As we venture into 2023, I hope you have had time to recover from the pre-Christmas mayhem and are starting to get back in routine, remembering what day it is and generally resetting!
For Evolve, Christmas is the lull before the storm which marks the start of the busiest six months of the year - there's plenty to do!
As you’re my tribe and I specialise in authenticity I'm going to tell you a story - aka tell it how it is! And I’m going to come clean - I really dislike Christmas - there I said it - out loud! well it’s not Christmas itself - it’s the run up ….it simply is too much of everything with grotty weather on top ! I'm not a Grinch. The run up just goes on far too long and we get so very tired, like really tired.
Here’s my why, an insight into the backstory...
During the decades I was working for growers and packers to supermarket retailers we worked on Christmas product ranges all year. Yup ALL YEAR….it was a massive disruption to everything else we did and indeed life itself. It was as if the Christmas sales campaign took over everything else. It went on and on too....I've been trained in bigger picture thinking and continuous improvement planning so there's only so long I can look at the same product over and over without the overwhelming desire to improve it taking over. Low boredom threshold.
The Christmas project schedule was such that in October the work started on the following years campaign - not the year you were just about to launch but the one after that!
So picture this - Me, the New Product Development Manager (probably with ADHD albeit undiagnosed), running a team of graphic designers and product developers, liaising with factories and suppliers plenty to do and then being forced into being a 'completer finisher' mode TORTURE! I simply thrive on newness and 'what’s next'?
Repetition simply kills any passion I have for creativity. At one point in my career we were developing seed kits, bulb kits, potted plant ranges and all the added value that goes with it for five retailers - oh yes - and that was split across three different different locations. Bonkers! Businesses wouldn't even consider running like that now it would all be Zoom and project Software systems!! Don't forget the Mothers Day Campaign too! simultaneously working on multiple ranges for multiple retailers. Hence why British grown is right up my alley. No time to get bored, right? and more importantly nothing drags on, well except for Christmas which should finish on the 15th of December in my diary :)
The initial range builds were fine - exciting - tweaking last years best sellers and introducing some new themes. We would start the following years range in October before the current range had even reached the stores. In March, sign off for all hardware and packaging-final products being shown on Press Day in the scorching heat of summer in some fancy hangout in London.
Press day one year we waited and waited for the 'celebrity' Chef to arrive, we had been on location since daybreak and 'entertained' the press with floral demonstrations and giveaways….he finally arrived early evening for a swift photo call with his specially created ‘pudding’ and to say hello to a few of the retailers Buying Team. I felt like it was a huge anticlimax, the Buyers had been waiting all day to meet him.
I bowled over and I pinned a mistletoe buttonhole on his lapel in an effort to get the lowly horticulture department a miniscule mention in whatever feature the photo may or may not get printed in. I fondly reminisce on this now - amused that at the time I just needed some spontaneity to liven us up after a very long day of enthusing about Christmas in the middle of a scorching June!!
At Evolve, we buy the Mistletoe from the very same supplier that supplied that packer with crates and crates of the stuff. One year we did a feature for the retailer and calculated how much ribbon was used to adorn the sprigs, the ribbon bows end to end were long enough to go around Big Ben several times!
Then it was on to fixing numbers, tracking containers from the Far East and Europe and making sure all the product components fresh or sundry would actually arrive on time from September to get checked and prepared for the staggered launches into stores post Halloween. I had a good relationship with the packaging manager - in fact we were on the same run of desks to make life simpler and bizarrely the same warped sense of humour too. If the container was running late contingency plans were put in place - move launch, tweak production plans and so on - you get the picture. There wasn't any point in getting in a tizz about delays, worse things have happened at sea than your Mistletoe ribbon not showing up on time (and I really do know about the sea too-but that's another story)
Wow get all that into one sentence and it seems like a breeze - anything and everything could stall or hiccup the process from heavy rains blocking access to rural far flung basket or ceramic factories, to challenges on the seas during shipping.
My experience and insight into multiple retailers and their suppliers has most definitely shaped Evolve, there are loads of learnings to be had from these years of 'Delivering Christmas'
It was stressful, double shifts and night shifts of packing. We would bring in donuts for production teams and healthy snacks too just to keep them going through weeks of wreath making, bouquet making or potted bulbs. I printed out the 'Keep Calm its Only Christmas' poster and strategically plastered it on doors and noticeboards in attempt to get colleagues to 'breathe' amongst the tiredness and pressures.
