Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! I’m Sharon Demmery, the owner and founder of Demmerys, based in Birmingham, UK. I handcraft luxurious and bespoke artificial flower arrangements using the finest fabrics from around the world and applying meticulous attention to detail throughout.
Often, my displays are designed and built to suit my clients’ individual requirements as part of my bespoke service. I listen carefully to my customers, maintaining regular dialogue to truly understand their décor requirements, and creating the luxurious end of the market has always been my focus. Primarily, this is because it allows me to be more creative without the fear of having to stop half-way through after hitting budget (as designers, we’ve all been there).
I create lots of artificial orchid arrangements but on the B2B side, I see my commercial clients (bars, restaurants, hotels, vape clubs, etc.) upping their game with statement green walls indoors and outdoors and grand ceiling flower displays to stand out from their competitors. And it works.
I’m now a few years down the line with Demmerys and we’re continuing to grow and move forwards. I achieve sales of around £50K/month, but this is a small sum for what we can achieve in the long term considering the business is still in its infancy.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My journey to business success has taken many twists and turns. Essentially I’m a bedroom to workshop business, but there’s lots more to my story than that. After working in an ice cream factory after leaving school, I later became a Mum to two (now) grown-up boys before entering the world of floristry.
Finally, my website was launched. But guess what, nothing happened. No phone calls, no emails, no orders. I hoped the next week would be better, but it wasn’t. I was busy trying to do Instagram, Facebook postings and still nothing happened.
However, what I couldn’t get my head around was why I was making money for someone else. And so I spent almost two years looking at ways to make money for myself, but there wasn’t an easy solution. At the time, I had some money saved up, but it was nothing amazing—probably, around £30K max.
Then one day, my partner was on the phone with a marketing guy and they were trying to dream up an online business. Thinking about my floral background, I suggested to
my partner to ask about whether there were any Google searches for artificial flowers or artificial arrangements. He rang back the next day and the conversation went a little like this: “Forget everything we talked about yesterday, I have never seen a niche with so much going for it. An online business requires three things: traffic, good margins, and low competition. Generally, a business will always have two out of three and then the third one lets them down.” I was confused. What did he mean?
He then told me, “If you have good traffic and high margins you will inevitably have high competition and so on. I have never seen a niche that has all three like this, but what you actually have is four. You have a niche that can only be found online and not on the high street”.
He was right, I couldn’t think of a single place I could buy an artificial flower arrangement in a shop. My insides were dancing the Lambarda now—this was the ‘Aha’ moment I had waited two years for! And I wasn’t going to let the grass grow under my feet.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Now I had a clear vision of what I was going to do. I knew I wanted my business and website to represent luxury, but now I needed some products to sell. And although I knew a lot about fresh flowers, I knew nothing about artificial ones. My lack of knowledge was reflected in my first purchase of artificial flowers. I had spent (or rather wasted) £4,000 and when they arrived, they were ready-made and had polystyrene bases that the flower stems were pushed into. I hadn’t even got them out of the box before I knew I needed to get rid of them.
So, what was I to do? I knew there were other websites and competitors out there, but I didn’t want to be like them. I felt by selling flowers of the same standard, I was just joining the queue and would only win by selling the cheapest.
Cue lightbulb moment. I’d design and make my own so that they’re unique and exude utmost class and quality. I quickly realized I needed to think outside the box, so I introduced champagne coolers, ornaments, and interior design sculptures, playing with a wide range of flower types, colours, fabrics, and sizes.
My first experiment was using a product I could spray into a container to set it hard so I could then push my stems into it. Then I found a product that did just that, allowing me to pour hot glue into the hole so that the stem would set and wouldn’t pull out. My worst nightmare is a low-quality arrangement arriving at a customer’s house in pieces.
When I was happy with the shape and size of the arrangement, I then turned my attention to the base. Thank goodness for artificial moss, which can be stuck to the base where the stems enter the container and once it’s in place, it stays in place. The finishing touches depend on the type of arrangement in question. The most popular are artificial orchid arrangements so in this case, I add ferns, foliage, and artificial orchid leaves.
Of course, if a customer requires something different, the process is different (for example, I’d use acrylic water in a clear vase for an artificial tropical arrangement to give the impression of real water in the bottom of the vase).
