Real life: ‘Why I quit my job to start a flower business’

After a couple of years of working in jobs that were just fine, Florence Kennedy decided she wanted to do something she could really be passionate about. 

She turned her idea into a reality two years ago, and started Petalon, a small business that combines flowers and cycling.

Working out of the Hackney flat she shares with her husband James and “puppy” Huxley, Florence designs two bouquets per week using seasonal flowers, and delivers them across London by bike.

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

The 28-year-old is one of the rising stars among the city’s young florists, and her flat rates and penchant for cycling means that Londoners can have beautiful flowers delivered without breaking the bank.

We spoke with Florence about how she started her business and what it’s really like to be a florist.

1. What had you been doing before Petalon?

A mixture of things. I graduated with a degree in architectural studies in 2008 at the height of the building crisis, so there weren’t any jobs. So I sent out CVs to normal jobs just to see what came up. I ended up doing a bit of interior design, then events and concierge for a couple of years.

I started getting itchy feet, so then I worked for a marketing trends company on the sales team. I was working with all these brands, cool companies and ideas that people were doing, and I thought, ‘Oh I’d love to have something like that, my own thing’.

petalon

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

2. Why floristry of all things?

It was a happy accident really. I’d love to say that I was always passionate about flowers that it was always a dream, but it wasn’t – it was just a business idea. But then after I started Petalon, I was just obsessed. It’s become a way of life – constantly looking at people’s gardens, seeing what’s growing.

3. Where did the idea for Petalon come from?

My husband started a bicycle brand called Kennedy City Bicycles and was following his dream. It’s really hard living with someone who knows what they want to do. My job was fine, but it wasn’t something I was particularly passionate about. Also we got a really cute puppy that he got to play with all day when I had to go to the office, which was basically the clincher.

petalon huxley

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

My boss helped him plan a surprise birthday trip for me, and as a thank you he sent her a bunch of flowers. When I saw them I thought, ‘They’re so shit.’ They didn’t convey how thankful he was, the amount of money someone with his or my earnings could spend on a small gesture of thank you. It was just really depressing that all you could get was sort of shit, average flowers.

I came home and he had just gotten a shipment of 200 bicycles stuffed into our two-bed flat, and the idea was just sort of staring me in the face. So I saved up all my commission from my sales job until I had enough to live on for three months. I figured I had nothing to lose really.

4. How did you learn to do floristry having never done it before?

Youtube and books! Floristry courses are so expensive and I just didn’t have the money to spend on it. Courses also teach you all sorts of things like wedding arches, but all I needed to know was how to do hand-tied bouquets.

It’s been two years now, and every week I feel like I’m getting better still. I think not having been taught has given me more of my own style because I’m not relying on the way things are “meant to be”. I have no idea how it’s meant to be, so I just do what I like.

petalon

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

5. What’s a typical day for you?

Normally I get up at 2:45am and have a Zipvan booked for 4:00. Then I drive down to New Covent Garden Market at Vauxhall and I see who’s got what flowers. It takes me ages, I think because I’m still quite new to it. I try to choose ones that will be different to the week before so it doesn’t get too same-y. If I see a really cool flower, then I’ll usually design a bouquet around it.

I get back to the workshop, pop it all in water, get it all conditioned. Then I start designing the two bouquets, get them photographed, put them up on the website so they’re ready for 9:00 Then I’ve just got to do all the boring stuff like mail outs. Then we start doing all the messages – we do them all handwritten.

We cut off same-day orders at 12pm and then the cyclists come to pick up the bouquets. I plot the routes on a map to see what’s the easiest route for them to do so they’re not zigzagging across town. Then we load the trailers and off they go.

Afternoons are all admin and emails. I should finish at lunch because that would be an 8-hour day, but it just feels like skiving. And other people working normal hours might need to reach me. It’s really hard to switch off. I probably won’t stop until 5 or 6pm, and I’ll try to get to bed by 9pm.

petalon2

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

6. What’s been your proudest moment?

The double-page spread in ES Magazine was a pretty big moment for me. It just felt like a big deal. But I grew up reading the Sunday Times and always reading the Sunday Times Style. When we got a quick mention and a picture on the contents page in Sunday Times Style, that to me was just like ‘we made it, finally!’

7. Have you had any moments of self-doubt?

It’s all about finance. I am terrible at maths, and my brain goes into panic when I look at numbers. When we had to pay our first VAT bill it was the first time we made a loss on a month, with the company being just three months old. For me that was terrifying, but my husband James was like, ‘Look how much you’ve got coming into your account next week!’ I couldn’t understand because we’d had the most deliveries ever that month, but also I broke my phone, I had to get two new laptops – you just have all these outgoings that you have to spend on.

8. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business, or take up floristry?

If you’re starting a business it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you have a passion in, but it really helps you get up in the morning and have the energy to put into it. If you don’t believe in what you started, that makes it so much harder.

With floristry think about the kind of style that you like and that you want to do, and make your mark with that. On the one hand it’s a service you’re providing, but on the other it’s a craft, and it’s your craft. You’ve also got to be true to what you want to be and the kind of thing that you want to create.

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

Image credit: Florence Kennedy

9. What’s next for Petalon?

We’re just starting to do more events and weddings. And I’d like to expand our delivery area, but delivering out into Peckham or Walthamstow just doesn’t make sense right now. I’d love to think in the future that we could have different arms of Petalon doing different sorts of floristry. It would be an amazing little powerhouse.

By Reenat Sinay