A little secret...

for you all...

It's a long one so make sure you are sitting comfortably; grab yourself a tea/coffee/hot chocolate (or drink of choice) some cake & biccies too and you should be fine to make it to the end! Prepare yourself. I may have a little rant! 

I'm going to let you all in a little secret; something Clive and I shared only with our immediate family (and even then I didn't tell mine for a long time). Last year, in June to be precise, we nearly closed the doors for the final time and shut down the business. Even me, after all my years of saying I'd be "dragged out of the shop by my cold-dead-feet" was ready to walk away. I even sourced several different jobs ready to apply for. Now, as I sit at the desk looking out over my incredibly fabulous shop I am so very glad we never followed through with such an idea, and I am so exceptionally grateful to Clive for choosing to invest more money for the refurb (after he'd finally only just been paid back his initial investment) which has enabled me to still be sitting here. I don't know what I would do without him (don't ever tell him that though; I can't have him thinking he's one of the 'Good Guys!). 

Why did we come to that decision? Oh my, where to start; let me begin by telling you it was the second hardest decision I've ever had to make and caused me many, many, MANY sleepless nights and a lot of tears were spilled. In fact the day I told my Mum it took me over an hour to get the words out where I was sobbing so much. The turning point for me was when for the thousandth time that week (a wee exageration but I'm sure you'll get my drift) a customer walked in and the first words out of his mouth were "bloody hell, it's a nightmare trying to find somewhere to park; I almost gave up and went somewhere else" In fact, had he not already paid for his order he told me he would never have bothered to collect it. At the time very few people were coming to the shop, but every one of those who did were saying the same thing, and I am under no illusion the reason we weren't seeing so many people in the shop wasn't because of anything I had done wrong, but purely due to the parking issues, something you all know I have been trying to get something done about since 2009 but have been actively battling the local authorities for the past 6 years. For those of you who don't know the issues I've had with them, feel free to Click Here.

It's not been lost on me that before Xmas, every day for a few weeks a traffic warden came out at the crack of dawn to book cars causing an obstruction across a dropped curb (apparently) one of my neighbours had made complaints about it. Odd how every single day cars will obstruct the driveways of the residential properties in FPR (one of those homes was told to pay for a white line to be put across their drive to stop it - oh how we laughed, in a non-hunourous way!) and the road from the shops to the Highlands junction is so often blocked by illegally parked cars, yet not a single warden comes up to ticket them! Maybe I am being cynical and doing our local council a disservice, or maybe because I ask customers to pay by card when they offer "do you want cash, or card" so therefore don't have the means to buy the oil which might help grease the dry palms of those who could (should) do something about it, is why I have been ignored so many times. Actually, that's not fair to other businesses to suggest such a thing, but when it comes to our local authority we all know the behaviour of some of those at the top has been questionable! My reason for always choosing the card option is a simple one; I am a woman running a business in an area where it's safer for me not to have cash on the premises. It's one less thing to worry about. I did wonder before whether the authorities lack of help might have something to do with my being a woman, thereby not being taken seriously. Having found this article earlier I can't help but wonder if there may be some foundation to my theory!

Of course it's not all been down to the lack of help, and it's not just me who struggles with our local authority; unless you are 'cash only' and can thereby afford the oil, you'll likely get looked over quite often, hence why so many small businesses (and a lot of bigger ones too, although the 'people-in-charge' are usually happy to let them get away with running up massive debts far longer than they would allow an indepenant or small trader to have) have closed within our towns in the past year. Some who have been trading for generations now gone, and it's not all down to people not shopping with them any more either. Things have changed, life has changed. The internet arrived, although I don't entirely agree the internet is what has caused so many issues to shops. I personally think a lot of the out-of-town shopping areas (we have Whiteley and Gunwharf) have made massive differences to Fareham and Gosport towns. Southampton seems to fair better but the shops they have which would be out-of-town to the rest of us are at West Quay on the edge of the main shopping areas. Of course, the smaller towns have still been hit. It's these areas which have affected the High Street itself; it's the big retailers jumping on band wagons though which have caused the biggest damage to the smaller shops, the independant businesses. 

