Name: Karen Barnes
Where did you grow up? Leeds, Yorkshire
Where do you work? My office and studio in Lincolnshire, and I travel to wherever my clients want me (including, pre Covid, Internationally!)
Role: Floral industry consultant, also specialising in weddings, events, product design and more
I was always interested in art, display and being creative, so when it came to choosing a career, I initially thought of training to become a professional window dresser, but soon decided that actually, flowers were going to be my career path and in hindsight, flowers have actually led me to be creative, be a designer and have windows to dress!
I studied at Leeds College of Art and Design and gained my National Diploma Society of Floristry. My training was a weekly day release course and allowed me to work full time at a very successful florist – Brethericks in Leeds. I was very lucky that I was able to learn my craft within a busy florist shop as well as study at college to gain my qualifications.
In 1988 I opened my own business, Flowers by Karen, in Guiseley, Leeds. I successfully grew it over 19 years – a busy florist with over 200 weddings a year. I absolutely loved my shop, it brought me so many happy and fulfilling times. With it came lots of hard work (I often found that I was working seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year!), dedication, lessons on running a profitable business and managing a successful team… But it was so rewarding; dealing with clients, customers and wonderful floral materials. I kept the business for 19 years before deciding it was time to move on.
In 2007, I had an opportunity to join Interflora as the Head of Floral Gifting. Interflora originally started as an association of 2000 florists, and when I joined, I was tasked with building the product development department, following the organisation’s incorporation with a venture capital firm, which completely transformed its business model.
I found this was just the opportunity I needed. I had taken Flowers by Karen to huge success, and felt I needed to be challenged and gain new experiences in the floral industry. It was a completely different working environment to what I had been used to, learning about the corporate world, understanding a commercial relay organisation and how it works, and developing successful floral and plant ranges for consumers to purchase and independent florists to fulfil, whilst ensuring that all stakeholders were making revenue.
I had a year’s secondment as Head of Retail, which was extremely challenging but gave me incredible experience. I then returned to Head of Product Development where I was building the team and product ranges, including licensed brand collections such as partnerships with Vera Wang, Julien Macdonald, Country Living and David Austin. My roles at Interflora gave me a wealth of experience that enabled me to become an independent consultant for the floriculture industry and an event planner and designer in 2017. Now, I get to take my 35 years plus experience in the flower industry and share that passion with different clients around the world. I offer advice and support, trend direction, training, project management, and alongside business insights, I can get hands-on with floristry again – delivering floral designs for high-end weddings and events.
I’ve worked on royal events and celebrity weddings around the world, and I’ve won Gold, Silver-Gilt and Bronze medals at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve also trained as a national and international Interflora Judge and I’m proud to be one of the founding members of The UK Floristry Judges Guild.
Some of the brands I’ve worked with include Harrods, Bloom & Wild, Freddie’s Flowers, Neill Strain, Judith Blacklock and Smithers Oasis. These days I’d say I’m a designer, a teacher, a trend expert, a product development specialist, photography stylist, competition judge, presenter and so much more!
What is the best thing about your job?
The materials, the places, and the people. I adore flowers themselves and I love that flowers have enabled me to travel the whole world and meet so many different, interesting people. They’re people I’d never have had a chance to meet otherwise, for example, I was part of the team working on a Dubai Royal Wedding in 2019, I have judged World Cup Competitions in Shanghai and Philadelphia and I travel to China twice a year to select product collections for an international company. Flowers have opened up the world for me, and I’ll never tire of my job. I will never stop learning – there’s always something to learn in this fabulous industry.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Covid, without question. Overnight, all of my work was either cancelled or postponed. It was a big shock. The companies I worked with were having to close as well, and now they’re just starting to reopen again. I’ve started thinking up new ideas and getting in touch with new and old contacts within the industry. I’m much more active on social media and have a new website now; many florists have done a great job at switching their business around to handle it.
What advice would you give to newcomers?
Be prepared to work hard, never stop learning and never think you know everything because you don’t. Get as much experience as you can in the floral industry – it brings a lot of benefits. It gives people joy and it’s amazing to be working with such incredible flowers on a daily basis, but you’ve got to go in with your eyes wide open. You need to accept long hours, being very cold at times, and you must be very customer-aware to build great client relationships and customer service. Having a website and being on social media will help build your brand too!
Remember, “Happiness is to hold flowers in both hands” – Japanese Proverb