27/08/2008 - 22:00

Niche florist targets Asian market

27/08/2008 - 22:00

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If you ask Chris Godwin about his business, Flowers Design School, he is definitely not coy about its origins.

If you ask Chris Godwin about his business, Flowers Design School, he is definitely not coy about its origins.

"My wife was the visionary here," he says, explaining the origins of his floristry, retail and management company.

"Eva is a German master florist who immigrated to Australia in 1993 and she saw a niche in the Australian market.

"I said it wouldn't work but loaned her the money anyway and Eva started Flowers Design School in one room about 45 square metres in size.

"We then moved to 160sqm in 1997 and the last move was to West Perth, to a 340sqm space in 2006. She was right and I was wrong."

Established in 1994, Flowers Design School teaches a diverse range of skills, including flower arrangements, retailing, management, and business development.

The business has exclusive Australian and Asian distribution rights to a range of industry-specific books from Europe and unique floristry materials from Germany, and holds floristry workshops in Indonesia and throughout Asia.

"We are the one-stop training facility for the professional, or those who want to be a professional florist," Mr Godwin said.

While Flowers Design School has blossomed over the years, the business has endured some tough times during its growth.

"Cracking the international student market has been the most frustrating," Mr Godwin said.

"A lot of time, energy and some money were going into a new project that was taking a long time to bear fruit. The biggest issue was trying to get or find international agents and therefore international students.

"You see, those in the know or already established with international agents and international students don't give information very easily, or everyone wants money and fees, or you have to do lots of networking and establish relationships with people that you would never bother to have a relationship with in a fit.

"It's like being a member of the secret squirrel club - protect your nuts at all cost.

"If you're in the club, there are plenty of nuts to share. If you're not, then the members of the secret squirrel club won't tell you where to find the nuts.

"I understand this and agree with it, but it made it very difficult and we were in a non-competing market. There are a number of government or allied agencies that can help, and to a degree they are very good.

"Our first step to overcome the problem was to expand our existing high-profile website and increase the SEO [search engine optimisation].

"Step two was [develop] quality brochures specific to the international student and international students' agents.

"This gave us step three - the international agents - and students began to contact us. This then gave us step four - pre-qualify the international agents and then jump on a plane armed with our product."

In December last year, Mr Godwin flew to Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul to promote the school. He said the final step to overcome the problem was to follow up on the systems and procedures put in place "and keep on going".

"Since that trip we have two international students, three more signing up...and the enquiries are now very regular and increasing," he said.

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