Sunday, 05 December 2021
AMY BRYANT is co-owner of Bluebells of Henley, the florists in Reading Road, which she runs with her mother Molly. She was born and raised in Sonning and went to school in Wokingham and then to The Henley College before studying for a degree in performing arts at Winchester University. Throughout her education, Amy worked in retail to pay for her studies and after university she managed a local Noa Noa store. She then decided that she would like to train in a new skill that could become a business and settled on floristry. She went to the Berkshire Agricultural College and Merrist Wood College in Guildford. Amy lives in Goring Heath with her husband Andrew and children, Lucy, four, and 18-month-old Jaga. When not working, she enjoys gardening and swimming.
Describe your business
We are a retail florist providing fresh plants and flowers for the home, corporate events, weddings, parties, happy celebrations and sad occasions as well as to hotels, restaurants and shops.
How many people does it employ?
There’s me and four florists.
When did you start your business?
We opened in summer 2013. In early 2018 the shop next door became vacant so we decided to take it on and extend to give us some much-needed extra space. Now we don’t know how we coped in just our original shop.
What was your objective?
To have a true florist shop, full of fresh flowers and plants, displayed in a natural way. We also wanted to be known for going the extra mile for our customers.
Who or what influenced you?
I always wanted my own shop. My mother trained as a florist so that one day we could have a shop together.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
Definitely my mum. I saw how hard she worked and this gave me a good work ethic and also the idea that if you work hard you can fulfil your ambitions.
What would you do differently if you could start again?
I’m not sure that I’d do anything differently. On our opening day it was quite nerve wracking, so it was very reassuring when our first customer came in. Two weeks later we did the biggest funeral we’ve ever had with orders for flowers from all over the world. A great start.
What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on business?
At the beginning it was devastating. Just before the first lockdown we were biting our nails as it looked like we might have to close and Mother’s Day was fast approaching. That was very daunting as we had so much stock. Fortunately, it was the day after Mother’s Day when the announcement was made that we had to close. After that I think we were more concerned about the virus than the business. After a few weeks my mother and I got ourselves organised to take orders over the phone and make deliveries. There were just the two of us as the staff had been furloughed and weren’t allowed to work. We were also able to build up a click and collect service during the following two lockdowns.
How is your business doing compared with last year?
We are doing well. There is less footfall but we are taking more orders over the phone.
How do you market your business?
Word of mouth as lots of people visit us after receiving a gift from a friend purchased from us. We are fortunate that our shopfront is in a prominent position. The double frontage makes us very noticeable to the traffic outside, waiting at the traffic lights.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
Being able to buy in exactly what I like. I often go to the markets at Covent Garden and it’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
It is a challenge judging the quantity of stock to bring in prior to Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. We don’t want to disappoint customers by running out but we don’t want lots left over, so it’s important to get it right.
Where is your business headed?
We are going to be launching our new web shop in September with a lot more choices and products that will change seasonally.
How important are online sales?
During the lockdowns they became very important but we find a lot of people want to speak to us directly as they can ask our advice and we can create something a bit more bespoke, which we really enjoy.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
Good customer service goes a long way.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Be prepared to work hard and make sure it’s something you enjoy doing (we began by working seven days a week).
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Before one Easter I ordered some blue painted eggs to use as decoration. I thought I was ordering a box of six but it turned out I’d ordered 1,000. We still have hundreds of them.
How organised are you?
I have to be organised.
How do you dress for work?
It’s important to wear practical clothes. In the winter we all wear lots of layers as it can be freezing cold in the shop because we can’t have any heating.
What can’t you be without every day?
Our staff — we are a great team.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
Normally I pick something up from Spoon.
Do you continue to study?
Before the pandemic I would attend floristry workshops.
What do you read?
As a mother, it’s mainly children’s books. I also read the Henley Standard every week.
How are you planning for retirement?
I don’t think I ever will. I can’t imagine doing nothing.
23 August 2021
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