Spotlight on Ilam Florist
Now more than ever is the time to support local businesses. We wanted to shine a light on some of our clients and how they are coming out the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Jane from Ilam Florist is one of our valued clients. If you've ever visited our offices, you'll have seen Ilam Florist's handiwork. We've always got a lovely bouquet sitting on our reception desk. We asked Jane to share her lockdown experiences, and how her business is surviving.
My name is Jane and I have owned Ilam Florist for 18 years. Pre-COVID-19 I had three staff members plus myself. We were open 6 days a week, with large wedding flower arrangements a good section of my business. We had contracts with numerous companies, good retail walk in trade and a growing internet trade. Over the past few years I have invested heavily in online marketing as another means of attracting more business. At the time I often complained about the expense of online marketing, but never again! Every cent I have spent is now our saving grace.
From about December 2019 I listened and watched as this thing called "coronavirus" was taking hold, claiming lives, destroying businesses and creating global financial havoc across the world. I asked myself, would it reach New Zealand? Would they find a cure? How was this going to affect a little florist shop in Christchurch? Well, it arrived and COVID-19 has changed our business, and possibly how we do business for ever.
As soon as it was announced New Zealand was considering closing borders, businesses and schools, I knew I would have to make some hard decisions to be made.
Firstly, the Wage Subsidy was a great relief as it became apparent very quickly we could not operate as an essential service. Like many Christchurch businesses we were facing four weeks of zero income.
A key aspect of my success in these times was a solid relationship with Godfreys Law and my accountant. Their guidance has proved invaluable.
Each week I sent an email to all staff updating what I knew and how the ever changing situation would possibly impact on them. I'd check on their well being and ask them for input around ideas we could implement going forward.
I've managed to retain all my staff and pay them the wage subsidy. We had a quantity of perishable flowers on hand right before the lockdown, but I was able to sell this at a discounted price to a friend that owns a supermarket, reducing our wastage to almost nothing. Based on advice from my lawyer, I immediately approached our landlord and was able to negotiate very favourable terms for the lockdown period. At Level 3 we could operate our phone and online ordering with skeleton staff back, of course with all social distancing and contact tracing in place. We have all worked reduced hours up to Level 2 which should enable us to essentially operate as a retail store again.
Making it through the unknown
Initially I was worried with the unknown. What would happen if...
I was watching the daily updates for whatever information I could get to give me clarity on the situation. I fast found the steady stream of news articles and press briefings made me anxious, worried and even more confused with the ever changing and evolving policies.
I decided to only watch one update daily and go online to the Ministry of Business Innovation Employment for updates that affected my business. During the first week of the lockdown I received an email that Godfreys Law would be hosting a live webinar for business owners, with a question and answer session afterwards. I found watching those Godfreys Law webinars thought provoking, they were great for giving answers to questions, interpreting government policy decisions, as well as information around legislation that I would not have considered.
A key aspect of my success in these times was a solid relationship with Godfreys Law and my accountant. Their guidance has proved invaluable. I decided that to simply put my feet up for a holiday, wait and hope for a return to normal was not going to work. I needed to turn this into an opportunity to make change and refocus Ilam Florist.
Planning for the future
I dedicated a lot of time and energy to poring over the last few years financials, looking to see where we could save money. Slowly, I turned the "What ifs..?" into "If this, then that." With input from my accountant and Godfreys Law I made ideas and plans for better staff utilization, plans for more efficient use of time and resources, plans to keep all staff employed moving forward, and plans for my business to survive this closure.
With marketing plans in place, I then turned my attention to our website and social media. Our audience of followers grew by the day and people were engaging with us. Once I announced our online store was open for orders, the orders started flooding in. Initially we thought it was people playing catch up from birthdays, bereavements, and special occasions over the lockdown period, but to date this trend has continued.
Mothers Day posed some difficult challenges, as many growers had either stopped production over Level 4, or turned off lighting and heating to save money. Flower volumes were low and prices high. Because of the advice I'd received and the time I spent planning I foresaw this. During the last week in Level 4 I began contacting growers and pre-ordering, taking a huge gamble that we would be able to operate. It paid off!
As life returns to normal I am cautiously optimistic that with new systems in place, a fine tuned ordering process, greater emphasis on social media and online ordering, along with working as a team with good communication, we are going to come out of this in a stronger position than before.
In summary, I think the fallout from COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to give our business the overdue health check it needed to move forward and grow again. Change is the only constant and as a business owner we can not be afraid of change. We must look at it as an opportunity and chance to improve. I hope that with close monitoring and analysis, in addition to working closely with trusted advisors like the team at Godfreys Law, we will survive the coming months of uncertainty as a strong committed team emerging from this in better shape to face challenges that lie ahead.
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