I can't speak for every genre of business but as a florist we've been hit from all sides by them (the big retailers). I no longer have to compete with other florists (most of whom will now look out of each other, and of which there are about 80% LESS in the area than from when I first embarked on my career back in the 1980's) greengrocers, market stall holders and those working from their kitchen or garden shed; it was such a shame to see the Market Sellers and Greengrocers all go. Now I have to compete with supermarkets (the only businesses that can compete with supermarkets are other supermarkets and even some of them struggle) clothing businesses, homeware businesses, card sellers (to name a few) as well as the online florists, most of whom have never even set foot in a flower shop; they are what is known as 'Order Gatherers'. They set up warehouses and run their 'florist' business like a factory line. They sometimes have an office to work from, but mainly sit in their living rooms at home, set up a website and away they go. Don't get me wrong; some of the work they produce is lovely - when it's first made - however, unlike the local florist who buys flowers daily ensuring they are always fresh, these warehouses make them up by their thousands, sometimes from weeks-old-flowers; that's why some of their reviews are 5* whilst others are just 1*. I love going onto social media - especially twitter - after the peak periods (Christmas, Mothers Day and Valentines Day) to look at these big companies (yes, the clothing retailer does get hammered for their flower quality during those times) and order gatherers being tagged in photo's of the flowers they have sent out. Some of them would have gone straight into my composting bin. Of course, none of these companies really need to make money from the flowers they sell. A lot have them at the front of the shop, at prices cheaper than I can buy them at the wholesalers, to get you through the door; once you're through they'll bombard you with offers and other temptations. These are called 'Loss Leaders' because they make a loss on them, however, they then make their money on the other products you buy. It's exceptionally clever marketing. The online only ones don't need to make money either really, because again, once they have you (or at least have your info) they can make money from selling it on to other marketing companies. Where do you think all those nuisance calls get your number and the spammers get your email address? Yes, you get some cheap flowers but at what cost, the real cost of it all? I can't do that, legally. I even have to pay a subscription fee each year to let customers know I can't do that. I have to keep all my customers details private, caught up in encrypted software even I couldn't access without jumping through multiple hoops and for that, for me to keep your details private I am charged whilst these companies will sell them on. How about that for irony!

Because of all these different issues we deal with on a daily basis, with the economy being what it is and with other businesses using Moonstones Florist Fareham in their advert keywords (totally unethical and immoral yet not illegal) things just got to be too much. I could no longer cope with the constant daily battle. I don't think I have ever felt so alone as I did for the first part of last year. Not to be over-dramatic but I really did feel as though it was me against the world. By April things were not good, business was suffering as a result of all the obstacles, but also I think because of me, my heart wasn't in it as it had once been and whilst I have no control over the web, competition and others forces, I am a strong believer that being negative about things does send that negativity out into the ether. I was battle weary. There seemed to be no point in continuing when I was fighting a losing battle. I gave up with the council and trying to fight them over parking issues during last summer; they didn't/couldn't give two hoots and I was just wasting energy, causing myself additional stress, something a woman of my age could do without - thank goodness for Laura at One Light Holistic Healing whose incredible sound bath made me realise there is more to life, and that I needed to bring back some positive energy and stop allowing others to drag it from me. Clive (bless him) suggested maybe we look into moving. He's always wanted us to have a freehold shop and for several years had kept track of properties that were available, none of which would have suited us, then something that could work in our favour happened. His-and-Kids over the main parade of shops closed down and the property became available. We booked a viewing before the estate agents had even put notices in the window, we were that eager.

It was big, it would have given us the space we needed to start expanding, try some new stock, show off what we already have, but it was in a right state, would have needed a lot of work doing to it, and with it being a lot higher rental charge then we are paying it was a really big gamble, especially when we were also looking at the option of closing down. Then we came up with the idea of sharing the premises. We got a barber interested (there was already the provision for that) and my tattooist was up for it. We planned how we would divide the shop making sure we all had the space we needed, but the landlord was pushing us for extras, wanting us to agree to more than a leaseholder would normally be responsible for. We decided to walk away, it wasn't going to work for us (probably a good thing for my skin too because had my tattooist been in the same building I wouldn't have been able to keep away from her). 

Our lease was up for renewal in June, I was struggling to get enough people through the doors to cover the most basic of bills coming in, and Clive wasn't willing to invest any more money into the business as it currently was (and who could blame him?) so our option was to give it all up and walk away. By this point the rumour mill had also gone into overdrive about us already being closed! No idea how such lies began as we'd not told anyone, so can only assume someone saw us looking at his-and-kids and let their tongue run away with them. Then we decided to have a meeting with our landlord (who is lovely) and whilst we tried to get him to sell to us (we knew he wouldn't) we also wanted to be up front with him and explain how we were struggling, that the shop wasn't working for us and that we were looking to leave. He said to me "what can I do to make you stay?". The words were out of my mouth so fast even I was shocked, as I said "let us rip these walls down". He agreed right away, a new lease was hashed out (10 years for anyone who is interested) and the following day Clive tore those walls down - from my perspective it was a beautiful moment. 

Since the flooring was laid, the workbenches built and the shop units put into some kind of usuable space, we have not looked back and (oddly enough) the business has gone from strength-to-strength. I have no idea how ripping down a few walls can have made so much difference, when the parking issues have worsened and continue to do so on a daily basis, but whatever happened I am so very grateful for it (I really didn't see myself working in a call centre!). I have never had so many people come into the shop to place their orders as I have in the past 3 months. I've seen regulars who hadn't visited for years, and met so many wonderful and new customers. I've gone from dreading having to come to work not knowing what the day may through at me, to loving being here, ready to tackle anything it can throw at me. The only negative thing to it all is that I can no longer close the office door with the heater on to get lilies open (and to warm my fingers up during the cold months - if we will even get any cold weather this year). Everything else is even more perfect than I could have imagined. In fact a few more orders and I might actually start to get paid for doing it all and that would be a huge bonus as I do quite fancy a new car (ooh, I let myself get a bit carried away there!).

Here, have some pretty flowers to look at as a 'Thank You' for making it this far!  


