Steph Douglas talk to Business Matters about what led her to create the gift company Don’t Buy Her Flowers.

What do you currently do at ‘Don’t Buy Her Flowers’

I’m the Founder and CEO of Don’t Buy Her Flowers. I launched the business in 2014. We send thoughtful gift packages for all occasions, to offer some TLC and to encourage the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves. We also support a growing number of corporate clients looking for gifts that say a bit more than the usual hampers, for employee engagement and rewards, clients and launches.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

When I had my first baby, I received eight bunches of flowers. They were obviously well meant, but it struck me as bizarre that the go-to gift was another thing to care for, when you’re doing more caring than you’ve ever done in your life.

I found those initial weeks overwhelming and emotional and what I really needed was someone to just tell me it would be ok and maybe offer me a bit of TLC. From then on when a friend had a baby, I started sending packages with treats for them. A magazine, chocolate, a mini gin – nothing big, but just accompanied with words of encouragement. Their reaction was always so unnecessarily grateful, and it made me curious as to why someone wasn’t doing that.

It was after my second maternity leave when I really couldn’t shake the idea and combined with wondering how my role at work was going to fit with family life, I started to get curious about the idea of running my own business.

I started a blog as a bit of a stepping stone, writing honestly about motherhood and relationships, and the success of that told me that other people felt like me – overwhelmed and a bit lost – and acknowledgement of those feelings really helped me connect with people.

I launched as gifts for new mums a few months later and very quickly found customers wanted to send our packages for a whole host of reasons – always to offer TLC, but for birthdays, bereavement, work gifts etc. Just over seven years on we now have 20+ employees, have upsized our warehouse and have fortunately had a lot of success throughout the pandemic.

We were very fortunate that our product perfectly resonated with people during a time when people wanted to connect and support each other and couldn’t physically be together. It was daunting at first, as everything was unknown and at points we were 600% up on the previous year so a huge challenge operationally, but the team were amazing at pulling together and we delivered to the demand.

Now in 2022 we are in a great spot as we’ve been able to invest back into the business to protect and build on our foundations, in both the team and infrastructures such as the stock management system. We have a shiny new website we’re really proud of and lots of new products and offerings to come this year.

Who do you admire?

Lots of people inspire me in business and outside of business. We just launched the Don’t Buy Her Flowers podcast  where I’m speaking to brilliant people – psychologists, experts, and women who are carving out their own lives amid this ‘rush hour’ of families and work and life, not to mention the pandemic.

I’ve done a good amount of listening to and reading Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown, who are both instrumental in leading the conversation around equality in the home, which determines how we survive and thrive in business too. It’s a topic I’m really passionate about, as I want women like myself to come together and share thoughts and ideas around how we can craft a life that works better than it has in the past.

My main message is that we can’t do everything we did before when we are leading or running businesses, therefore conversations start at home. There’s also a lot of conversation around vulnerability, and that’s not something that has been associated with business and leadership in the past, but absolutely should be.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I’ve learned so much and continue to do so all the time. The hardest, most challenging times are definitely when you learn the most, so I don’t think it would help to change them. I love having a team – in most cases I probably could have brought people in just slightly sooner. Especially when I look back at packing boxes on my knees in my spare room – I had two small kids at that time, I was doing every role in the business and someone told me to get help with the packing, that my time wasn’t best spent doing that. They were entirely right and I’ve found that with each hire, it gives me and the rest of the team room to think, grow and deliver.

What defines your way of doing business?

The business was founded because of a need to connect, understand and support people often when they need it most. These are the values that run through the business inside and out. The pandemic definitely clarified how important communicating with the team is, but especially with regard to their wellbeing. Everyone was going through something – feeling anxious, worried for their families and loved ones, nervous about the virus – and I learned a lot about what I want our culture to be.

To ensure people could talk freely about their worries, that they could put their families first, we could work flexibly where needed. Maintaining that culture as we’ve grown has become one of my main roles, as well as listening to the team when they’ve come up with ways to keep everyone positive, including a ‘random acts of kindness week’ and team challenges where people were given the opportunity to develop ideas for packages that we’ve now taken forward. I’ve learned it’s ongoing – you can’t encourage everyone to communicate well and then hope they maintain it, it needs revisiting and working together with everyone constantly.

Our biggest strength has been developing people beyond the role they joined us for – recognising skills and building roles to fit and stretch them. The majority of the management team joined us as warehouse packers; seeing how proud they are to be a part of the story is hugely rewarding but also seeing people fulfil potential I don’t think they knew they had.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Stay focused. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, be really clear what it is YOU are doing and go for it. Once you’re live and receiving feedback you can always amend and improve your offer – no one starts with their final product or service. And be gentle with yourself. Starting a business requires a lot – of energy, flexibility, drive and of course cash. Take out some of the things to make space for it. It’s ok to have cereal for tea and not be a social butterfly for a bit – you can’t just do everything you did before and run a business on top.

Steph is judging the SME category of the Business Champion Awards

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