Roz Chandler is a woman with a mission. That mission? To re-establish the British flower industry for the sake of the planet and the UK’s biodiversity. FRANK’s Business Editor Katie Webster finds out more.
Roz, tell me, how did you come into flower farming?
Roz Chandler: I bought a property in Milton Keynes over a decade ago and it came with five acres of land. I have always believed that if you have land, you should do something with it, so first came animals; pigs, chickens and goats; then I came across a one-day course on growing your own flowers. I have a bit of a thing for one-day courses – that is the curious side of me, I guess. The course was in Somerset, and I remember standing with all these other ladies and thinking, ‘I wonder if there could be a business in this?’ I grew up in Hemel Hempstead and am by no means a horticulturist. However, I returned to Milton Keynes and set up three small, raised beds, planted the seeds and now we are flower farming over the whole five acres.
How did the business grow and develop?
Roz Chandler: For the first five years or so, it was a side hustle. I was a Marketing Director as a 9 to 5, and a flower farmer every other minute of the day. I had been in marketing for years and understood selling, PR, and digital marketing, which served as a great advantage. I understood that what I grew needed to yield a profit, so I started approaching markets with the idea. From there came weddings, and that side of the business grew year on year until the pandemic hit.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact Field Gate Flowers?
Roz Chandler: It devasted the weddings side of our business, but at the same time my marketing role slowed down and it gave me the headspace to think about what comes next. My ‘why’ for the business has always been that I wanted to reduce the number of flowers imported into the UK, to be sustainable and eco-friendly. It all boiled down to these two things and I knew I needed an army to achieve those goals. I knew that I needed to encourage others to grow their flowers to cut, no matter where they were or how small a plot they had to work with. I also understood that there is a need for more sustainable flowers businesses, so I had to share my knowledge of how to make flower farming a sustainable business, how to brand those businesses, the price points to aim for, how to best use Facebook ads and how to market those new businesses.
During the pandemic, I devised two courses for people to join. The first was the Seed to Vase course, primarily about getting people to grow their flowers from seeds to success.
I did not anticipate the incredible people I would meet along the way and what a journey I would go on myself. The pandemic awakened us all to the importance of getting outdoors and how that supports our wellbeing and mental health. It has also spurred a notion in all of us to get back to the ‘good life.’
I thought people would join the courses because they loved flowers and the idea of growing their own, but the journey I went on with some of the people who signed up stemmed from something much deeper. For some people, it was about coping with a bereavement or a form of rehabilitation. For others, it was about increasing their wellbeing or just a love of being outdoors. Eight months on, and what started as a group course has turned into a community with new members joining daily, raising and supporting each other.
The Covid-19 pandemic also forced a change in the market. Although weddings had stopped, there was, sadly, high demand for flowers for funerals, but there were not the usual volumes of imported flowers arriving in the UK. This led to florists needing to source locally and suddenly I was having the conversations I had been longed for. I was talking about the benefits of naturally grown, seasonal British flowers and eco-friendly transportation and one referral led to another; it turned our market round completely.
Has Brexit impacted your industry?
Roz Chandler: Currently, we are all talking about the fuel crisis but the labour crisis is much bigger. We have seen a significant impact on farming in general, especially for large scale farmers – whether in flowers, fruit, or livestock – the issue is the same. As an industry, it is estimated that we have lost more than 90% of my pickers due to Brexit and I have heard some saddening stories about flower farmers watching the flowers die in the fields as there isn’t anyone to pick them. Brexit is having a massive effect on business in the context and some of the farmers I am talking to don’t think they will be in business this time next year.
On the other side of the coin, the smaller flower farmers see the flipside of Brexit thanks to a new taxation law and supply chain issues. Fewer flowers are being produced in Kenya, Ethiopia and Colombia, forcing a price increase on imported flowers. On average, this has increased the wholesale price of flowers by around 40 percent, naturally pushing the market to buy British and natural flowers. This, coupled with the fact that 2022 will be the busiest wedding season we have seen in decades, can only positively affect UK flower farmers.
As a seasonal business, we would usually be slowing down now, but we have more team members than ever before, and, if anything, we are ramping up for the season ahead.
You are passionate about making flower farming and floristry eco-friendly. Why is this?
Roz Chandler: Like most things in life, I accidentally fell into it. I had dreams of being a doctor, but that didn’t quite work out. But I had three science A Levels, so I decided to read for an Environmental Sciences degree. I didn’t know what it was about, but I trundled four hours from home and I loved it. Jobs in the environmental field and conservation were relatively scarce in the early 80s. At around the same time Prince Charles talked to plants, I put it to bed and did several other things in between – but my passion for the environment has always been there.
Flowers are a natural occurrence and bring such joy, yet the regulations around them are non-existent. When you buy food from a supermarket, it has a label telling you where it has come from – that is mandatory. Yet, when you buy flowers from the same supermarket, they don’t have to label their origins, so you can’t make an informed choice as a consumer.
It’s also about innovation – millions of people will have a wreath on their door over the festive period; many of them will be produced on a bed of oasis foam, which takes about 500 years to degrade. The wreaths we produce use a more planet-friendly alternative to the traditional foam bases – they may cost a little more and be a little trickier to work with. Still, they are far better for the planet as we use components like Agri wool and moss, which are a far better choice.
What are the roadblocks to look out for in this field?
Roz Chandler: Knowing how to produce beautiful bloom is not enough to be successful. You need to know the things your business needs; how to market, manage the finances, do social media well, and have floristry skills. If you do not know how to do these things, you should outsource it or employ someone who does know.
What advice would you give to someone starting in your sector?
Roz Chandler: Just do it – but be patient! Know that people like me are happy to help and start it as a side hustle. Have a transition plan in place, as it will take time to get up and running.
What are the top three skills you would say you need to be successful?
Roz Chandler: Marketing – there is no point growing thousands of beautiful flowers if you don’t know how to sell them!
Keep learning – every day, I learn something new about growing; new practices, advice and helpful hints – never stop learning.
Be relatable – people skills are key both internally and externally.
Tell me something true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Roz Chandler: No one is an overnight success in flower farming; it takes years to establish yourself. Plants do not go from seeds to beautiful stems overnight. It takes seasons to grow and crop. Patience is key and it has taken me ten years to get to this stage and just as long to get on the preferred suppliers list for some venues.