“It’s all James’s fault,” laughs Florence Kennedy of her decision to found Petalon, a bouquet delivery service with a difference; one obvious difference being that Petalon’s bouquets are all delivered by bike.
And not just any bikes: these are the bikes hand-crafted by James Kennedy, Florence’s husband and founder of Kennedy City Bicycles.
“It was hard living with someone who was following his dream when I wasn’t,” says Florence, who was then working in sales for a trend forecasting company. It was after a surprise trip to Paris, for which her then boss colluded with James, that Florence’s own light-bulb moment came. She saw the rather sad looking bunch her husband had sent as a thank-you gesture to her boss, and wondered why no-one seemed to offer affordable flowers with individuality for small, thoughtful gestures such as this.
“It started as a business idea,” explains Florence. “I knew nothing about flowers at the time. I’m obsessed now!” She saved her sales commission to tide her over for three months whilst she launched the business. With not enough money or time for a course, Florence read every flower book going and scoured the internet for floristry know-how.
Within weeks, Florence had built a trailer for her bike, built a website, learnt to code a little and started to take online orders. She would cycle from Clapton to her nearest market at New Spitalfields to fill her bike trailer with flowers before cycling home again.
“The premise for Petalon bouquets was for people to have the chance to experience a wide range of flowers rather than a lot of one thing,” says Florence. “So in a bouquet we offer one stem of lots of different flowers, flowers that last well but are beautiful.”
Word of mouth and clever use of social media have fuelled the growth of this innovative flower business. Marketing agencies started to call on Petalon to deliver bouquets to clients and media contacts, and weekly bouquet customers started asking Florence to do their wedding flowers, office flowers and run workshops in her East London studio. M&S even came knocking, featuring Florence in a video and blog post on the Style & Living section of their website. Today, Petalon averages 30 bouquets a day, Monday to Friday, delivered by a team of two full-time riders and lots of freelancers.
Florence + The Market
“I moved to New Covent Garden Flower Market from Spitalfields because I became frustrated with the lack of choice,” says Florence. “Now I only come to New Covent Garden.” Trying to keep the footprint of the business low, Florence moved to Zipcar (hire) cars when the business outgrew the capacity of the bike trailer, and then to Zipcar vans before buying her own, which she now loads to the brim at the Flower Market twice a week.
“I was so nervous on my first trip to the Flower Market,” recalls Florence. “I felt like a fraud and that I was entering a world I was not part of. But Ron on Bloomfield took the time to talk to me and help me, as did Barry on Zest and David at GB Foliage. People give me a good price because they are investing in me as a potential long-term customer, and that alone makes you more confident.”
It is the variety of flowers and foliages coupled with the control over her tight schedule that keeps Florence coming back to the Flower Market. “We change the online bouquet designs every week to make the most of what’s looking good in the Market,” explains Florence. “Timing is so important for my business. On Monday morning, I can be in the Flower Market from 4am to 6am then back in the studio for 7am and still have the new fresh bouquet designs up online by 9am.”
Prior to British Flowers Week, Florence trialled her first ever British-only bouquet, and gave it the inspired name: ‘The Full English’. “I love British flowers because they’re not dead straight - you get lovely curly tendrils,” enthuses Florence. “I love Pratley’s lupins and Zest’s ‘British corner’, where the more unusual flowers are just called ‘cut English’ if they’re not sure of the variety! And DG Wholesale have started selling British now that Michael’s joined them.”
‘The Full English’ was so popular that the trial sold out, and has inspired 'British Blue', the exclusively British bouquet on the menu from 13 to 17 June in celebration of British Flowers Week. And the price? £28 or £50 for a bigger bunch - including delivery and a £1 donation to Capital Bee.