You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Whitney Hawkings, why did you decide to found FLOWERBX and leave Tom Ford for this new venture?
I started out as Tom Ford’s personal assistant at Gucci, my first job out of school. I left Gucci with him, and ended up as his Senior Vice President of Communications at Tom Ford. In fashion, flowers are very much a currency and how people communicate with each other. The type of flowers that you send says a lot about the person who’s sending them, and I found there was this real inconsistency to floral gifting. When I was still working for Tom I thought I was going to start FLOWERBX as a side business, which was completely unrealistic. It soon became very clear that it had a lot of potential, and was only going to realise its potential if I quit my job. It needed someone to drive the vision of it. It was so nice for Tom to give me the blessing, and now we do every Tom Ford store, every Tom Ford house, and every Tom Ford gift.
What was this inconsistency you found?
I would send flowers on behalf of Tom in L.A. or New York, and then it wasn’t at all what I had asked the florist to send. If you go to Gucci in London, Tokyo or Milan, you’re getting the same consistent branded experience. I wanted to give the same consistency to floral gifting. You see the picture and that’s what you send, not just whatever the florist happens to have in the flower shop. So I started FLOWERBX.
Which kind of flowers did Tom receive the most?
The morning of the Gucci show, Miuccia Prada would always send pale pink roses, Karl Lagerfeld would send white orchids, Calvin Klein white calla lilies, Anna Wintour white roses, Riccardo Tisci deep red roses. But that was it. Not a mixed bouquet, just beautiful single stem bunches. I thought, if all the most fabulous people in the world are sending these single stem bunches of flowers, why is it so hard to get florists to do this? And why are you spending so much money on it?
You moved your work environment from fashion to flowers. Is there a big difference?
No, it’s exactly the same people that care about beauty. All my clients are the same clients that were the clients at Tom Ford, or the same clients at Dior, or the same clients that care about luxury – and not even luxury. I would say beauty.
Did you need courage to make this move?
Hope, courage, and a good husband, who still works for Tom Ford and who has very much helped me with the visual creative image of FLOWERBX. The whole family are very involved in the growth, they’re super excited and proud of me, and now the house is always full of fresh flowers!
“My brand is people who have good taste, who care about quality, who care about the environment, who care about no waste, who don’t want plastic and want a fully compostable bouquet.”
Whitney Hawkings, what was your experience of buying flowers for yourself?
As a working woman and a mom, I wanted to buy flowers online the same way I bought other services in my life, in a chic, beautiful way. I didn’t want an arrangement. I didn’t want a bouquet. I just wanted 10 peonies on the side table or whatever was seasonal and beautiful, really simply loosely arranged.
Do many people buy FLOWERBX flowers for themselves?
We’re very different than other online florists because if you go to Interflora it’s to send a gift, never to buy flowers for yourself. 50 percent of our business is people self-purchasing the best seasonal flowers every week for their house on a subscription. The other 50 percent is I miss you. I love you. Happy Birthday! During the pandemic it stayed about the same.
Are flowers a very important way of communicating?
People need a thing of beauty, something that actually makes your life better and happier. Nothing conveys emotion in the way that flowers do. There’s no physical thing you can send to someone that says, I love you or I’m thinking about you more than flowers.
Isn’t it also nice to go to a florist and see the fresh flowers?
They’re not fresh, because the reality of that business model is if you don’t sell them today, you’re going to sell them tomorrow. If you don’t sell them tomorrow, you’re going to sell them on Friday. If you don’t sell on Friday, maybe Saturday. You’ll still sell them – so they’re not fresh. I like the idea in a perfect world of going and picking beautifully fresh flowers, but the reality is that business model is charging you for the excess and it’s wasting a lot, 60 per cent traditionally. Our business model means we have zero waste. That is essential.
How did you start the business?
As a lean direct to consumer flower business, started with £50,000 of capital. In London we have a warehouse in Acton on an industrial estate. It’s like a garage. We didn’t have heating, we didn’t have a toilet.
Are your flowers always completely fresh?
When you order our flowers in London this morning, they are literally cut for you by the growers this afternoon and come on a truck from Holland at 4 o’clock tomorrow morning. We recondition them, repackage them, and send them to you tomorrow. They last at least a week, but usually up to 10 or 12 days. With FLOWERBX, you know it’s getting cut for you, it’s coming straight for you, and it’s fresher and better value.
Do FLOWERBX flowers come mainly from Holland?
70 percent of the flowers in the world go through Holland. If you buy Colombian hydrangeas in New York, first they go through Holland and then to New York. Holland is the clearing house, the auction for nearly all the flowers in the world. If you buy Thailand’s orchids, they go through Holland. It’s where all of the growers go to sell their flowers. So if you’re buying Kenyan roses or Ethiopian roses, they go through Holland.
Therefore you buy in Holland?
As a pregnant lady I went to Holland, met with five or six suppliers, and found the one that I liked. The flower industry is quite traditional. We chose a partner that seemed most aligned in values and could scale with us as we grew. Luckily, they’ve been a great partner.