My biggest challenges are boxing the arrangements and working with couriers. Obviously, the boxes need to be robust, but I also require almost thirty different sizes for my various arrangements. As far as couriers are concerned, I feel like I’m in the lap of the Gods. When I was first finding my way, a courier threw one of my boxes around and I had to refund a customer thousands of pounds. It was a nightmare. These days, I’d rather pay someone to hand-deliver the more expensive arrangements and take less of a profit as a result.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Once I’d nailed the products and sourced photographs, it was time to launch my website. But I then realized I needed compelling product descriptions that complemented the luxurious quality of my catalog. Everything I’d read told me that copy needed to speak to the customer and not Google.
In addition to this, I’ve always liked supporting small freelance businesses like myself. And that’s when I stumbled upon a fabulous writer by the name of Jennifer Tate. After a chat and a sample product description, I knew I had hit the jackpot and Jennifer is very much part of my small team now.
Finally, my website was launched. But guess what, nothing happened. No phone calls, no emails, no orders. I hoped the next week would be better, but it wasn’t. I was busy trying to do Instagram, Facebook postings, and still, nothing happened—a few likes maybe, but no sales. Eventually, I got one order; a small one but it was still an order. It sounds crazy but I didn’t make any money for a while. I just about broke even until I got to the point of being able to ask for one single review. Fast forward to today, and I now have many reviews.
At that point though, I had blown £30K in savings and had a house over-run with arrangements but had only sold one. But I was determined to carry on; the last thing I wanted to do was go into debt whilst launching my business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
After launching the business, I felt like I was in trouble. I’d done everything by the book; the website looked great and I was thrilled with the photography and product descriptions but I just wasn’t getting the sales. I was then persistently approached by an SEO/marketing guy and we eventually set up a meeting in Birmingham with him and his social media representative. To cut a long story short, I paid him £2,400 to get my website in front of the B2B and B2C world—and then he disappeared with my money! To this day, I haven’t seen him since.
It was an expensive mistake, but a good thing to come out of it was meeting another SEO/marketing expert, Malcolm Dunn. Malcolm knew and had experience with the guy who’d taken my money without delivering the work. I asked him if he’d be interested in helping me promote my website whilst explaining that my budget was tight. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Malcolm turned out to be a genius.
I was then up and running. Still no sales, but running all the same. Malcolm explained that we were looking at a 2-5 year plan and I now realize he was right.
Slowly but surely, I started to sell my products; often with days of no sales or emails but I was still moving forward. On the back of Malcolm managing the marketing side, I’ve now sold over £30,000 worth of flowers to a Royal family, decorated superyachts in Greece, visited celebrity houses in London, produced designs for England football captains, and carried out numerous successful installations in many popular hotels and restaurants.
The next hurdle was social media. To say I felt out of touch with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube would be an understatement, but it’s incredible how well you can do if you use those platforms well. At the time of writing, I’ve now acquired over 1,400 followers on Instagram independently. I know that’s still insignificant in comparison to the follower counts of other businesses, but I attracted those followers organically and I’m rather proud of that.
One thing I love about my business is my loyal returning customer base. In fact, I’ve gotten to the stage with some of them where I’m now asking after their partners and children by name. The biggest compliment I can give them, however, is to send their arrangements without chasing the money straight away. I think trust between the business and customer is hugely important in an industry like this and not one of my customers has let me down so far (and vice versa).
My next challenge is Amazon. I’ve just been accepted by their newest project, Amazon Handcrafted, which allows businesses like mine to sell their handcrafted products on their website. It’s going to be a time-consuming and demanding challenge, but I’m more than up for it.
Do your research and find a freelance marketing guru who is relatively local and answers the phone when you ring. And seek out their reviews and testimonials before taking the leap and working with them.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At the time of writing, my business is profitable and growing. If the next three years look anything like the last few years, I’ll be in a good place. It is really all about visibility. From what Malcolm has told me, I started to see some really good wins after hitting the 18% visibility mark and now I’m around 27%.
