From Petal to Post: Building an Offline business Online

SOLUTION SPACE - 9 March 2020

Traditionally, sending flowers to someone else is an act reserved for special occasions like a birthday, anniversary or well wishes for recovery from illness. Kim du Plessis wants to change that. With her floral delivery startup, Petal & Post, now people can send and receive flowers every week, whether for a special occasion, or an impromptu ‘just-because’.

Petal & Post is du Plessis’ second career — she was a town planner in her former life. We asked her about making the jump from designing towns to designing posies.

Every entrepreneur has a side hustle

“I felt boxed in,” she says of her full-time job in Australia. “It’s the same thing every day.” She had lived in the country for two years and but was beginning to feel restless and was looking for a more creative outlet. That was when she spotted a business model that was already working well in Australia: a daily posy delivery service, ordered ad-hoc or on a subscription basis each week, ordered online.

Du Plessis felt inspired by the idea. She enrolled in a six-week floristry course and decided to give it a try. Shortly afterwards, du Plessis returned to South Africa. Like most entrepreneurs, she needed to earn an income while pursuing her passion: “Every entrepreneur has a side hustle,” she says, describing how she found a freelance role with her former employers a couple of weeks after she landed. The job gave her the flexibility of time to build the business, with the relative stability of some regular income.

Influencing social influencers

Du Plessis found a good, reliable supplier — who she still works with, two years later — and started marketing the service on Instagram. Using the social platform as a free advertising tool was instrumental in growing the business: “I designed everything to have a timeless, simple, straight-from-the-field look and feel, and began to post images online every day, which helped to attract followers who love to see flowers as art.”

Today, like many social platforms, Instagram is cluttered with advertisers trying to cut through the noise of countless others. But in 2016, when du Plessis was finding her feet as a startup, it was a much easier medium to use for marketing a business. “I got in at the right time,” says du Plessis. She found and nurtured relationships with some key influencers whose support elevated the Petal&Post profile. She also invested in boosted posts to extend their reach. People started ordering posies straight off Instagram and the businesses started to grow.

The arrangement wasn’t without its challenges, says du Plessis: “In 2016, I was working my town planning job for part of the week and then making up posies for two days a week, doing up to five deliveries a day myself, all across Cape Town. I was burning out.”

Hiring in to avoid burning out

About six months after launching, a friend whose family had been in the floristry business for years joined du Plessis. This enabled her to expand the service to three days a week, with an extended delivery footprint, too. By the end of 2017, she also hired five students to help with making up the arrangements each day. The expansion wasn’t planned, however, says du Plessis: “I wasn’t thinking about scale, so it’s interesting to see how the business has structured since then.”

In September the following year, du Plessis quit her town planning job to run Petal&Post full time. “I understood my business model by then,” she says. “It was the right time to do it. When I did, though, it felt strange to have so much time on my hands,” she laughs.

With a manager in place and students helping in the studio, du Plessis could concentrate on how to build the business. While the business was growing, there were some growing pains, too. “We got to a point where we’d be sold out by 9.30 in the morning. One day I saw an exchange on Twitter. An influencer was looking for a cost-effective same-day floral delivery service. Someone recommended Petal & Post and the influencer responded that they’d tried but we were always sold out. It made me realise that people loved what we do, but we had to do it better.”

A retreat for business strategy

In response, du Plessis made arrangements with her supplier to deliver twice a day if necessary, to ensure they were never sold out. The experienced galvanised her to seek advice on the business strategy. This prompted her to apply for the winter cohort of the Venture Incubation Programme at the Solution Space in late 2018. It was an intense period of learning for her: “As an entrepreneur, you get stuck in an operations mindset. It was like a retreat for me to focus only on the business strategy. I realised
how little I knew.”

Du Plessis learned a lot on the programme about business finance, but one of the biggest learnings was about the market. In this, she realised the importance of understanding not only the customer and the customer experience, but also the competition. “The programme forces you to understand your whole industry. I was first to market with the Petal&Post model in South Africa, so the competition was something I’d never given much thought to previously.”

You get out what you put in

“Ultimately it’s about creating a product, making it into something that people want to buy and then supporting it with customer service and a quality brand. For me, success and work are definitely linked: how much you get out is directly proportional to how much you put in,” says du Plessis.

The philosophy has paid off. Du Plessis is currently in talks with investors and is expanding to other regions beyond Cape Town. Soon, people all across South Africa will be able to send flowers to say ‘I’m sorry’, ‘Have a nice day’, or ‘Just because’.

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