Emma McDonald is, quite literally, super woman. She has achieved a massive amount in the world of floristry in a short time period, and owns a very successful shop called Stems, located in the Scottish Borders. She has two young kids, and spends her days juggling home and work life. It’s no wonder we’re very proud to call her a Florismart Florist.
In the first of many interviews with our Florismart Florists, here’s Emma’s story:
“I fell into floristry aged 15. I didn’t do so well at school, the system and I didn’t work so I left without a single exam grade to my name and went into full time employment. One subject I did enjoy was art so I guess I’ve always enjoyed being creative.
“I found a job at a local shop and started from the bottom (literally… in the basement!) cleaning buckets, scrubbing the weekly contract vases, conditioning flowers etc, and gradually I was taught how to make handed bouquets, basket arrangements and so on. It was such a lovely place to work and I loved my time at the flower shop.
“Fast forward a few years and I dabbled in hairdressing, beauty and additional work in a hotel bar before deciding to head off to travel around Europe in a Transit van with my now husband, Chris. After the death my younger brother in 2009 my mum decided to follow her dream and bought a ‘quinta’ (farm in Portuguese) in the mountains of central Portugal. We decided to move out there too to help her with the land and work on her buildings. While in Portugal Chris and I found out we were expecting and made the decision to come back home to have our daughter Shyla.
“When Shyla reached 9 months and I was due to go back at work I realised I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t put her into childcare while I worked the tedious 9-5. I decided then to get back into floristry, if I could make it work and earn enough to make sure the bills were paid while caring for her then I’d be happy.
“So, in April 2012 age 21 with just £200 I created Stems and I’m the ‘em’ in Stems. I started with a Facebook page and followed it up with a website which I designed with my web designer mum. I would design and photograph images for Facebook etc and every penny I made I put back into the business. With the help of the Princes Youth Trust I gained a grant towards my first little workshop which I had to extend a year later as the business grew.
“Our son Cody was born in August 2015 and at 3 days old he started work with me (I had a wedding booked!). Since then he has become known as ‘shop baby’. In May 2016 I took the jump and opened a shop in the small town of Innerleithen as I realised there was a gap in the market.
“I knew I wanted to start shop life in an organised way so I had Strelitzia Software installed and Mark & Matt couldn’t have been more helpful, they even helped me find a suitable till drawer, receipt printer and hooked it all up for me! I also decided now was the time to join the world of e-commerce. During the design process I was probably a nightmare, but I’m very particular about how my business is presented online, which I think is a good thing. I sketched how I wanted the layout, sent examples of websites I liked along with a colour palette to work from. It meant that I got the website design that I wanted.
“I continue to maintain the website myself and try to add posts to the news section and have spent months photographing all of my work to make sure every image on there is our own design and not stock images. I invested in a Canon DSLR and asked a photographer friend to teach me how to get the most from it. I truly believe a strong online presence is needed nowadays and your images represent you so I feel they should be of a good quality and I make time each week to photograph some of our gift work, funeral designs and wedding work.
“I found Florismart through Facebook and I’ve never looked back. It’s such a great way to buy my flowers, the choice and quality is amazing. It means I can sit at home on an evening when the kids have gone to bed, glass of wine in hand, and do my buying. This is sooo much better than getting up at the crack of dawn to go to market! The Florismart Facebook group is also a great help allowing communication with florists from all over the country. We help each other with techniques and flower varieties, and this is all because of Florismart.
“I have gradually built our Facebook following to around 8,500 & our Instagram now reaches over 1000 people too. As we’re in a fairly rural area Facebook is a great way to connect with our customers from the comfort of their homes. I try to post images daily and we also take part in leaving Lonely Bouquets around the towns which always goes down well.
“The shop is now just over 1 year old and business is good. I have Rachel who does around 20-25 hours a week for me which is a great help and means I can get away early to collect Shyla from school and do the mum/wife duties. Cody continues to come to work but has now been promoted to Shop Toddler and he is incredibly skilled in flooding the shop, breaking vases & filling customer’s handbags with leaves… it’s a daily battle.
“I have won a few awards along the way for my wedding work, customer service and enterprise. This has seen me head down to a red carpet event in London where I met HRH Prince Charles himself and Ant & Dec! It was an experience I’ll never forget.
“I have done around 250 weddings to date, I’d say I try to cap it at 50 a year although this year I had to close our diary in April as we had reached our limit! 2018 is around 70% booked and we are taking bookings for 2019 also. Although weddings are and always have been the bread and butter of the business, I’m seeing a steady rise in orders for funeral flowers and I really enjoy creating these, it’s always a huge honour. E-commerce was a great move too, the website brings in additional income each month and did amazingly well over Valentines & Mother’s Day this year.
“I have never had any interest in joining any relay companies, however I knew my customers wanted to be able to send flowers to friends and family elsewhere in the country, so I spent time looking into fragile freight couriers and we are now sending flowers all over the UK! So far it’s proving very popular and I’m so pleased we can offer this service to our customers.
“If I could go back 5 years and give myself business advice it would be to spend time designing your logo and stick with it. I redesigned my logo 3 times before settling on it and I worried it confused customers. Now all of my business cards, gift vouchers, website, shop aprons etc are all consistent in design and this makes me happy!
“I’m not sure I can think of any bad business decisions, not because I’m the perfect business woman (far from it) but more because any bumps I’ve came across I’ve got over and learned from and without those I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“To anyone starting out my advice would be to learn the trade, as it’s not all ‘playing with flowers.’ There is a huge amount of skill and technique involved in everything we do. Take time to attend college if you can, if you can learn on the job even better. I attend advance courses to this day to brush up on my skills and keep up with the current trends. Make sure you have a clear business plan in place. If you are under the age of 30 The Princes Trust may be of help to you and there is also Business Gateway who run free courses on everything from bookkeeping to marketing.
Recently I’m working on my work/life balance. Trying to juggle the day to day running of the shop, along with the huge amount of paper work behind the scenes whilst looking after a 1 year old & 5 year old, as well as trying to keep on top of wife duties can be incredibly overwhelming at times. I have got back into mountain biking as I find flying down the trails takes my mind away from everything else. The time spent on my bike is probably the only time I can completely switch off and enjoy the here and now while having lots of fun.”
Visit Emma’s website: http://www.stems.me.uk/
Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/emstems/