Branching out

For 4 and a half years Petalon was a business that could be summed up by the tagline “Bouquets by Bicycle”. For the last 6 months a short summary has been harder to pull off. “Bouquets by Bicycle and Post” sounds a bit clangy. “UK Flower Delivery” gives a bit of a corporate vibe. My brother’s suggestion of “BUY MY F***ING FLOWERS” made me smile, but maybe isn’t appropriate for the website.

We spent a long time building up a London customer base. We did a few market stalls at the very beginning of the business. This mostly involved hanging around all day trying to stop our display flowers from wilting in the sun or blowing away in the wind. We didn’t find the exercise very helpful, possibly because most people come to those markets to eat, not to learn about a service they might use a few days later from their desk. Then we tried a few different exercises in giving away free flowers. One of these involved tying single stems to the London hire bikes in Old Street with business cards attached. Unfortunately there is a school just next door to these docks, and when the kids got out for the day they stole all of the flowers and threw them at each other. Like most small businesses we also tried giving away free flowers to journalists. That was before we realised quite how many free things they get on any given day, and how unlikely those gifts are to spur any sort of a write-up. Stung by the meagre results of these efforts we’ve since eschewed active marketing almost entirely. We decided to be patient, get our heads down and wait for people to find out about us on their own.

In retrospect the way we built our customer base is quite simple - we just kept trying to do a good job over a long period of time. Flower delivery is, in itself, a marketing activity. Every time someone sends flowers they are introducing someone new (the recipient) to your business. If you keep doing a good job word will inevitably spread. It has become something of a point of pride that we don’t dish out flyers, hang around outside tube stations or give in to the persistent requests from larger companies to work for them for free as a means of “collaboration” or “partnership”.

In many ways we’re spoilt in London - it is a cramped place at times, and awareness of new businesses filters through pretty fast. Trying to let people know about our nationwide deliveries probably won’t be such an organic process. The transition from a local to a national company brings new challenges and though we’ll keep maintaining our high standards we really don’t want to wait 5 more years for word to spread. Because of this we’re introducing some new ways of bringing people in to the Petalon family. Chances are you’re reading this post via our newsletter, something we’ve started doing every week to share what we’re up to and to expand our network. Your friends can get 10% off their first order if they sign up to the newsletter at this link, so feel free to do us a favour and let them know! We’ve also launched a new referral scheme. Basically you can give your mates a 15% discount on their first order, and when they use it you’ll get 15% off too. You’ll get an email after each order you place with us with the details of how to do this.

We don’t have stacks of cash to spend on sponsored ads, targeted promotion and that sort of thing, but one of the best things about being a small company is the interaction we have with our customers. Our newsletter and this blog have been a great way of spending more time with you lovely people, giving and receiving feedback and amazing ideas. That process has quickly taught us that those customers are much smarter than us. As a result we’d love to hear any thoughts you have about how we can expand our network across the country, so please do send them on to - as ever, free flowers for the best ones!

Florence Hill