In the latest in his Tech Q&A series, Stephen Rosenthal, Head of the Technology and Digital Practice at The MBS Group, met with Aron Gelbard, the founder and CEO of Bloom & Wild, the letterbox flowers and plants company that continues to blossom just five years into its journey.
As is true with most outstanding entrepreneurs, Aron Gelbard makes something very difficult sound incredibly simple. His vision for Bloom & Wild, the company he founded in 2013 following close to a decade in consulting with Bain and OC&C, is to bring joy back to the ancient act of giving and receiving flowers.
He wants to deliver that vision through leveraging the potential of the digital age whilst maintaining the charm, quality and personality of the pre-digital age.
The moment you walk into their effortlessly on-trend factory-conversion offices in Vauxhall’s Vox Studios, you can see that the culture within the business reflects that ambition. The fragrances hit you before the visual, which reveals a stunning variety of evidently high-quality flowers, foliage and elegant packing materials that organically meld with slick MacBooks, iPads and visibly enthused staff. Mirroring the customer base, two thirds of the employees are female, urban, 20-30 year olds with a taste for high-quality at reasonable prices.
In a window-partitioned side room overlooking a bench at which a couple of florists were experimenting with new arrangement options, Aron and I spoke about his vision, the future of floristry and how data is fundamentally changing every aspect of an ancient industry.
What was the motivation behind founding Bloom & Wild?
Our goal is to make sending and receiving flowers better than it should be. It was our view that the existing options weren’t providing joy.
It should be a joy to send and receive flowers. We’ve given them as humans for thousands of years, to express emotions at the most important times – birthdays, expressions of love, sympathy, gratitude etc. It should be a wonderful moment for the giver and the recipient.
Our observation was that it’s a shopping experience that’s become worse rather than better. Floristry, as an industry, has moved online. But online hasn’t made the experience better. I’d advised several digital companies during my consulting career, and thought there was more that could be done to disrupt the flower delivery model.
Do you think the digital era will mark the end of high street floristry?
It’s a really tough business. We’ve experimented ourselves with some physical pop-ups. The difference in the number of sales you make per hour in physical stores versus online is enormous. Supply chain is also hard. A lot of florists won’t have the scale to negotiate directly with suppliers – meaning more middle men, more cost and more delay.
So I don’t think the high street florist will disappear, but you can’t deny that it’s more difficult than it was.
Is it possible to scale a floristry company?
Lots of flower companies have scale, but are often very expensive and only open to a very highly-selective audience. We have products people love, but, thanks to the scale we’ve achieved, we avoid the middle men and can offer beautiful products at a far lower price point, with bouquets beginning at £20-40.
So how do you do it?
Our model works better at scale. We have developed forecasting technology that can accurately predict what we need to procure for our customers when, which means lower cost, less waste, price cutting and therefore greater scale.
Unlike companies like Uber or Deliveroo [whose expansion plans are dependent on establishing local networks and workforces in each city they operate in], we are nationwide in every country we launch in on the first day of business. We partner with national carriers, meaning we can deliver next day from any location.
Our customer data has shown that we often deliver to remote parts of the UK. Provided the Royal Mail deliver there, we can get bouquets to you, even if there isn’t a high street florist– or a high street.
Surely there’s a limit on how far you can send fresh flowers before you risk their quality?
Having analysed the parcel tracking data from the Royal Mail, we have established cut off points for the more remote places our customers wish to send flowers to. For example, we ask customers to order deliveries to Northern Scotland 48 hours ahead of the time they’d like them to arrive.
Our data gets more reliable as we achieve more scale, helping our operational decision making. We didn’t know it when we started out, but now we know that the Royal Mail has a 94% average on-time delivery rate. As you’d expect, Birmingham’s is higher, Orkney’s is lower. We need to balance service with expectation.
And does the scale principle work internationally?
Absolutely. We now operate in the UK, Germany, France and Ireland. We have local distribution partners in Germany and France, who pack and dispatch our bouquets from farms to local packing companies and then local dispatchers.
We’ve also decoupled the geography issue on our websites. If you were to order a bouquet in London to send to a friend in Paris, you would order in London, in English, for a delivery that would then get processed on the back end to Paris, in French, for the local pack and dispatch agents to process.
We’ve found this has really helped British and French expats. Our French customers living in the UK are now sending orders back to France, creating a really strong cross-border gifting model.
How do you use customer and dispatcher data to drive the business?
First and foremost, data helps us in delivery success, to ensure the maximum level of customer satisfaction.
For example, on Mother’s Day, we offer customers the choice of a DPD next day guaranteed delivery, at a higher cost, or a Royal Mail option. The risk with the Royal Mail delivery is that it could arrive on the Monday. To avoid that, we track the status of each and every delivery in real time, multiple times per day. If we see one is likely to run late, we automatically resend the same bouquet via DPD, to ensure the flowers will arrive on time for your mother.
It obviously costs us more, but we’ll always do all we can to satisfy our customers, and ensure their recipients get a wonderful gift when they’re supposed to get it. Of course, this means some get a second bunch the on the Monday, but we’re happy for that too.
We’ve invested in data to be proactive rather than reactive, to deliver the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Nobody has two floristry apps on their phone, so if we delight our customers, we find they are exceptionally loyal.
And what about customer data?
We can offer increasing levels of personalisation to customers, based on what they’ve told us about themselves.
We know what customers like from the bouquets they have ordered. We also know the occasions they send flowers for. If a customer logs in to their account ahead of their mum’s birthday, we can show them the products that people like them are ordering for their mums and help inspire their selection.
Our in-house data science team has unearthed some fascinating statistics, such as the regional variations in the flowers people order, the devices they tend to order from and the fact that 10% of our customers are buying flowers for themselves.
Finally, what is your goal for Bloom & Wild?
We want to be Europe’s leading and most loved flower company.
We believe flowers can be a great experience, and we’re committed to making flower giving that experience. We go to great lengths to do that through innovation, creativity, technology and data.
Fundamentally, we care about doing it the way it should be done.
Aron Gelbard Quick Facts:
Born: Nice, France, but moved to the UK when I was five years old.
What excites you about tech?: Technology has the ability to make things as easy as they should be. By letting tech take care of the hard stuff, we have more time to get on with the things we’re passionate about.
Who are your mentors?: We recently hired our chairman, Gwyn Jones. He has been a massive sounding board for me. He’s warm, friendly, supportive and helps us immensely. In truth, I wish I’d met him sooner.