Name: Janet Edwards
Where did you grow up? London
Where do you work? Brixton, London
Role: Manager and senior florist, Janet Edwards Florist
At first, I worked for local government for 18 and a half years, as PA to the Head of IT where I also shortlisted and interviewed staff and managed an admin team. I started floristry as a hobby to break the nine to five routine as I was unhappy in my job. I went to an adult institute and did every class going because I loved it so much, and then I went on to do my City & Guilds year 1 and 2 at Southwark college, as well as a Weddings Intermediate and Modern Pedestal course.
When I finished my qualifications, I started a market stall at Elephant and Castle every Saturday while still doing a full-time job. I would buy my flowers from the market, park them in an empty office, take my minutes of meetings and then set up the flower stall the next day! I did that for about a year, while studying and working. Then I got made redundant and had to decide whether to look for a job that had a regular wage. Instead, I decided to open a florist.
At first, I opened a shop in another area, but it didn’t work out. Then I came to Brixton and I walked around and saw no other flower shops nearby, so I went for it, and this year will be my 11th year here. I’ve built a good customer base, I’m on the suppliers list for the local council and there’s a registry office three minutes away which sometimes brings engaged couples to book a free wedding consultation with us for their wedding flowers.
Three years ago, I passed my Diploma in Floristry Level 2 at Capel Manor. I enjoyed the course, but it was hard work, with more written work than expected. I learnt a lot of new skills. For me the best part of the course was when they took us to Holland to see farms where flowers are cultivated in greenhouses and orchids were grown suspended in the air with steam vapours; it’s been an amazing journey to learn about it all.
Now I take on students for work experience, too. I’m all for learning, but I think you’ve got to want to do it. While I was taking evening classes at college, I worked in a florist shop on a Saturday and yes, you learn in the classroom, but experience in a shop marries it together. They don’t teach you about year-end accounts, sourcing flowers, talking to suppliers and so on – you learn a lot by doing this as you go along. The people at New Covent Garden Flower Market have helped and taught me so much over the years, from pricing my flowers to plants that are one hit wonders, and importantly, flowers that last long.
What is the best thing about your job?
When customers come back and say thank you, or they ring me and say, “oh you did the most amazing bouquet”. I get clients from as far as New Zealand and Australia as they’ve got kids in the area and they Facetime each other to show what I’ve made. I love getting repeat customers and appreciation from clients and just talking to people makes it worthwhile especially during the lockdown.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Keeping the business going online during lockdown, which meant switching things around on the website, trying to help customers who are missing family and friends, and supporting customers who are grieving with funeral arrangements.
Flower prices have increased through the roof since Brexit and Covid-19, so to ensure I can get flowers for orders I’ve had to choose cautiously. It’s been a tough year and I’ve had to think twice about what stock to buy for my store.
The first lockdown was a challenge as I was working from home and a friend was helping to deliver orders from there, but I wasn’t making any money from it as the longer distance exceeded the local delivery charge. Importantly for me, I was trying to fulfil a service in a difficult time. For instance, men who were panicking about anniversaries and birthdays were relieved that I could supply flowers. I’m happy that people appreciated that. I was asked by the NHS to make bouquets for several surgeries in the area. Sadly, I was also doing funerals which in my mind is essential as clients were desperate for flowers to send off their loved ones; comforting people who are grieving on the phone is very hard.
My business switched to doing everything online with click and collect, and since Valentine’s I’ve not stopped being busy. I’m thankful to my website providers Floristpro who have helped me through the entire lockdown and to wholesaler Hoek flowers who delivered flowers to my home.
What advice would you give to newcomers?
Follow your dream, but you’ve got to be a hard worker and really want it. Keeping it real: there are times when you may not be able to pay yourself and you’re thinking about how to pay the rent. Yes, it’s nice to work with flowers, but sometimes you have to go without things, which can mean using your savings to cover the overheads. It takes hard work and determination, and friends who won’t put you down but encourage you to go forward. When people say “pack it in” it drives me forwards even more – and I’m here eleven years later.
Read about Janet in The Sunday Times newspaper as part of celebrating UK Small Business Owners with American Express
Follow Janet on Instagram @edwardsjanet