Many decorations and accessories are stored and return each year to adorn trees, homes and businesses yet a huge amount of items are bought new every year creating a massive surge in sales and a massive demand on fresh product suppliers. For Evolve, the peak is November as florists and floral decorators prepare and install.
During the 'Gap Years' in Egypt, I delivered a different type of Christmas to scuba diving tourists, all hoping for epic experience's of 'wish list fish' I can honestly say I didn't miss the hype of times before. Then the children came along and at the same time a new position with a huge grower of citrus, lettuce, grapes, tomatoes and flowers. With this team, we launched flowers into Egyptian supermarkets, no Christmas ranges there either!
On Christmas Eve at our home in a rural village near the North Coast of Alexandria I would throw a bit of tinsel over the Norfolk Island pine that grew in the garden and tell the children how blessed we were to be under blue skies with sun on our faces. On Christmas Day we would watch the Queen's Speech on BBC world.
This year, at home I just couldn't face the mission and mess of the box of treasures coming down from the loft so I used Nutscene string, fresh Eucalyptus and Pines, candles and bulbs to create a sustainable textured decoration above the mantle. It’s restful and brings nature indoors. One week of thinking, twenty minutes of mindful making ( of course the string binding isn't all round !! ) White starry paperwhite Narcissi from the Isles of Scilly and Lincolnshire grown Hyacinths pop up between cones and bark on a mossy woodland base.
I sincerely hope we can encourage more consumers to have natural designs and move with the seasons, especially for Christmas be more sustainable and less wasteful. The first collection of the year went out for the bin men at home... a pile of black bags, one had split and a foil balloon dressed as Father Christmas had his leg out of the tear. Why? Why buy such products for two weeks of joy and then landfill? Surely our planet is worth more. I often peruse the works of European designers such as Gregor Lersch and Klaus Wagner for inspirations and opportunities to create inspired natural designs.
I am very much a 'conscious consumer' My flower journey took me to 'off road' areas of Kenya, China as well as Egypt; experiencing first hand the way of life and awareness of the basic needs hierarchy. I still get overwhelmed whilst shopping, a situation that hasn't resolved since returning from Egypt over ten years ago now. These experiences have shaped me and Evolve with the same buying habits - local or targeted home delivery with British companies that are as close to our location as possible or who share the same values. Friends and family get this experience too with their gifts from local and British makers. So if you receive a sample box of loo roll or a bottle of Pentire, the Cornish plant based spirit it's likely to be from me :)
Fast forward to January 2023 and whats on the list?
- Analysing Christmas 2022!
- Researching the Trends for this year and translating them into commercial concepts
- Reviewing what went well, what didn't, how can it be improved and so on
- Looking at the way we can make new designs sustainably
- Can more structures and accessories be made in advance so we can create more interesting natural designs?
- We used the wreath rings that were left over from last year for dried designs and new fresh ones too. That worked so why moss like a Ninja in November? do it earlier and store. Experient. Moss - 8 tonnes a year...phew!
- Stocktaking, photographing and cataloging before storing sundries that are 'only xmas' in plastic lidded boxes, in dark, dry, mice free zones and with silica gel sachets!!!
- Writing the shopping list for 2023 so we can order early with suppliers and increasing those suppliers that are closer and share the Evolve values
So there you have it, Christmases of the past and how they have shaped the Evolve journey. And what a journey its been - many of you joined us over three years ago now and I am super grateful that our returning customer rates keep on increasing. I know we are a bit to get used to and perhaps don't operate like any other wholesaler. It's even been said I can be a tad Marmite. That's because we are specialist and unique and have oodles of passion for this crazy flower industry. Your businesses are too and together we have great things to achieve. We do the best we can for the planet and for the industry promoting British flowers and are working hard to shape the way consumers buy too. Perhaps I am making up for all those years working for packers or perhaps I've finally found my tribe. This year at Evolve's British flowers Direct we have amazing growers continuing with new programmes and and several new growers joining us, plus new trials.
Here's to 2023 being mindfully planet friendly and flower filled
Thank you for being here
Yours in flowers