When Covid hit the UK in 2020, so many industries were hit. Shut down overnight, thousands lost their jobs, thousands of talented and hard-working individuals were told to go home for the foreseeable future. It really was one of the scariest times for the majority of people but particularly those in the events industry. Not only highlighting florists but caterers, productions companies, entertainment, venues and many many more were closed with very little warning of how bad the situation in the world was or how long it would last. To top it off, we were then told to find a new job and the government then suggested jobs that we could do to learn ‘better skills’. It was a huge insult.
In this industry, we are a stubborn bunch and most of us have managed to muddle through sticking to our guns and adjusting our way of working through this tricky period.
As the main hub for florists, New Covent Garden Flower Market has mostly been able to stay open with some adjustments but during the most recent lockdown, was closed down and ran on a skeleton service. As a florist myself, this I know has been frustrating for us as we like to have a look at colour/ quality/ prices/season, however, it has also been tough for the stalls working from the market offering a click and collect service with minimal staff.
The flower industry is suffering double-time this year, not only are all events cancelled which means the demand for flowers has fallen, a once buzzing flower market has been turned into a ghost town, we are also suffering as wholesalers and consumers with the extreme increase in prices due to the dreaded Brexit.
I feel it’s so important to support the flower market as it is such a historic market and it would be so sad to lose it and for everything to go online. Most florists feel the same way I do, it really is a family in there.
I managed to have a catch up with Luke from the flower market who gave me an insight as to what has been going on in the market. I have had the opportunity to work closely with Luke over the past 4 years. He works for a company called Zest, a family-run flower wholesalers based in New Covent Garden Market specialising in British grown flowers and a broad range of top-quality Dutch flowers.
How long have you worked at the market and how did you get the job?
“So, I’ve worked in the market since I was 20 years old, 7 years ago now, probably the quickest 7 years of my life!
“As most people know, Graeme who owns Zest Flowers is my stepdad, he managed to convince me to start working in the market. After being reluctant to work the crazy hours that we have to work in this industry, luckily enjoying my job means I don’t mind working the mad hours!”
How has the market changed in this time?
“Obviously, in the 7 years, I’ve worked in the market the biggest change was the big move to the new market! On a personal level, things have constantly been changing as I started not knowing anything about flowers and I’ve had to learn quickly, I had also never been in a sales-type job before where I needed to start building a customer base, it’s all been a big learning curve for me, one that I’ve loved!”
How has covid affected the market?
“Coronavirus has affected the flower/florist industry massively and not in a good way! We’ve had to adapt massively to still trade to the best ability that we can we lost so much business through events/weddings being cancelled, contracts in hotels and restaurants being stopped, suddenly the customers we had left were just delivering bouquets to customers around London! this doesn’t pay the bills, for them or us! Luckily in the latest lockdown, we’ve been able to operate with the click/call and collect system, which has been good. However, I can’t wait for April when the market can open up properly again and hopefully through the summer things will pick back up again. We can’t wait to welcome our customers back!”
Are you losing customers as they are choosing to go direct to Holland and why is this?
“There have always been people going direct to Dutch suppliers instead of/as well as buying in the market. When the market had to close down in the first lockdown back in March, I definitely noticed more florists using direct Dutch suppliers. For me working in the market but not being allowed to open up and sell flowers wasn’t great because at the time it felt like we couldn’t do anything about it! It was frustrating and we were all worried about our job security! Luckily, we found a way of safely operating after not too long and spread the word, we started seeing customers that still had work, coming back and buying from us. That was really nice to see.”
You’ve been working at Zest for quite some time now, what makes zest stand out from the rest?
“I would say a few things have always helped us at Zest stand out, I remember when I first started, Graeme told me that building relationships with customers is so important, learning who you can have a laugh with or who you might need to be a little bit more “professional” with. But overall, customer care has to be one of the main things, I’ve definitely built a customer base through being nice and trying my best to get anything a customer needs!
“I also have to highlight our amazing supply of English flowers through the spring, summer and autumn, these have been a massive help for us to stand out over the last 5 years. When we have English flowers delivered to us, we always know we’re in for a busy days work! The quality and selection definitely stands out from the rest in the market.”
What do you see for the future of the flower market?
“We’re always trying to look towards the future with flowers, I see parts of our business being done online, unfortunately, this is the way of the world now but we will still have a great selection of flowers in the market and would like to keep it that way. Most people know we already have webshops set up so that people can look online for themselves and order themselves. For some customers that already go directly to Dutch suppliers, this is a very similar setup but it includes the customer care the Zest team offers and we are able to deliver across London daily! What more could you want?!”
Do you have a favourite season in the market?
“I think my favourite season for flowers mixes between spring and summer, I like the variety of flowers coming through now like tulips, ranunculus and anemones but my favourite time is definitely through the summer. That is the best time for getting all of our famous fresh English flowers, the market always seems to have happier vibe through the summer also!”
Do you have a favourite flower and why?
“Every flower interview I’ve done I get asked this question and it’s always the same answer, when I first started selling flowers as a salesman, there was this new flower that had been grown for ‘apparently’ the first time and it was butterfly ranunculus. I just remember buying about 5 different colours/varieties to sell on the stand on a Saturday morning and people went crazy for them at the time, now every spring when they come into season it reminds me of being asked this question!”
How would you encourage people to keep using the market and what do you think they are getting for their money?
“I think one good thing to come from the way the market has worked through Coronavirus, is that everyone that I have spoken to, who works there or visits, can’t wait for the market to re-open properly again! I think that shows that people love being able to use the flower market and have missed being able to be in the market properly so much! My main encouragement would be, keep using the flower market as without it, I think florists’ jobs would be much harder, keep coming in and having the nice experience that the market provides. Everyone is always happy to help with any questions or concerns that anyone has about anything flower related, we will always do our best to provide anyone with what they need!”
I think everything that Luke stated in this interview is so poignant, everyone is so desperate to get back into the market and overall that shows that this is a piece of history that many people like myself, consider a family, that cannot be lost.
That means, keep coming to the market, keep buying from the market and keep using florists that use the market!
When the market re-opens Luke and the rest of the Zest team can be found 6 days a week offering great flowers, great service and if your extra nice, they normally have sweets on their desks!! Ask for Punchy!