Arena Flowers sent us a lovely bunch that we wrote about in our Eco Reviews. We thought we’d find out a bit more about them so I spoke to managing director Will Wynne who spared quite a bit of time as you’ll see to answer my questions. It’s worth sticking to the end as there are some good eco tips in there too.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with Arena Flowers?
I spent five years working in London in venture capital, where I was put through a pretty intensive five years of training in the dos and don’ts of start ups and finance. I then spent three years working at eBay, building and running their retention marketing team and learning all things marketing and webby. Arena Flowers came about when myself and an old university friend Steve, now our finance director, realised that there was a gap in the market for someone to do the online flowers business really well. We thought that making people happy is a nice business to be in, so we got together a core team of five and set about building the site and raising a small amount of angel funding, all whilst still doing our day jobs until we new it was a go-er.
There are a lot of online florists, what makes Arena different?
Online floristry isn’t rocket science – but it is case of doing a lot of little things well. There are different business models. There are relay organisations, where you pay a very hefty commission to pass your flower order on to a local operative. Then you have the supermarkets and big multiples – where they basically factory produce flowers to send out and try and sell you Marmite too. What we’re trying to achieve is a combination of all the best parts of online flower buying – and more: excellent floristry, as we have a team of expert florists; very high quality flowers (and other gifts) because we buy our flowers direct from growers or off the auctions in Holland and our flowers spend almost no time in transit and go straight to customers; great value for money, as we cut out all the middlemen and we buy in volume so get fantastic prices; a superior online experience, with features such as being able to add a photograph or video to go with your order, or our sending a free text message to customers to confirm when an order has been delivered; and a human feel – we’re not robots (we do make mistakes sometimes!) – we’re a small group of people trying to deliver a great service, rather than a faceless behemoth.
With our average customer feedback score on Shopping.com’s independent feedback system at 5/5 and our customer retention rates extremely high (30% of orders daily are from repeat customers, after only 20 months), it seems that we are offering a service level that customers appreciate. We can always do better and are always trying to improve, but so far, we do seem to be succeeding in taking flower delivery in the UK to the next level.
FFP is something new to us, can you tell us a bit more?
We’re very proud to be the first UK florist to sell FFP (Fair Flowers Fair Plants) flowers as it is THE standard for the flower industry. FFP’s aim is to create a global standard for the flower and plants business. The key differences from more commonly understood measures, such as Fairtrade, are:
• FFP is restricted just to the flowers and plants industries.
• FFP is not restricted to developing countries, whereas Fairtrade is.
• FFP audits the full supply chain, from growers through to distributors and then on to the retailer, rather than just growers (as is the case with Fairtrade).
• There is no automatic premium on FFP flowers so consumers shouldn’t have to pay more for them. Customers like that bit.
We were lucky enough to snare an interview with Regina Dinkla, the Project Manager for FFP, about the ins and outs of the programme which answers just about all the questions one might have about the FFP. You can read it on our blog here.
Since you started in 2006 how has the business grown?
It’s grown a lot. We went live in late September 2006 and took 14 orders on our first day. We’re now doing several hundred orders a day and are still growing strongly. We’ve had over 120,000 orders and have more than 90,00 customers. According to Alexa, we’re the leading independent florist online now by some margin and, during non peak periods, we even challenge the established players. We love that, as it indicates that flower connoisseurs are choosing to come to Arena and are welcoming our fresh approach to floristry (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Have you seen changes in the market already?
There’s a lot of activity in the flower market all the time. The biggest change in the last six months may surprise your readers, as it has nothing to do with flowers and all to do with economics; the decline in the value of the euro from 1.45 to the pound in November 2007 to around 1.25 now has meant a huge amount of pain for the floristry industry as a whole. Obviously a lot of flowers are imported so this has effectively meant the cost of product has gone up nearly 20%. A lot of businesses have struggled to cope with that as already tight margins have just been squeezed even further and we’ve heard of a few flower businesses going under. It’s hard for a local florist to explain to their customers that prices have gone up because a mortgage crisis in America and a lack of banking liquidity in the UK has damaged our economy and pushed our interest rates and thus the value of the pound down. At Arena, we’ve just continued to focus on what we can affect, namely striving to get great value out of our commercial agreements and optimise our operation so that our customers continue to enjoy a great product at a great price.
