Helen Benson founder of Decoflora
I like the fact that Mollie runs in the background, it’s subtle, my customers don’t really know who my payment provider is, it gets the job done and it offers me lots of different payment options.
Some businesses are born with a grand vision, a master plan, or a lofty ambition to change the world. Others start as a hobby or something to work on in between other tasks, and yet still manage to steadily scale thanks to strong demand, an evergreen product, and a serious dedication to serving their customers.
Decoflora is an example of the latter. The UK-based eCommerce business sells artificial silk flowers for all occasions, shipping to customers in the UK, Europe, the U.S. and beyond. Founded by Helen Benson 31 years ago while she was on maternity leave, the business started with simple arrangements that Benson sold mostly to friends and her extended network in between taking care of children.
Just over three decades later, Benson employs a staff of eight. While the business still sells bouquets and arrangements for customers to display in their homes, it also serves a range of corporate clients including TV & film production, the hospitality trade, and events companies by providing faux florals for larger-scale arrangements and installations. These days, while the majority of the company’s income is B2B, the majority of orders are still B2C.
All the while, Benson has been able to prove that a well-run business without feverish ambitions for growth can still manage to impressively scale, first steadily and then exponentially.
Florals? For Spring?
As company director, Benson still does it all. Her duties include liaising with and ordering from suppliers and wholesalers, maintaining the brand’s website and ecommerce shop, keeping corporate customers happy, and maintaining a watchful eye on the fast-changing trends in the floral world—whether it’s statement archways, dried flowers, or lots of earthy greenery.
While she doesn’t maintain a huge social presence for the brand—frankly, she has enough demand to stay on top of without it—she does keep an eye on social media to help her predict what her customers are going to want next. In an image-saturated world where florals, curated interiors, and botanicals are more popular than ever on Instagram, spotting those trends is more of an artform than a science, but it’s something she’s gotten much better at over time.
“It’s not easy and I don’t say that I always get it right, but generally what’s happening in the US this year will happen here in the UK next,” Benson says. “So I kind of broaden my viewpoint not just to following UK businesses, but taking it further afield, too. I’ll go to suppliers and say, ‘everyone wants this particular flower at the moment, can you source this for me, can you have it made, what quantities can we get it in.’ We do follow trends but we also try to stay ahead of the game.”
‘There aren’t enough flowers in the world’
Benson says she’s somewhat surprised that artificial and silk flowers have had an enduring appeal that’s lasted more than three decades. However, the increasing concern from consumers about sustainability and carbon footprints—fresh flowers are usually shipped from around the world, only to die days later—as well as the improving quality of silk and real-to-the-touch artificial flowers means her business is doing better than ever.
After a 12-week closure in the early days of Covid, the business roughly doubled its number of orders in the first year of the pandemic, largely from customers sending flowers to loved ones during such a hard time. But as the world opened back up, things took off even further.
“After that first year, we retained some of our smaller customers that were new to us [thanks to the pandemic] and then the corporate came back in leaps and bounds,” Benson says. “There aren’t enough flowers in the world to satisfy demands at the moment. We’ve had a struggle on the back of that to meet supply.”
Supply chain issues and global shipping costs continue to be Decoflora’s biggest constraint when it comes to even more growth. Then there’s also the fact that the year-round and unceasing demand for florals never seems to stop, so Benson and her team have a lot to keep up with no matter the season.
“There are always occasions for flowers,” Benson says with an exhausted yet grateful sigh. “There seems to be peaks all through the year: Valentines, Mother’s Day, wedding season until June/July, and then August we start with Christmas. Then in January we start all over again.”
Happy Customers, Happy Business
While at one point Decoflora had a brick and mortar store, when the web based business started growing exponentially in 2008, Decoflora decided to join the proud ranks of exclusively online retailers.
Over the years, she tried various payment platforms to help make checkout seamless for her customers, but after years of using PayPal, she grew tired of some of its requirements.
“That was the main reason I came to Mollie: I wasn’t happy with PayPal putting their branding over every single product page in my website, which is what they wanted to do,” Benson says. “So I like the fact that Mollie runs in the background, it’s subtle, my customers don’t really know who my payment provider is, it gets the job done and it offers me lots of different payment options.”
With Mollie, she’s able to offer all standard card payments as well as PayPal, ApplePay, and she’s considering adding Klarna. She takes great comfort in the fact that Mollie provides her a single point of human contact who helped her get set up and answer all her queries—a person she knows she can return to when the time comes to add more options or change her setup.
“In the past we’ve tried various payment platforms but we didn’t have the support from them that we wanted,” Benson says. “Although customers seemed to be reasonably happy to use them, if we had a problem, trying to get someone to talk to me—a person rather than a call centre that was reading a script or a web-based help desk—was impossible. We couldn’t speak to a real person that could give me an answer and a quick answer.”
That kind of support isn’t just what Benson looks for from her vendors and tech support, but also the type she strives to provide to her own customers. By all accounts, it seems to be working.
“I feel like we’ve found our place by giving a good customer experience—if we offer next day delivery we make sure that happens,” Benson says. “We do try to do our best for customers and the customer is ultimately our business. If we’ve not got happy customers we haven’t got a business.”
Decoflora was introduced to Mollie by their digital agency and a favourite Mollie partner, Tristar. Paul Hodson of Tristar was particularly impressed with the speedy integration and new variety of payments methods.
“It was great to see an hour later that the first three sales were via Apple Pay, an option that earlier that morning was not available to customers.”