The first thing that you need to do to survive any Valentine's Day or peak period is to prepare properly. This has been the mantra at ArenaFlowers.com from the outset and we started planning our activities for this Valentine’s Day last summer.
The planning process needs to be relatively fluid and adaptable to changing conditions, whether that is the supply of stems (a very wet January in Kenya this year put some of our African supply at risk) or the ever changeable British weather (we like cold weather as it helps flowers last longer, but too cold and it kills them… this week has been perfect).
To put the task into context, we will do £2m of business in this, our busiest week, which actually only comprises a few days of execution. That makes me the equivalent of a boss of a £100m-a-year business (albeit for only a week). That takes a lot of organising!
Who will buy my sweet red roses?
The first part of our planning process focuses on cost. We purchase our flowers from multiple different sources, including directly off the Dutch flower auctions and from growers in Kenya and Thailand. In the early days of Arena, our purchasing budgets were at the whim of the market and volatility around Valentine’s Day could be horrendous and destroy product margins. Fluctuating exchange rates were also a big risk.
Both of these risks are now hedged out of the business through forward purchasing deals and currency contracts. The key to such deals is knowing what you will be doing in terms of sales and purchasing way in advance. Obviously you can have an idea, but it’s hard to predict. The first few orders we get for Valentine’s are scrutinised more than you can possibly imagine.
Room to bloom
One logistical issue that we have to overcome each year is how and where to set up all the extra flowers and fulfilment kit that we need for the big Valentine send-out. I and other key members of team spent a lot of December and January visiting numerous locations around the south of England before we settled on our location for this year. Six weeks of visiting warehouses… living the dream.
This is only a temporary measure for a peak period but it is also a vital one in order to maximise our output and production efficiency, given the thousands of bouquets we are making and dispatching.
This year we actually had some of the floristry done at our base in one of the world’s biggest flower auctions in The Netherlands, plus in Kenya, plus in our normal home at London's Park Royal. And we then had another huge space in Southall for putting flowers, message cards, add-ons and other gifts together for delivery.
Our Southall warehouse also boasts a huge, inflatable, refrigerated tent (and there's no heating on... brr) to keep the flowers are the right temperature (c. 5 degrees). Our tech team has also had to completely rebuild our dispatch systems and processes to cope with volumes, to make our processes more robust and our progress trackable.
Sell, sell, sell
A peak period is a great time for customer acquisition as, unlike the rest of the year, many people who don't usually buy flowers suddenly are. We use all the standard internet marketing techniques at the disposal of online businesses (SEO, PPC, email, affiliate marketing and social media to name but a few. We even sent out a 'Get out of jail free' email earlier today in case anyone was in the doghouse for forgetting to send flowers. It's a funny way to get a few more sales in. Fun, yes, but we approach all of these campaigns in a highly analytical way, and focus a great deal on ROI.
However, we feel that this approach has its limits and so this year we’ve had a number of new initiatives on the go too. Using two very talented film makers, we created a series of short videos, some informative, some simply fun, and pushed them out to our customers. One of them, Dubstep Flowers, we also promoted with social media competitions on both Facebook and Twitter. Another, we actually put on the TV for two slots, both highly targeted, so that we can test the impact against postcodes and our site analytics.The aim of these videos was to try to broaden the reach and awareness of Arena through new channels.
Another aspect where we’re being a bit different, successfully, is the @arenaflowers Twitter feed, which hardly tweets about flowers at all. We’ve had many comments questioning the approach so we created a page to explain our strategy here. Again, we see this as a way of gaining brand awareness cost effectively, in this case by offering high quality humour in return.
The Big Day
On the big day itself we’ll be watching developments unfold in our ‘war room’ full of screens and charts, making sure that deliveries are going out and fixing any last minute issues. At this late stage, it’s hard to fix any major issues, but with the months of preparation and planning that has preceded the day itself, hopefully there is little that can go wrong. Time will tell but if all goes to plan there’ll be no disasters or fires to fight and we can all just get on with some admin work then head out to the pub for a salutary pint (before doing it all again for Mother’s Day in a month’s time).