If I want to send white roses via FLOWERBX, what should I do?
You go online to FLOWERBX and enter the post code of where you want to send them. We deliver in 23 countries across Europe and on the East and West coasts of the US (we will deliver nationwide across the US soon). The website shows you the selection of flowers that are available, so you pick white roses. It’ll give you the nearest delivery date, and you enter your gift note and your credit card details and press complete order. Then the flowers would arrive and they would be beautifully packaged.
How does it work when you receive the order at your end?
The supply order cuts off at midnight and all the flowers ordered for that day are compiled together. Our partners amalgamate all the orders and send them to Holland. The truck from Holland arrives at five o’clock in the morning at our warehouse in London, where our team does a quality control check. They wrap them beautifully and then we send them out in our all electric vans.
How many vans do you now have in London?
Five, and we have partners that can help us scale up and deliver on Valentine’s Day or on Mother’s Day when we will do 20 times our normal sales volume.
And if the flowers have to go to Berlin or Madrid or Rome or Paris?
When you order for the Netherlands or the south of France or Italy they’re packed by our team in our warehouse in Holland to our quality control. The difference between us and other players is they use local fulfilment. So they find a florist in Italy to fulfil it, or they find a florist in Paris to fulfil it. We fulfil the order. We carefully package the flowers and we send them to Italy via UPS. It’s a logistics business really.
“You’re not paying for the waste, and you’re not paying for the shop, and you’re not paying for the florist, and you’re not paying for all the things that other people are charging you for.”
Whitney Hawkings, which are your most popular flowers?
Peonies. When peony season comes at the end of April, the cash register just keeps going. It’s 90 percent of our sales, but only for April, May, June; and then they’re done, and then we have dahlias. We only sell what is really of the moment and the best and optimum of the season. If you sell peonies when they’re not in season it means they’ve come from Australia or New Zealand, so they have more air miles on them. They’ve usually been frozen – like food – so they look pretty and then they die.
Which is your favourite flower right now?
Ranunculus. They’re so beautiful. Then it’ll be peonies when peonies come in season, and then it’ll be dahlia in late summer, and then it’ll be hydrangea; and then it’ll be ranunculus again.
What is the overall best seller?
Always the Pink Sweet Avalanche Rose. It’s in the top three every single week of the year. It always performs. It’s always perfect. It lasts.
If you buy an orchid you will have it for a month, but if you buy roses they last a week?
Yes, and if you buy sweet peas they last five days, but they are so divine and so beautiful. Even dahlias never last as long as a rose or an orchid. The fact that they die quickly just adds to their beauty, and you can only enjoy them for a minute. Or a lily of the valley, those beautiful, fragrant flowers.
You don’t like mixed flower bouquets but you like single flower bouquets. Why?
You need to be an artist to mix, the same way you need to be a chef to mix a whole bunch of different ingredients and make them taste beautiful. But if you have the most beautiful tomato and the most beautiful mozzarella, the best quality you can buy, and you put them on a plate it’s going to taste beautiful. It’s that simplicity that I’m trying to echo with FLOWERBX. If you send 50 red roses, you are sending 50 perfect quality red roses. That is it.
Do you prefer long stem or short stem flowers?
We only sell grade-A quality flowers, so roses are always long stem, sort of 70 centimeter stems. But I love hyacinths and spring flowers, and they’re usually shorter and really fragrant.
Do you deliver the flowers with a vase?
I wanted to sell vases that were beautiful, that would be a gift by themselves, that even when the flowers were dead the person was going to use over and over again in their house, so we launched a collection of vases and now vases are 15 to 20 percent of our sales. When you go on the website it will tell you the vase that matches the flower that you’re ordering, and you can add it on for an additional price.
Who makes your vases?
We buy from this amazing Danish ceramicist that’s been making these beautiful ceramic vases for 200 years. On FLOWERBX the prices are half the price of a fancy florist, but more beautiful and better quality. Roses in a vase that I would feel comfortable sending to the Queen – literally that level of beauty – would be probably £70, and there is complimentary delivery for all of our products.
Have flowers now also become something for men?
Yes. 20 or 30 years ago a man would never pay £50 or £60 to have a beautiful designer candle in the house. Now every man has a designer candle. Having flowers in your house means you’re sophisticated, like wearing beautiful cologne or having beautiful food in your fridge.
Altogether it’s not a very expensive gift?
No. Our price point starts at £35, which, again, I would send to the Queen. I would not send thirty five pound Marks and Spencer flowers to the Queen.
Your prices are very advantageous, because you sell the same quality of flowers as a great florist?
Exactly. But you’re not paying for the waste, and you’re not paying for the shop, and you’re not paying for the florist, and you’re not paying for all the things that other people are charging you for.
Do you do Christmas trees?
