Let’s Get Down to Business: Lorna Dunlop, Henley Florist and Flower School

LORNA DUNLOP opened the Henley Florist and Flower School in Hart Street in November. She ran a flower shop in her native Edinburgh for 10 years before decided to move south. She is a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen and the British Floristry Association. Lorna, who is in her mid-fifties, has a grown-up son, Finlay, and her hobbies include listening to music, attending festivals and Taoist tai chi.

Describe your business

I run a retail floristry shop and flower school.

How many people does it employ?

Four part-time staff and a delivery driver.

What did you do before you started your business?

I ran a successful flower shop in Edinburgh called Rowan Flowers and Crafts. Before that I worked in accountancy, software training, catering management and tutoring.

What was your objective in starting your business?

To follow a passion in creativity with flowers and to teach others how to get the best out of flowers, which I consider to be nature’s art.

Who or what influenced you?

When I originally started I had a lot of support from a social enterprise called Enterprise Mentoring. Its objective was to help disabled people come off benefits and into self-employment. David Rodger Sharp, a jeweller in Duke Street, persuaded me to relocate to Henley. We have been close friends for a long time and he felt there was an opportunity here.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would look into personal insurance more. I wasn’t very well four years ago and spent six months in hospital, which had a huge impact on the viability of the business I was running then.

What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had?

Many weddings and events were cancelled and because funerals were so small and private there wasn’t the usual volume of fresh floral tributes. This year I have some weddings and balls booked and have already undertaken some work for memorial services, so things are beginning to take an upward turn.

How do you market your business?

Word of mouth is the best marketing tool. I use social media and attend local networking sessions and wedding fayres whenever I can.

What’s the best thing about running your business?

I can be as creative as I wish. It gives me enormous pleasure to create bespoke pieces for customers and see their delight when the flowers are delivered.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Over the last couple of years it has been the increase in the price of flowers. Most of my flowers come directly from Holland and both Brexit and the exchange rate have meant the cost of flowers has rocketed. As a small business, I do not have the capacity to buy in bulk like the supermarkets and the flowers I buy are only of top quality and I will not accept anything less from my suppliers. It has also been challenging to find quality trained staff but I am always happy to take on trainees in the hope they will fall in love with floristry.

How important are online sales?

They are important but I would rather have a local walk-in customer base that I can build a relationship with. That is the only way that the flower school can work.

What’s the most valuable thing you have learned?

To know my own worth. I spent two years volunteering in a flower shop as well as many hours at college to learn the skills required and have invested heavily in my new business.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Don’t take on too much too soon unless you have reliable staff to back you up. There are only 24 hours in one day and feeling overwhelmed is not good for your mental health. Develop resilience as best as you can and ask for help when you need it. There is a great community of independent retailers in Henley and I am confident that they have my back already.

What’s the biggest mistake you have made?

Relying on others. Suppliers can “forget” an order you placed and that leads to a disappointed customer and frustration on my part.

What’s the secret of your success?

Just being me. I am passionate about customer service and like to have a happy team of staff around me. It costs nothing to be polite or kind and I love people popping into the shop just to say hello. Community is very important to me so I have made the effort to join some local groups and support fundraising activities.

How organised are you?

I’m pretty organised. I check the mundane things such as rotas, bank balances and stock levels daily. I try to plan ahead of busy times and keep on top of paperwork as best as I can.

How do you dress for work?

In comfortable clothes. I’m on my feet all day dealing with thorns, water and bleach most days. Since there is no heating (for the benefit of the flowers) there are often more layers of clothes than I care to reveal.

What can’t you be without each day?

I’m grateful for the friendships and support that I have and appreciate the hard work that my body does for me every day. No price can be put on good health. There is always some background music going on in the shop. I have found a brilliant guitar teacher and hope to join some music groups when I’m up to scratch.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

The nature of the business is that there are no lunch breaks for the boss and I’m okay with that.

What do you read?

I read local newspapers and am a member of a book group which encourages me to read more widely.

How are you planning for retirement?

Retirement feels like a long way off despite me being nearer to 60 than 50. I am looking forward to that time when it will be possible to devote more time to hobbies and travelling.