As pretty as she makes it look, florist and stylist Justine Rose Ford is refreshingly honest about the loans, sleepless nights and sales strategies that were required to really make her business bloom.
Have you always had a green thumb? My parents had a beautiful, eclectic garden which I spent a lot of my childhood in. We were given a patch to do whatever we pleased – my sister planted neat rows of vegetables and I planted as many types of flowers as I could.
Tell us about the early days of your business, Justine Rose… For a few years, I ran Justine Rose on the weekends on top of another full-time job. I was in my mid-twenties and with butt-loads of energy so it was a perfect time to use my enthusiasm to grow a small business to the point I could call it my full-time job.
When did you take the plunge and go it alone? It actually just came down to having established enough business and getting the loans I needed. I needed start-up cash to do shop fit-outs first and foremost – two shop fit-outs cost about AU$30,000. Also, at the beginning, I took on a few big corporate clients that are still ordering many thousands of dollars’ worth of flowers per month. At the end of the month, I would invoice them and then they would pay (if I was lucky) 30 days after that, so I needed a fair bit of money in the bank to be able to support that. Getting business loans as a new business was extremely difficult. Honestly, it was five to six months of paperwork, solicitors and chasing banking staff… this was definitely the least fun part of starting a business.
What was the biggest surprise? How all-consuming it was. It’s like having a newborn child… at least a year of sleeplessness, stress, highs and lows.
What sacrifices did you make? I burnt the candle at both ends in my twenties – I worked hard and played hard. My business meant I was constantly doing wedding flowers for friends, so by the time I got to attend the wedding I had worked 20 of the previous 24 hours, my nails and hair were a mess and I’d just managed to pull on a dress last minute. So I guess I’ve notoriously looked like a disaster at weddings. But I never let it stop me having a good time!
You managed staff in previous roles. What did you swear you’d do differently in your business? A few of the florists [I worked for] ran them on strict retail sales principles – upselling, secret shoppers, etc. I wanted to make my work spaces creative hubs where staff are busy with various fun projects so when walk-in customers came, the focus was not on how much we could sell them but rather, on what we could show them we were working on. I’ve been lucky that bigger creative projects have always supported my business and one-off bouquets are a fun, daily job, but not the main focus.
What do your days look like now? I’m in the shop about three days a week and when we have busy weeks (which are sometimes for a few months in a row), I’m in there seven days a week. I spend some weeks just doing bookwork, with other weeks very hands-on, literally creating florals, doing client meetings and upcoming event preparation, like sourcing styling items.
What’s the secret to handling early mornings and late nights? Coffee in the morning, wine at night!