With a perception that the US economy is in trouble, scenes on the news of civil unrest in England and reports of entire foreign economies on the brink of total collapse, it’s not surprising that Australians have been feeling pretty nervous lately. While Australia has been cushioned from the worst of the international recession thanks to a strong economy, the resources boom, better banking laws and a successful stimulus roll-out by the current Labor government, it has not stopped small business from feeling the pinch, including florists.
The question remains as to whether we have seen the worst of it all now or if there are more hard times to come. Only last week we saw the second largest stock market panic since the initial 2008 crisis and whether this portends a slowdown in sales is yet to be seen, but this is precisely what followed last time – corporate Australia tightened its belt and suddenly flowers were off the table (literally).
Should Australian Florists Be Worried About The Near Future?
Yesterday I got on the phone and did a quick vox-pop of florists to get a sense of the feeling out there about the issues and it seems that while there is a general feeling of wariness, nobody is panicking yet.
Amy from Sydney’s “Art of the Flower” said that “everyone I speak to is crying poor at the moment, and business has gone ghostly quiet lately. Thankfully I’m booked up in advance every weekend for weddings until Christmas so that will tide me over and hopefully business will pick up again as it usually does in the spring.”
Amy went on to say that she believes that there will always be a call for flowers because while they are not as fundamental as essentials like clothing and food, “flowers are still inextricably linked to important life occasions like births, deaths and weddings”.
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More Online Sales and Customers Want Low-Price Items
Meredith from Adelaide’s “Embellish Flowers” had a slightly different take, saying that the current noise about depressed retail spending “is media spin – I haven’t noticed any change from the last couple of years, people are still out there spending”. The only big difference she reported is that 50% of her sales are now being generated online.
This aligns with one of the main factors causing the current bricks-and-mortar retail downturn – more and more Australians are buying online. This is something you should not ignore!
Teresa from “Bon Fleur” in Sydney said that while sales have been down a little since the 2008 GFC she didn’t lose many corporate clients because hers are more stable businesses like doctors’ offices rather than city-based firms who really felt the pinch of the crisis and the resulting slowdive.
However, “Passing trade is more budget conscious than 2 years ago. People might be now be looking to spend as little as 10 or 20 dollars whereas three years ago they would have been fine with spending 50 or 60 dollars.” Teresa said, “So we have had to change the way we work in order to accommodate the new budget consciousness”.
How Would You Cope If Sales Dropped A Further 20%?
While nobody wants to dwell on further contraction in the market, a reality of staying in business is you need to think ahead and think about how you would survive a serious recession. It is not unthinkable that if the international financial doom and gloom did affect Australia further, a 20% reduction in sales (for example) might become a reality. So could your business survive this?
I asked this question of those I spoke to yesterday and here are some of the major take-aways:
- Some businesses said they could absorb such a downturn for a while but eventually it would cause real problems
- Staffing cut backs would be a probable outcome
- Buying on a “day-to-day” basis could help
- Keeping less stock in-store might also become a necessity
But the most common trait I discovered yesterday was one of determined positivity and resilience.
Florists who are determined to survive the inevitable low-points on the economic roller-coaster have awareness that they need to get out there and energetically market their wares to counter-act tough times.
Teresa said “You have to be positive and figure out ways of staying ahead of the pack, standing out and encouraging people to spend money on flowers!”
Meredith said “In the end you do what you’ve got to do to stay in business”, and I got the feeling from speaking to her and observing her business that her positive mind-set, high energy levels and pro-active marketing stance will see her right.
Some Suggestions for Weathering the Storm
If you look back, history shows that not all businesses fail during economic downturns, in fact, some businesses seemed to thrive. Some of the biggest brand names we know either started or consolidated their market dominance during hard times.
How? By focussing their energies, “You’ve got to become very efficient and focussed on your core markets” says Tesselaars CEO, Steve White.
Here are some ideas to help:
Cater To the Budget Conscious
People don’t stop spending completely during hard times but they do look for better deals (which may explain the success of Groupon-style voucher sites recently). Can you come up with competitive deals to attract customers? Can you sell less labour-intensive arrangements at a lower price?
Put A Rocket Under Your Marketing
During the Great Depression many of the companies that thrived actually ramped up their marketing efforts and budgets while their competitors cut back on the very same. I don’t mean to suggest you go betting the farm on full page ads in print publications (probably not a great idea) but if you feel that sales are not what they used to be then it might pay to get busy learning how to take advantage of all of the amazing new marketing options available to you at a low monetary cost.
The playing field has been substantially levelled in this regard – it does not cost the earth to make online marketing (blogging, email marketing, social media, daily deal sites) work for you and in fact often the real winners in this arena have been underdogs rather than big established companies.
Sell More Small, Affordable Rewards
In more financially difficult times consumers tend to reward themselves with smaller cost items like movies, and chocolates. Adding a DVD hire section to your store probably doesn’t make sense but chocolates? Well that’s an established florist add-on. Maybe you could market them not as extras for the gift but as a little something for the person buying the bunch of flowers? Or maybe a “one for them, one for you” deal?
And don’t be shy to just ask the question (you want choccies with that?) at the sales counter – it works for Shell!
Measure Your Marketing Effectiveness
Only spend money on marketing channels that you can measure. You need to know if your budget is bringing you a direct return; soft concepts like “brand awareness advertising” are for bigger companies with larger budgets.
You will inevitably achieve awareness of your brand as you achieve sales. And when times improve and spending increases, brand loyalty should work in your favour, putting you in a strong position when the outlook brightens up again – which it eventually will!
Written by Seamus – Tesselaar’s website manager and marketing nerd.
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