Floristry is one of the industries that was hit hard by the pandemic, with the ban on events like weddings and parties, and many florists are struggling. When the first national lockdown was announced in March, Fran decided to close down the online side of the business because of fears about supply and to avoid disappointing customers. She was concerned that they might not be able to source cut flowers from Holland or the usual seasonal flowers that they offer.
Fran worried about losing one of the three retail sites that she’d worked so hard to build up. She opened her first shop, Fresh Flower Company, in East Dulwich in 2006, working with her two daughters, Maddie and Alice. The first Forest store opened in 2013 as a houseplants shop, tapping into the trend towards plants rather than flowers and becoming a site dedicated to houseplants, terrariums and other lifestyle products.
Forest eventually moved to the arch in Deptford Market Yard because as the business grew and developed, they wanted to expand in South East London. Fran said: “We were looking in the borough and friends recommended Deptford as a vibrant, upcoming place. The arch is in a great area, with lots of cafes nearby and it’s right near to the station. It’s a big, dramatic place to showcase plants – hanging from the ceiling to create a jungle effect, so we can be more creative.”
With lockdown impacting sales, Fran considered putting the flower and plant sides of the business together and consolidating. She said: “For the first two weeks I was frozen, like a lot of people, stuck in a state of wondering how to carry on.” When she received a message from a member of The Arch Company’s team to advise her to get in touch if she was worried about paying her rent, it was a welcome surprise. She said: “The communication was really good, which is a great thing to have come out of the last few months. I got a personal call from my account manager and applied for the rent support the same afternoon. They were brilliant, the process was made as easy as possible.”
Fran works with the Royal Horticultural Society and the big highlight of the year was due to be a collaboration for the Chelsea Flower Show, which was cancelled due to Covid-19. She threw herself into reopening online sales through her shops. She said: “The plant shop supply was still ok, so we reopened online after a couple of weeks and it worked really well. It got really busy as everyone was doing something in their gardens or brightening up their houses, doing the things they’d been meaning to do for a while as they were stuck indoors. They wanted to bring nature into their homes as they couldn’t get out into nature.”
Maddie and Alice helped as a family bubble with doing all the packaging and sending out orders. It meant they could keep their premises. In mid-June they reopened with 10 per cent of their previous turnover and have grown this over the months that have followed. Other businesses in Deptford, like cafes and restaurants, have been opening up and offering takeaway services, so the area has become a destination again. Fran said: “Both of our plant sites and the floristry are in destination areas, so people make a day out of it after being in lockdown. The lovely businesses around have helped – they bring in footfall. It’s great to support other businesses who are opening up after all of this.”
Throughout, Fran has been was spurred on by her daughters, both in their 20s and aware of trends among their fellow millennials, they have helped with the look of the shops and with marketing. They continue to work with her and to make Forest a true family business.
The family have also been busy writing – a new book by Fran’s daughters, titled The Green Indoors, will be out next March and Fran is already the author of two books: The Healing Power of Plants: The Hero Houseplants That Will Love You Back and the RHS Practical House Plant Book.
Fran has also been busy looking at further opportunities to grow the business by offering workshops associated with horticulture and creativity. She has found a location near Deal in Kent, where clients could enjoy a retreat outside of London to focus on learning about growing, propagating, terrarium-making and watercolour painting. She said: “Businesses are having to evolve with the circumstances and compete with markets and supermarkets. The retail side is busy, busier than we were before, so we hope to sustain that. We’ll develop the side shoots and branches of the business, testing out new things and aiming to go with one that works well. It’s important to grow more on the non-retail side and diversify. We’re investing the government grant we received into promoting our online business to give this a bigger push. I‘m really hopeful about the future.”
Arch 133, Deptford Railway Station, Deptford High St.