On the new car note and maybe finally earning some money, I would like to address an issue I had with a customer in December. It kind of ties in nicely as she was accusing me of trying to rip her off and she was disgusted with how I must "be raking it in". This really insulted me when we were only just about scraping bill money together for so much of the year. I tried to explain to her why they were more expensive this year; all she heard was "look at me, I'm so wealthy and making millions by taking all your money!". As I already had a blog entry to share about this but never got around to it I might as well add it here.

Until this year I have charged either £6.95 or £7.25 for my holly wreaths. This year they were more expensive because I had to pay more.

I had to source them from a different supplier who charges more so the wreaths themselves cost me £7.14 each; this is the wholesale price that I had to pay for them. I then add Blue Spruce to each one - this comes in a bundle to me but works out at 84p per wreath so we are now up to a cost to me of £7.98. Then I add in some pine cones (I could go out into the woods for them but alas, time is never on my side so I buy them in) at a cost to me of 19p each. We are now up to £8.55. Then I add in bows which means I have to buy ribbon. The amount I use costs me 45p (more if I don’t use a plain red poly ribbon). So we now have the wreath costing me £9.00.

You're seeing that I'm charging you £10.95 for your wreath and saying to yourself "why is she complaining; she's making £1.95 from us customers on every one she sells" but I'm not, because that £9.00 isn't the final cost. It doesn't include the wires I need to use so I can attach the cones, ribbon, pine and additional holly. It doesn't include stems of ilex I had to buy so as to ensure each wreath had some berries (if I wasn't able to get any holly with berries on). Those additional stems cost me anywhere between 95p & £1.30 depending on how many berries I am able to use. Now I'm only earning a maximum of £1 per wreath, but wait; what about the bottles of antiseptic I have to buy? My wrists and inner forearms are just a maze of scratches (some of which are deep and bleed profusely) thanks to the needle like sharpness of the holly leaves - some pine can also be quite evil. Those cuts have to be treated, multiple times each day. I don't know if you've bought antiseptic recently but like everything else in the world right now, it's not cheap, and I get through a lot of it. Now we find ourselves at maybe 90p per wreath. 

But wait; what about my time for making them? At the end-of-the-day it's the money earned from my time which pays the rent, utility and tax bills. The 120 wreaths I sold with the 90p "profit" on each one comes to a total of £108. The doesn't even cover a weeks electricity (business rates are far higher than domestic rates) regardless of all the other bills. If I was to charge for my time, working the price out on 'minimum wage' each wreath would need another £1.22 added to them. Hold on a minute; that means I am now losing, that's LOSING 32p on each-and-every-wreath I sold. Now how do I pay those bills?

I can assure you if I was 'Ripping Off' anyone I'd not be driving a 9 year old Dacia, buying my clothes from second-hand shops and living back in my childhood bedroom at my Mum's house - actually, I probably would have moved back in with my Mum (or moved her in with me if I was a 'rip off' person) because she's not getting any younger, has lost most of her sight (thanks to a botched op) and I am an amazing daughter who wants to make sure she is doing ok. 

It does infuriate me slightly (ok, a lot) that the majority of people who have a go at me (other florists and other small business owners too) about the price of our products don't boycott buying from the supermarkets, or online retail stores; businesses where the owners/shareholders are pocketing billions from which they then avoid paying tax. The irony of this is that if they (consumers) were to stop buying at these stores, didn't continue to line the pockets of billionaires, they would start to use small shops again, which in turn would mean the smaller businesses would be able to compete on a much fairer ground than they can at the moment. Without the big four and Amazon dominating control of the markets, pretty much monopolising it all, the wholesale costs to smaller businesses would drop, we would then no longer have to pay more than they do to cover the costs lost to companies/growers/farmers supplying these 'tax dodgers' and we could drop our prices a little. Maybe they would then not have so much power to avoid paying their taxes! I can't speak for all small businesses (we all know there are many 'Cash Only' ones around) but the majority of us pay the taxes we are meant to. 

The alternative to 'Shopping Local' is that eventually (and it won't take much longer) there will be no smaller businesses left; then consumers will only have the billionaires to buy from. You watch their prices rocket when that happens! 

Please don't think I am looking for sympathy, or for anyone to feel sorry for me. I knew what I was taking on when I started the business, and thankfully I am one of those people who loves a challenge; all I ask is that the challenge is a fair one. that some people try to think before they speak and that local authoritie treat ALL businesses in their area the same way. Believe me if I didn't enjoy what I do I would walk away without a even so much as a backwards glance. The thing I learned looking for jobs is that even if I was paid minimum wage I could work half the hours I currently do for three times the amount of money! And what's with the five weeks holiday workers get? I definitely do this job for the love of it.

Lastly (I did tell you this was a long one) going back to those of you who complain about parking, as you can see from the video, some of the cars people have to park outside the shop are so big they need to take up the remaining 2 spaces our customers could use. If only the businesses in Highlands Road (the occupants of this car wandered off in that direction) had parking available to them that their customers could use, so they could park on their premises and not stop our customers from being able to shop with us!









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