I met the lovely Helen Cranmer at the Royal Horticulture Society spring show when I was impressed by a display she created at the front of the venue. Turns out she was running a workshop on how to make floral rings – how cool! So I sat down with her for a bit while she showed me how to make my own ring and told me about how she left the world of teaching to pursue a passion for floristry. She even combines the two now, holding regular floral design workshops at London’s Fulham Palace. Below, she talks about what sets her team apart from the competition, tells us how important it is to listen to the advice of other small business owners when you’re starting out and details the level of skill and talent that goes into the designs created by a true florist.
LO: Give us your elevator pitch. What’s your business all about?
HC: Helen Cranmer Floral Design uses traditional floristry skills and high quality flowers and foliage to create contemporary takes on classic looks, and sometimes a little something unusual. We are a wedding florist. We teach floristry. We are floral artists.
LO: Now tell us more: What sets you apart from your competition?
HC: I think it’s important to keep things simple. Our aim is to make it easy for our clients to work with us and we ensure we deliver the best quality product to them.
We’re not confined to a retail space and so we can spend time focussing on listening to our clients, getting a real feel for what they require and their vision.
As we work on a project by project basis, designs are vibrant, fresh and bespoke. It is also means we only purchase what we need for a project – no wastage, which we are mindful of. We are passionate about what we do, always researching and learning, and we pass this on through our designs and teaching.
LO: Share a bit of background on your business.
HC: We are based in London and Norfolk but travel to many different locations; this affords us great variety of work. We could be working on one of our floral art installations as the In-House Florist for the RHS London Shows, or we could be providing wedding flowers for a Bride in Cley Windmill on the North Norfolk Coast, or we could be teaching one of our floristry workshops at Fulham Palace.
How did it begin? As a student at Art School in Norwich, I started working as an Artist in Residence in primary schools, quickly I noticed the satisfaction I felt from teaching and facilitating others in creative practice. Thinking education would be a solid profession to work with in, I trained to be a teacher. Consequently, for a decade I climbed through the Primary Education System as a teacher, and led in the Arts and Literacy, here in London. But the job took over and I felt removed from any form of creative practice. I felt that I had to make a change, but… I still had a mortgage to pay.
For most of my life I had not shown an interest in flowers – that was my mother’s and brother’s domain – but I started to take evening floristry courses (which were actually really terrible), “here have 3 gerberas, a candle and a pot” – awful. But they did spark this interest and passion in floristry; I knew that I, and floristry, could be better. With the love and encouragement of my partner, family and friends, I decided to supply teach part time and then retrain by attending the Classic Course at the Academy of Flowers in Covent Garden the remaining part of the week. I had met Gillian Wheeler the Director at the Academy and after research felt it was the right place for me.
It was during this time on the course that friends would ask “Ooh, are you learning about flowers? Could you do some for me?” or “I’m getting married – could you…?” Very quickly my skills were being put into practice, and my experience grew. But in addition, the feedback I was getting was excellent. For the last couple of years, I have grown the business ‘Helen Cranmer Floral Design’ and we have a team of regular freelancers and muscle men, who we call upon depending on the needs of the project. I have also been able to combine my love of teaching with my new industry with great success (for example 5/5 ratings, from every participant to date, of our Fulham Palace workshops).
LO: Which social media platforms do you use for your business? Has this been time well-invested? Any tips for newcomers?
HC: Helen Cranmer Floral Design has our own website but in addition we use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to share images of our work, information about upcoming floristry workshops that we are running, events we are involved in and occasional promotions. Each platform targets a different group of our followers. I believe you have to choose the platform that’s right for you and your business, so take time to assess which will be beneficial. Also be consistent and patient, it takes time to build up genuine followers rather than just internet bots. Quality rather than quantity.
LO: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given that still resonates with you today? And your favourite resources for small business?
HC: Being organised and setting up systems for not only keeping accounts but client details, event and project information, and mileage logs all in advance will serve you well in the future. The format for these can be adapted as you and your business grow, but having something to start with is good. YouTube is great for finding a video on how to set up certain aspects of the business (e.g. a profit and loss sheet).
I found talking to other small business owners and sharing experiences was beneficial not only in the practical sense but also holistically. Sometimes you need to be given perspective on situations, that only sharing it allows you to receive.
As a florist, following the blog ‘Flowerona’ and partaking in discussions in that Facebook group has been invaluable.
LO: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest rewards as a small business owner?
HC: The autonomy of running a small business is empowering and engaging. I love it.
I feel very proud of the huge variety of events and opportunities that we have been a part of to date. For example, being allowed the creative scope to create a six by four meter hanging floral installation for the RHS Vision Launch Party last Autumn. Or returning to the Academy of Flowers to teach floristry. But an aspect I never considered was how joyous it is to deliver bouquets to brides on the morning of their wedding – there are many hugs and happy tears. It’s precious.
We don’t have many challenges, but one that faces the industry, and one that occasionally we are made aware of, is that fewer people seem aware of the skills and expertise of a florist. Floristry is a craft. To create a high quality, aesthetically balanced, robust arrangement requires precise technical skills, knowledge of a huge variety of seasonal flowers and foliage, how they individually should be conditioned and cared for. It requires imagination and a good eye for the aesthetic; detail. Expectations for a high quality finish must be in place. We work with materials which are at their peak for only a short period of time, sometimes just a day, like a chef with his ingredients. We all go to the supermarket and by ingredients, it doesn’t mean we can make an exceptional three course dinner all served on time, at the right temperature, with the ingredients cooked to perfection, with a flavour combination which is balanced and delicious. That is why you pay the professionals for their skills and expertise. That is why florists must be recognised for theirs.
LO: What are your hopes for your business going forward: what would you most love to achieve as a short-term goal? And long term?
HC: During 2016, we have a range of new projects on the go. We are working alongside a new venue in Norfolk to deliver floristry workshops. We are the In-House Florist for the RHS London Shows and we have a new group of couples walking down the aisle. All I wish for is that we continue to have positive and creative collaborations with brands, organisations and individuals. We are always open to new opportunities and ideas.
LO: Little Observationist is all about appreciating life’s little luxuries. Name three you’ve enjoyed recently.
HC: Shooting the breeze. I have a fantastic man in my life and wonderful friends who are all foodies, and so I adore hanging out with them, chatting and enjoying freshly prepared food like sour dough pizza. Can’t beat it.
Gin. Maybe it’s the distinct botanical notes, but a delicious G&T, with Sipsmith’s, Botanist, Jensen’s or even a recent find ‘Big Gin’ from Seattle is definitely one of my life’s little luxuries.
Crabtree & Evelyn’s, Gardeners Ultra-Moisturising Hand Therapy. This wasn’t a brand I had used before, but after a tip, I tried this product and it is excellent, particularly as my hands take a beating while working; now they are super soft.