For Mark The Florist, running a successful small business is all about relationships – with his growers, his customers and the local community.
In many ways, Darlinghurst is a microcosm of Sydney’s sprawling metropolis. Design agencies sit alongside community centres. And St Vincent’s towers above it all, the hospital’s many staff and patients forming an essential part of Darlo’s richly woven fabric.
So why would a florist from Ballarat, Victoria, set up shop in this particular community?
“I wanted to be a boutiquey, neighbourhood florist that not only sold flowers but connected with the community. They’re very loyal and everyone’s got a different story. And because we’re right near the hospital, we meet such a diverse range of people.”
In 12 months, Mark the Florist’s journey has taken him from new kid on the block to established local favourite. One of the biggest things to happen during that time was, of course, the pandemic. While he found pivoting to home floral installations helped him through the tough times, he saw many around him who weren’t so fortunate.
“There’s a huge amount of homeless people in this area. So when all these services started closing and people were hungry on the streets, I thought: “I need to do my part”. For two months we opened a pantry in front of the shop with community group Darlo Darlings, where locals could donate food that homeless people could collect and get fed.”
It’s not only the streets where he’s having an impact. He works closely with the hospital and donates a bouquet each month to the winner of the emergency department’s rising young doctor award – something he was recently asked to present in person. And he gets messages of thanks from patients who’ve found much-needed joy in the arrangements or plants they’ve been given by loved ones.
Relationships are clearly something Mark relishes building, and his most important have been forged in the thin light and stillness of pre-dawn visits to the flower markets.
“The most important role in my business is getting the most amazing, unusual, selection of flowers. And I hand-pick every single flower stem and plant. So you’ll hear me talking about the Italian couple or another grower Serena, and those relationships. When I get to the flower markets, my product is out back because they put away the best quality flowers for me. They know what I expect and they know I pay a fair price.”
For Mark to continue forging relationships and making a difference in the community, he knows his focus has to be on keeping the business going. And that wasn’t easy during the pandemic. Within the first few days of lockdown, $38,000 worth of orders were cancelled. That’s when he realised he had to get creative if he wanted to keep his dream alive. He started by selling plant pots – a new addition to his inventory – which took off in an unexpected way.
“After a while, I introduced an interior design service where I come into your home and decorate your interior, balcony or courtyard with beautiful pots and plants. I did one in an apartment block, they posted it on their closed Facebook group, and it took off from there. My eighth booking was a $7,000 installation.”
That wasn’t the only moment that generated much-needed income. In May, already frantic with Mother’s Day orders, a $10,000 order came in from a radio station. Mark pays for his flowers weekly, so tripling his normal turnover cashflow overnight was tough for a small business.
That’s when he turned to Cameron, his American Express Account Manager. “I said, ‘Look, I need $20k for an upcoming order’ and we got the business needs met. Without that I’d have had to say no to that job. Their flexibility around the no pre-set spending limit1 on my American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card was amazing, and it makes the Card as important to the business as my growers, because it gives me the cashflow to keep going.”
That flexibility has also allowed Mark to invest in his business and accelerate his growth. Having up to 51 days to pay for purchases2 is, as he puts it, “cheaper than most overdrafts, so it’s a great tool from that perspective. And because all the processes are streamlined, it not only helps with cashflow, it also reduces my bookkeeping costs – it’s amazing.”