British grower Matthew Smith: ‘Flower shows are the perfect way to present yourself’

Are you busy at the moment?

“It’s pretty quiet. With regards to sales, in the autumn was busy with tulip, dahlia and gladiolus bulbs at the moment. I purchase them from a Dutch wholesaler and sell them to consumers through my own web shop. I launched the web shop around six years ago, a little bit like an experiment. At the time, I was still working as a manager with a tree nursery and bulb company nearby.”

Why did you start your own business?

“I got to know the calla through our bulb supplier, and I just loved the plant. I decided to try out the product at a flower show – a well-known phenomenon in Britain. Winning a gold medal at a flower show in Birmingham encouraged me to start my own business. In 2011, I got the opportunity to rent this 1.4-ha piece of land. I put up several small greenhouses here, which I built by myself using recycled materials. I’m living proof that you can start your own company, even if your parents don’t have a horticultural company and your financial resources are limited.”

Is calla your main product?

“Yes, it is. In summer, I take part in ten to fifteen flower shows, including the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. We usually also sell a fair amount of calla plants at those shows, sometimes more than a thousand. In addition, I supply calla to some garden centres. In the Netherlands, calla is mainly sold as an indoor plant, but I market them as patio and balcony plant. The average British person doesn’t have too many indoor plants and would rather spend his/her money on outdoor plants.”

What else do you do?

“I also grow lavender and dahlias, which I sell to wholesalers. And I grow tulips, specifically for participation in the flower shows. It’s a way to generate more interest in our online bulb sales. And to bridge the quiet winter months, I trade seed potatoes, garlic and fruit trees. Finally, I give presentations for garden clubs on a regular basis. It brings in some money, but it’s also a good way to find out how consumers respond to certain varieties.”

Is it enough to make a living?

“Yes, it was the past two years anyway. We’ve been at the Chelsea Flower Show since 2013, which has helped make our name ‘Brighter Blooms’ more well-known. That translates into more customers and orders.”

What are your plans for the future?

“The next couple of years, I’ll continue to take part in flower shows, it’s a perfect way to present yourself. But in the long term, I’d like to increase sales from the nursery, so that I can spend more time there and further optimise the crops. I’m thinking of creating a show garden, which might be a good way to attract customers.”

Does the devaluation of the British pound cause any problems for you?

“Yes, it’s a big problem, because I import a fair amount. Bulbs and plant material for example, have become a lot more expensive. In order to maintain my margin, I am forced to increase my prices. And I don’t think Brexit will do us any good; international business activities are very likely to become more complicated. I try not to worry about it too much though, because it’s too late to change it now anyway.

About Matthew Smith

Company: Brighter Blooms

Location: Preston, United Kingdom

Sales: consumers (including through flower shows), traders and garden centres

Assortment: Calla, dahlia, lavender, tulips and various types of bulbs

Number of employees: Smith can usually manage with the help of friends and family. Every now and again he’ll hire a few temporary workers.