Yes, and we do amazing wreaths that you put on your front door. We sell thousands of them because it’s really hard to find a beautiful wreath unless you go and spend hundreds of pounds at a Belgravia florist.
Peonies in a Royal Windsor vase.
The consistent good taste of the FLOWERBX brand.
FLOWERBX for Tom Ford
FLOWERBX for Prada
FLOWERBX for Louis Vuitton
For the foreseeable future FLOWERBX are donating 100% of the proceeds of sunflower sales, the flower of Ukraine, to help the Ukrainians in their situation.
“I wanted to buy flowers online the same way I bought other services in my life, in a chic, beautiful way.”
Whitney Hawkings, what kind of businesses are your clients?
For example, we do Dior events and all their client gifting. For Gucci we did workshops; they would send the flowers and we did a virtual workshop for their VIP clients. We do huge events for Vuitton in Versailles, including a 200,000 Euro floral chandelier. We’ve done the front of Annabel’s in Berkeley Square, London, three times. Netflix does all their gifting with us. They want a white label, really cool, slick packaging. They gift – whether it’s an actor who has a birthday or because they have their whole production. Many brands do a lot for teams now, especially with teams working remotely.
Where are your most important clients?
Besides London, Manhattan and L.A. are still growing the fastest and most consistently. Since the pandemic, our national sales in the UK have grown enormously. Some people have moved out of London, so they’re helping spread the word. Definitely where we see the biggest potential for growth is the U.S. and the U.K.
How do you find your clients?
For the first two and a half years it was just me talking to people and the people that I knew. Now we have PR in the U.S. and I work with the lovely Cristina Malgara in Paris, who brings a lot of brands on board. For example, we’re doing a big Mother’s Day gifting with Mont Blanc. They want to gift all of their UK mothers with a new pen.
What is your next step?
We just raised money from investors because the main focus for the next three years is to really drive growth in the U.S. It’s a big place.
Who are your investors?
Natalie Massenet, who founded Net-A-Porter, is one of our really supportive investors, as is Alex Chesterman, who did Zoopla and Cazoo, the used car marketplace. There’s an Italian fund called Lumar Ventures who just have bought a percentage of the company.
What is your turnover at the moment in U.S. dollars?
Last year was 10 million. We’re aiming to grow 100 percent year on year for the next three or four years.
Are you also going to try to sell in Asia and elsewhere like India or the Emirates?
100% yes, but first I don’t want to lose focus on the U.S. because if we get that right the U.S. is the biggest, most important market. In year two in the U.S. we’re already doing year five U.K. numbers. It’s growing faster and the appetite is there. In general there just isn’t a beautiful offering in the U.S. so I think there’s a real opportunity to become the only florist.
Is there a difference in taste between European countries and America?
No, in the U.S. they also want quality and they know what’s in season. Ours is a very discerning customer who understands that what we tell them is the best advice. They are attracted to what’s most beautiful and what’s most seasonal of a month or of a week.
Don’t they have amazing bouquets in America when you go into hotels or restaurants or shops?
Yes, but there is no solution for normal people if you want to send beautiful flowers in New York. I’ve done it for years, and it’s at least $300 a bouquet, usually $400. You cannot spend $100 in New York and feel confident with what you’re sending to someone important. Same with L.A.
Instead with FLOWERBX you can be confident?
You can be 100% confident. We do all the flowers for the Mark Hotel in New York and they also have a beautiful flower cart out front of their hotel and they have it branded FLOWERBX. They’re proud to have that brand at the corner of 78th and Madison. The brand association gives confidence to people, who know they’re sending quality even if they’re not spending $300 or $400 on a bouquet.
What does your brand mean?
My brand is people who have good taste, who care about quality, who care about the environment, who care about no waste, who don’t want plastic and want a fully compostable bouquet. Everything’s sustainable. Our water pads and our flower food is compostable. We compost all of our green waste. Our packaging is fully recyclable, there’s no plastic in our packaging. It’s not the person who’s going to the most expensive five star Michelin restaurant for dinner, it’s more the person who’s going to the River Café, who drives the Tesla, who cares about quality but also cares about the world. And also wants a smooth online experience, a smooth delivery service, a smooth way to consume flowers.
Now we are witnessing a war. Are people buying flowers?
Yes, a lot. Flowers are a little pick me up, especially if you buy them in a sustainable way. We are also donating 100% of the proceeds of sunflower sales, the flower of Ukraine, to help the Ukrainians in their situation. We sold tens of thousands of pounds worth of sunflowers in less than a week, and will keep this charitable donation going for the foreseeable future.
Will flowers and fashion ever end?
Flowers will never end. Flowers have been inspirational to artists, to musicians, to poets, since the beginning of time. I want FLOWERBX to be timeless, to have the best quality of the most beautiful flowers. I don’t want to be fashionable. Flowers will always inspire fashion. Fashion will change.
With prices of around half of flower shops, are you trying to enable more and more people to have flowers?
Exactly. And to have beautiful flowers, where the experience is really beautiful.
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