Do people usually think environmentally when buying flowers?
We certainly get a lot of customers who like our ethical credentials. In addition to the FFP first, we’re the only UK florist to be accredited under the Good Shopping Guide’s Ethical Company programme and when people call in or email, they do mention both of these. The great thing about FFP is that the flowers are typically no more expensive than non-FFP flowers so, faced with the choice, why wouldn’t people choose an ethically and environmentally sound option? Not all our varieties are FFP accredited yet, as requirements re mixing FFP and non FFP are quite stringent. But hopefully in the not too distant future, 90% of our range will be FFP accredited and our customers will have almost no option to buy anything other than FFP accredited flowers from Arena.
We’ve also got a growing corporate business, as organisations increasingly have good environmental credentials as a must have in procurement. We’ve built a free tailored business solution called Arena For Business that lets businesses do all kinds of clever things like add orders to invoices (rather than pay with a credit card), track employee spending and simplify checkout considerably. The combination of our greenness and Arena For Business means we’ve won some great corporate accounts.
How green is Arena Flowers? Presumably you have to use transportation, plastic and so on?
We’re doing pretty well but of course we’re not perfect. No one is. But we’re always working on it. All our packaging and greetings cards are either recycled or printed on paper from sustainable sources. We don’t airfreight in any flowers so the carbon footprint is reduced. We tried an electric van but that simply wasn’t practical – the battery life wasn’t long enough and it was a bit rickety – we’re green but we don’t want to get flattened by a juggernaut on the A40. Hopefully that technology will be fit for task soon as we’d love to have a fully electric fleet.
I think the most significant contribution to our greenness is less obvious though; it’s the efficiency of our business model and operation. We cut out all the unnecessary steps and wastage and time and handling, getting our flowers direct from the fields into our customers hands as quickly and efficiently as is humanly possible. Oh, and our web hosting is carbon neutral too.
Are different varieties of flower more environmentally friendly than others?
It’s complicated and depends what you want to measure. Some flowers require more water than others (e.g. lilies and tulips) and others only grow in the tropics so transport is an issue. Typically, if someone wants to go really green, we recommend they buy one of our orchids or another plant as they last a very long time and pump out oxygen from photosynthesis in the meantime.
What about the vases, wine, chocolates, cuddly toys and so forth?
It’s well known that flowers convey emotion and feeling as well as looking beautiful. Our strap line is “An experience delivered”. We try to help the customer wrap as much fun or sentiment around their flower delivery as they want, with luxury champagnes from Pol Roger and chocolates from Prestat (both of whom have a Royal Warrant). In addition, flower deliveries are often for special occasions, like birthdays or celebrations, so these added gifts are fit well and are very popular. And obviously, something like a vase is very practical. Our flowers last a very long time so they need to be put in a vase. We actually did such a good job selling Prestat’s chocolates on our site, we overtook their own website. So they asked us to rebuild their site and run it for them – so chocolate lovers should head to www.prestat.co.uk to check it out, including their famous “Choxi+ chocolates”, which is both high in anti-oxidants and very tasty indeed.
You have international partners, how does that work?
We currently use a couple of expert international partners with global networks. We deliver to nearly all the countries in the world now. We’ve done full technical integrations so our orders and systems interact seamlessly and the customer experience is just like using the UK site. But, much more exciting, we’ve just started our own international roll out. www.arenabloemen.nl, our Dutch language site, went live just over a week ago, and we’re now delivering our own flowers across Holland and the Flemish part of Belgium. We already had a facility in Holland, as that’s where we buy our flowers, so it was a natural step to use that to supply the local Dutch market. It was a lot more complicated to do than one might expect, but it went very well and we’re already taking a good number of orders. ou can read our write up on the launch here. And here is something pretty amazing done by our Dutch floristry team – a life size elephant made out of flowers.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got lots! We want to continue growing in the UK through word of mouth and through our online marketing expertise, to keep creating happy customers. We’re growing our wedding business quite fast too. We may look at additional product areas where we think the Arena proposition will work well, but we’re in no rush. And we will roll out other localised country sites going forward, with www.arenablumen.de nearing completion. Our mission is to give flower lovers and gift senders superb quality, a great price and an exceptional experience, all from a sound ethical base, no matter where they live. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.