At the outset I will say that, although we share a surname, Rory Flynn from Clever Digital and myself are in no way related (until such a time as he becomes a billionaire and then I'm sure I'll find some lineage!) I don't want anyone to think that there is any nepotism going on when I bang on about what a super, clever geek he is, but he really IS geeky good at digital stuff.
Back in the day (Circa 1998) we shared the odd Campari and bowl of risotto, but lately Rory and I have been sharing lots of ideas about this new website which started with him asking me what the "essence" of Smellies was. This kinda got me thinking about the vanilla essence in my French toast recipe, then made me sit down and take a good hard look at Smellies and what we are really about. It's hard to consider where my business is now without taking a little cruise in the DeLorean back in time to where it all began......
Imagine a time without mobile phones, no internet, no Netflix, no online shopping. Where fax machines were a business innovation, you walked into a bank and dealt with a teller, where you used carbon paper to hand write receipts, where you licked your stamps and walked to a post box to send invoices and quotes. That's where my business life started in 1996 next to Mexican Graffiti in Yarra St, where the smell of chicken burritos competed with the scent of calendulas and my little navy Daihatsu Charade doubled as a flower delivery van.
Those early years were a steep learning curve, I was a 24 year-old uni dropout and fashion industry sales rep who decided to take a $16K bank loan for a new Ford Laser and spend it on opening a florist shop (without having ever worked in a florist shop before). If there was a recipe for a small business disaster, this had to be the Michelin star version, looking at the "Business Plan" below, I really need to be high-fiving St Anthony for the miracle he bestowed on me and my little flower shop. I worked super hard for 4 years in that CBD shopfront, never doubting that I was filling a niche with the simple approach of selling fresh cut flowers in brown paper packaging and never questioning that I would stay afloat. I've got to say that I give full credit to gerberas and sunflowers for being my cash cows and the crops that would keep my doors open and my customers smiling.
I'm not sure if it was the excitement of a new millenium or the emergence of Britney "hit me baby one more time" Spears (maybe both) that made me take a leap of faith in 1999 to a much bigger shop in Moorabool Street. The white facade got a primary color makeover and a new Smellies shopfront took its place on the hill looking at the Geelong Hotel (where I first laid eyes on my husband years earlier) and a few steps away from the iconic, Joe's Cafe.
The bigger shop meant more staff, better product range, larger corporate jobs, more weddings and making amends with the resident ghost, who we think was a carry over from the long history of being O'Toole's Furniture Store. I kept all the lovely old features including the leaky roof, creaky floor and Grinnell Sprinkler system (the first of it's kind in Geelong) and I think this kept our ghost friend happy cos he hasn't visited us for some time since.
I faced many business challenges over the years since, most of them utterly out of my control, like the Global Financial Crisis, internet crashes, ESSO gas explosion, introduction of GST, heatwaves, robberies, floods, staffing issues (like having three staff due for babies at once) the deafening redevelopment of St John of God Hospital and debtors going broke, but we remain here today, on top of the hill, with the steeple of St Mary's Basilica still loitering religiously at our back door.
Babies have been born, brides have been married, promotions have been celebrated, graduates have been applauded, loved ones have been buried, illness has been acknowledged, effort has been recognised, birthdays have been saluted, achievement has been rewarded and our flowers have been the sidebar (occasionally the showpiece) on all of those occasions.
The 17 years at our home on the hill has been time spent evolving, adapting and innovating. The foray into e-commerce was a business model I always struggled with, I never wanted people to miss out on the pleasure of walking into the store to see, smell and touch flowers, to experience the change in seasons first hand and marvel at Mother Nature. When we opened our first online platform 5 years ago, it paid for itself in 2 months and I had to eat humble pie (which was actually quite tasty), I had to admit there are flower lovers out there who want to engage with us through a website, so we have done our best to balance out putting energy into both the retail shopfront and having an online presence. The new website has a marketing plan (yep, a professional looking one) to keep it as interesting as the store and as alluring as Pinterest
Despite all the changes, the one core thing has remained the same in the last 21 years; the reasons and sentiments for which people send flowers to each other, that connection to others in the most joyous and tragic times and the unspoken language a bunch of flowers brings has not grown old, it never will. It's the thing that gets me out of bed in the wee hours of cold winter mornings, it's the thought that we are some kind of botanical 'medium' between individuals sharing kindness and it's the notion that the simplest of gestures, giving flowers, can change someone's world.
That my friend, Rory Flynn (unrelated) is our 'essence' and it's not vanilla.
Flowers are everything, always x