One thing I’ve not yet explored is paid ads on Google (PPC). I know that this would require a lot of investment just for one order. And since Demmerys arrangements are a luxury item and not essential buys, I prefer to pick up traffic organically with correct targeting, rather than just chasing the numbers that will only increase the bounce rate.
Covid-19 hasn’t done many businesses too many favors, but I’ve actually used this opportunity to expand. I now own the domain Artificalflowers.co.uk and DemmerysUSA.com with the hope of expanding my reach and cracking the US market, both by selling my products there and working with their interior designers as I do here in the UK. I traveled to New York twice recently and the idea of decorating houses, hotels, bars, and offices there is the dream for me.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Boy, have I made some mistakes (case in point: the SEO marketing guy who disappeared with my money), but I’ve learned so much about myself and my business as a result. The biggest challenge is working out who is good at what they do—particularly if you can’t afford to get it wrong. There are hundreds of ‘experts’ out there who claim to be the best in their industry.
My advice would be to do your research and find a freelance marketing guru who is relatively local and answers the phone when you ring. And seek out their reviews and testimonials before taking the leap and working with them. I now have the best content writer, the best photographer, and the best marketing guy, and each of them was carefully researched and hand-picked.
One thing that’s out of my control is time. For a strong presence on Google and social media platforms, you need to be patient. One year is nothing. And of course, Covid-19 has been a complete shock. Who saw that coming? To prepare for incidents like these, I’ve found it extremely helpful in keeping my overheads as low as possible. When I first started, my running costs were less than £100 p/w and aside from employee and freelancer costs, they’re still around that mark today.
If you are starting a business, I’d recommend assessing your situation. Do you have money that you can afford to lose if the business is down? Is there a way you can work part-time elsewhere for some security?
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As mentioned above, I’ve been recently making the most of utilizing social media platforms—in particular Instagram and Facebook. I think both of these platforms are an invaluable way of connecting to customers whilst adding a personable element to the business.
In terms of connecting with my freelancers, I can’t recommend Slack enough. It’s a quick and instant communication tool and I find it really useful having all of our correspondence in one place rather than scattered across different emails.
In terms of project planning, I’ve recently been getting my head around Asana. It was intimidating to navigate at first, but it’s really helped with the organization’s side of the business.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Above, I touched on the idea of learning so much about your mistakes. And for that reason, I really love the journalist Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail. It’s a refreshing and reassuring podcast in which Day speaks to various interviewees about their failures, ultimately celebrating the things that haven’t gone right in their lives. The podcast is now 8 seasons in and Day has spoken to everyone from Gloria Steinem and Fearne Cotton to James O’Brien, Ella Mills, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It’s hugely inspiring to hear all these outstandingly successful people discuss their ‘failures’ and what they’ve learned from them. Elizabeth if you’re reading, I’m available when you are.
In terms of reading material, I got a lot out of the book Find Your Why by Simon Sinek. It’s a really useful read for anybody starting their own business as it highlights the importance of discovering a purpose in what you do.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
When you’re starting a business, you’re ultimately taking a risk and it’s scary. And obviously, everyone’s situation is different in terms of finances and responsibilities but my motto has always been ‘If you never try, you’ll never know’. For me, one of the biggest challenges was taking the leap and it’s been an eventful ride with many periods of uncertainty, but I wouldn’t consider trading any of that in for a second.
If you are starting a business, I’d recommend assessing your situation. Do you have money that you can afford to lose if the business is down? Is there a way you can work part-time elsewhere for some security? Even if you work out that you might have to save for a couple of years before you go for it, it’s important to stick with any idea you believe in. Ask for support too. It’s amazing how many people can offer advice on starting and running a business. If there are any successful business owners in your life, get in touch and ask them what they’ve learned from their mistakes and if they have any advice on starting. Most people are always happy to help.
Finally, don’t give up. There have been many times where I’ve felt despair or a lack of hope in what I do. But it’s important to pick yourself up when you fall. If you want it to be, the world really is your oyster.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At present, we’re not currently hiring but things can change quickly. Watch this space.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find our products, projects, contact information, and more details about our brand story over on our website. We’ve also just launched a brand new blog over there, in which we cover everything from the benefits of artificial flowers to how to decorate your commercial space with a Demmerys.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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