A Flower Garden for the community

As one of the many florists in London, it can be found difficult to make a name for yourself. Battersea Flower station conquered this issue and now stands out in many ways. You could state that their collection of flowers is bigger and more divers than most others, but this is not what makes them so special. It is the fact that they choose to operate on a local scale and provide for their community in many ways. This community feel is crucial for the garden and can be felt immediately when walking in. Let’s have a look at what it took to get to the point where they are now.

 

Uprising

 Battersea Flower Station has been brought to life 5 years ago by Lisa McCoamack & John Schofield. Both had different careers before they decided to work together. John has always been involved in the flower business, he’s a real flower lover and knows all about them. From which soil would be best suited for the plant to where they come from and what family they are in. He started his career at Morden Hall, a big garden centre, where he started from the bottom and made his way to the top as one of the managers. However, while fulfilling the tasks a manager has to take care of, as solving bigger structual problems, he missed the simple contact with the clients and dealing with the actual flowers. On a busy day, he would go and sit behind the counter and help the clients out with whatever they needed. He realized that he wasn’t enjoying his job as he should and decided to quit.

He knew what he wanted, and that was to have his own flower garden. A place where there was more freedom for the client to ask all the questions they had regarding what was best for the plant they had just purchased, without feeling the pressure of the client standing behind them in line. In other words, a flower garden with a more communal feel to it than the big commercial garden centers.

It was at this time, what later would turn out to be the perfect timing, that he met Lisa McCoamack. Lisa was working as the head of marketing at Virgin Europe and similar to John, she found herself working for the needs of a big company that didn’t seem to fulfill hers. She desired something more local and real, where she could really see the progress she was making. And so, after a healthy discussion on how to handle business, these two like-minded individuals decided to combine their skills for their own project, the Battersea Flower Station.

Site

With this business idea in mind, it was time to look for a suited location where flowers could be stored by the thousands and where the customer would feel welcome to walk in all the time. After a three year search, they finally found the perfect site. The site was owned by Network Rail, the company that provides the British train structure, and had been empty for over 30 years. Before that, it was used as a stable where the horses from Battersea Park were kept and before that the site was used as a storage place for the barrows from the market on Battersea High Street. The site seemed perfect as it could also serve as a handy gateway between Winders Road and Battersea Park Road for clients but also random by passers. This was a massive plus in their point of view, as it really creates a local, spontaneous vibe for their shop. The site is about 5 meters broad and a hundred meters long, this also was something they thought could work in their advantage as everything is easy to find and the customer couldn’t get lost in all kinds of different rooms. It literally feels as if you’re walking through a beautiful garden in which every flower is for the taking, after paying for them of course.

However, they didn’t buy the site looking like this. When they first found it, the place was a complete wilderness. The whole site was covered with grass coming up to your middle and you couldn’t even see the other side of the alley. With the help from their friends and family it took them 6 whole months to clean it up and in December 2013 Battersea Flower Station was first opened for everyone.

Current State

Nowadays, they display thousands of different flowers and plants together with a small souvenir and seed shop. There can be up to 500 clients on a weekend and every week they have 4 vans coming in with flowers and 4 vans providing plants. The flowers mainly come from Britain but also from the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. After their arrival, these flowers are being prepared, by cutting the leafs off, to be put in bouquets or to be sold separately. Meanwhile the plants need to be put in the right place, with the oldest plants in the front and the newest ones in the back. As Lisa is usually taking care of business by making phone calls to arrange the next incoming stocks and John is most likely taking care of a client, they needed some extra helping hands. On the day I visited, Moses was preparing the bouquets while Jean-Marie was watering the plants. Kimberly was arranging the souvenir shop and Fred was organizing the plants. In total, they employ 15 people and everybody gets to do everything.

Flowers and plants can also be ordered online on their website and will be delivered by van to people living in the city center of London. According to John, this is a useful business model of combining local and worldwide trade. People from all over the world can visit their site and sent flowers to someone living nearby the Battersea Flower Station. This local idea of doing business is something very dear to Lisa and John and defines them as a company and as individuals. They are of the opinion that when business is done locally, it’s not only beneficial for their own neighborhood, but also for the wellbeing of the planet. This is why they work together with the Hairy Pot Plant Company as one of their plant growers. Hairy Pot Plant Company has got its base in Hampshire and supplies garden centers of flower pots made out of natural materials.

Battersea Flower Station is unique because it shows other garden centers and businesses that you don’t necessarily have to operate worldwide to be successful. It is true that they get some products from over the borders and thus not everything about their company is local, but this is only in the interest of providing the best material to their clients. The combination of expertise in field and keeping the business as local as possible together with a very approachable relation to the clients caused Battersea Flower Station to quickly rise to the top of the London garden centers.