits and become independent. David Rodger Sharp, a Duke Street jeweler, persuaded me to move to Henley. We have been close friends for a long time and he felt there was an opportunity here.
What would you do differently if you could start over?
I would look more into personal insurance. I wasn’t very well four years ago and spent six months in hospital, which had a huge impact on the viability of the business I was running then.
What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had?
Many weddings and events were canceled and because funerals were so small and private, there was not the usual volume of fresh floral tributes. This year I have booked weddings and proms and have already started work for memorial services, so things are starting to take an upward turn.
How do you market your business?
Word of mouth is the best marketing tool. I use social media and attend local networking sessions and wedding parties whenever I can.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
I can be as creative as I want. It is a great pleasure for me to create bespoke pieces for clients and to see their joy when the flowers are delivered.
What is the most difficult aspect?
Over the past two years there has been an increase in the price of flowers. Most of my flowers come direct from the Netherlands and Brexit and the exchange rate have driven up the price of flowers. As a small business I don’t have the ability to buy in bulk like supermarkets and the flowers I buy are only top quality and I won’t accept anything less from my suppliers. It has also been difficult to find trained and quality staff, but I am always happy to take on interns in the hope that they will fall in love with floristry.
How important are online sales?
They are important, but I prefer having a local walk-in clientele that I can build a relationship with. It’s the only way Flower School can work.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned?
To know my own worth. I spent two years volunteering at a flower shop as well as many hours at university to learn the required skills and invested heavily in my new business.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Don’t overdo it too soon, unless you have reliable staff to back you up. There are only 24 hours in a day and feeling overwhelmed is not good for your mental health. Build resilience as best you can and ask for help when you need it. There is a large community of independent retailers in Henley and I’m sure they already support me.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Lean on others. Suppliers can “forget” an order you placed and that leads to a disappointed customer and frustration on my part.
What is the secret of your success?
Just be me. I am passionate about customer service and I love having a happy team around me. It costs nothing to be polite or nice and I love people who walk into the store just to say hello. Community is very important to me, so I made the effort to join local groups and support fundraising activities.
How organized are you?
I’m pretty organized. I check mundane things such as rotations, bank balances and stock levels daily. I try to plan ahead for busy times and keep up with the paperwork as best I can.
How do you dress for work?
In comfortable clothes. I’m up all day with thorns, water and bleach almost every day. Since there is no heating (in favor of the flowers), there are often more layers of clothing than I care to reveal.
What can’t you do without every day?
I am grateful for the friendships and support I have and appreciate the hard work my body does for me every day. No price can be put on good health. There is always background music in the shop. I’ve found a brilliant guitar teacher and hope to join bands when I’m up to it.
Lunch at your office or go out?
The nature of business is that there is no lunch break for the boss and I’m okay with that.
What are you reading?
I read local newspapers and am a member of a reading group that encourages me to read more widely.
How do you envision your retirement?
Retirement seems a long way off, although I’m closer to 60 than 50. I look forward to the time when it will be possible to devote more time to leisure and travel.