Elli Gregory is the owner and manager of Poppy Rose, a flower delivery business branching out from an online operation to its second store, after just three years of trading.
Having established the business as a part-time distraction from her corporate job, Elli now works alongside a growing team consisting of florists, an office and retail manager, market buyer and dedicated flower couriers.
“It’s certainly come a long way since I started out in my sunroom with just a computer, workbench, some flowers and my car for deliveries,” she laughs.
“Unlike a lot of businesses, we started out online before opening our stores. The way we operate is also a little different – we focus on selling a unique style of flowers which changes daily.
“We focus on minimising the amount of flowers that end up going to waste by only buying what we need each day – so it goes straight from our local grower’s market to the customer’s door. This also means customers can enjoy the life span of their flowers rather than them sitting in our cold room for extended periods of time.”
With 22 staff, a burgeoning customer base and an Instagram account with more than 17,000 followers, Poppy Rose is certainly on fertile ground.
What is your greatest business learning?
You are always learning. You never know everything and sometimes you get things wrong, but you learn the biggest lessons from the things that you didn't get right the first time around.
What is your greatest business success?
I've been incredibly lucky with my business. A lot of where we are today has come from hard work and perseverance, so I'm not sure that it really comes down to luck, but I do consider myself lucky anyway.
Since I left my full-time job in May 2015, I haven't had to work for anyone else and I haven't had terrible financial hardship to date. Of course, there have been times that have been tight and I've learnt a lot of lessons over the years, but my biggest success is that I get to wake up every day and run my own business.
What three things should someone consider before starting a business?
- First, think carefully about the lifestyle and what you might need to sacrifice to be successful. Social media can glorify what being in business really looks like. You have to be prepared to give up a lot. Over the years, I've lost touch with close friends, seen very little of my family – my mum is a small business owner as well – and sacrificed my social life and freedom. There are times when you ask yourself if it's all worth it, so make sure you think about those things before you go down that road. For the record, it's totally worth it! If you set goals and work towards them every day, you can achieve amazing things and you do start to see some of your freedom return – it just takes a few years to get there.
- Customer service is absolutely key. Most people think this is a given, but it's amazing how many businesses don't provide good customer service. If you have an unhappy customer, even if it's not really your fault that they are unhappy, do whatever you can, within reason, to make them happy. Think about what will hurt you more – to let that customer leave unhappy or to be able to turn the situation around and make an unhappy person happy. Either way they are going to talk about it with their family and friends, so make sure they're ending their story by saying, "So this happened, but they were so amazing about it, I would definitely recommend using them!”
- Invest in a good accountant who knows what they are talking about. Once your business grows and you're making money, you will have to pay a substantial amount of tax – that's just the way the world works. But if you have a good accountant, it's actually a very easy thing to manage. I also think that taking the time to actually understand how it all works is really beneficial. Learn how GST works, understand the difference between business structures, and get as much advice and knowledge behind you as you can in the early days. This will really help you run a profitable business.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
The one thing I would have done differently is to take the time to work on my people management skills. You dream of one day having a team of people to work with. Then that dream becomes a reality and, if you have no experience managing people, it can be very tricky.
Everyone is different, everyone has different past experiences and expectations of you and their job. Everyone has a different work ethic and receives information differently, and everyone responds to being managed differently. I'm not proud to say that I have lost employees in the past, simply because I did not know how to handle workplace situations properly. This is something that you really do continue to learn as you go on, but unfortunately I learned it the hard way. The good part is that I now have an amazing team of people working by my side every day and I wouldn't change any of them for the world!
What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?
We have always used Instagram as our main way for promoting our business and growing our brand. From day one, I made sure that the photos were of good quality and that our feed was consistent, as it really can be a powerful tool. We did some paid promotions on Facebook and Instagram in the early days, but we only really do it occasionally now.
If you can create an amazing social media presence and engage with your customers, you’ll be surprised how far that can take you. Combine that with a consistent, high-quality product and you will most certainly be able to rely on word-of-mouth as well – and that doesn't cost you a thing!
How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?
I am guilty of not making enough time to stay up-to-date with the latest business information and am always open to suggestions of how to do this.
I tend to learn information as I go, mainly from talking to people.
Where have you sought business advice?
In the early days, Google was my business advisor. Over the years, I have met so many people in the industry and connected with other small business owners, as you learn so much from just talking to people and hearing about their experiences. I have gained a world of knowledge in the past couple of months from my accountant. Not so much about running my business, but about what I need to do to stay on top of the tax side of things.
What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?
It really depends on the kind of business it is.
For example, I built my own website – luckily I’m quite tech – and just did everything myself to start. My start-up costs were minimal and I spent six months running my business part-time while working full-time. Once I finally made the decision to make a go of it, I had a bit of savings behind me and just took the leap.
For me, the risks weren't too big. I hadn't invested a load of money and if the business failed, I would just have find another job. I had no kids, no huge bills or debts and my partner at the time was very supportive. I was in the perfect scenario to take a shot, but it’s important to consider what it means for you and your situation if things don't go to plan.
How do you manage risk?
I have always taken calculated risks in my business. When I started from home, I knew how many bunches of flowers I needed to sell each day to pay my bills. When I was offered a studio space and the opportunity to move my business out of home and give my staff a more professional working environment, I made sure that the rent was 100% manageable. When I found the perfect little retail space and decided to take the business in a different direction, I made sure that I could set the shop up to run the whole operation from there, so my overheads were low.
I looked for properties that I didn't need to spend a crazy amount of money on to set up, did lots of DIY work on the fit-out and kept it quite minimal. I have grown into my business and have always been extremely mindful of making sure I'm not biting off more that I can chew.