With Just $300, I Started A Dried Flower Arrangement Business And Now Make $10K/Month

Alexandra
Founder, Milla Rose
$9.6K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
3
Employees
Milla Rose
from Melbourne VIC, Australia
started June 2020
$9,600
revenue/mo
1
Founders
3
Employees
2.4M
alexa rank
7.11K
followers
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With Just $300, I Started A Dried Flower Arrangement Business And Now Make $10K/Month

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey everyone!

My name is Alexandra (Ali) Matkowsky and I’m the founder of Milla Rose, a boutique online, dried flower arrangement business based in Melbourne, Australia.

We sell dried flowers, which are real flowers that last for years, not days. Our flowers can last up to 260x longer than fresh flowers.

What started as a side project in the bedroom of our tiny apartment just over 18 months ago, has now become a nearly 10k a month business, with our monthly revenue doubling since this time last year.

Since starting halfway through 2020, we have sold almost 3000 arrangements to all corners of Australia in an extremely niche yet growing category.

milla-rose
Our Founders (+ Milla)

milla-rose
Our Team in Action

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After dropping out of university in my first semester, I worked in several industries including orthodontics, hospitality, and digital marketing but never really felt fulfilled.

Instead, I always deep down wanted to have something of my own after seeing my dad have his own cabinet-making business growing up. No matter what job or industry I was in, working for other people just never felt right.

I tried several different side projects before Milla Rose, such as a catering company (Places to Style) and also growing a food blog to 30k followers on Instagram (Places to Lunch). Although these certainly weren’t a failure by any means (and I still have the food blog today), I struggled to adequately monetize and scale them.

In my third month, we made almost $10,000 in revenue, which really was surreal to me after working all my life for no more than $25 an hour.

It was in early 2020 when the Melbourne lockdowns were at their peak where I received a dried flower arrangement for my first mothers day and fell in love with it. Around the same time, I noticed people spending far more money and attention on home renovation and decoration due to far more time spent at home.

milla-rose

I started seeing new dried flower arrangements popping up on my news feed everywhere on Instagram and after being encouraged by my husband, I thought there was no reason I couldn’t do it myself.

My next challenge was to figure out how I could create a dried flower brand of my own that stood out from the ever-increasing Instagram accounts trying to give it a crack.

Fortunately, dried flower stems were relatively easy to source locally and with my background working at an SEO agency and product photography skills from my food blog, I had my Shopify store, socials, and first arrangement launched within a few weeks.

I got my first sale within about a month of launching the store and started selling dozens of arrangements simply through Google ads and organic Instagram followers.

I didn’t have much experience in Google ads, so launched a very basic search campaign that was ‘recommended’ to me via Google and maximised clicks (which sounded good at the time).

Although this is extremely different from the way we use Google ads now and the campaign was certainly not optimal, because our prices were low and it was a hot market, the ads brought in plenty of initial sales.

In my third month, we made almost $10,000 in revenue, which really was surreal to me after working all my life for no more than $25 an hour.

It’s safe to say that I was absolutely loving it! However, there was one problem - I was still juggling the demands of looking after my baby daughter Milla, working full time, and growing the business all at the same time.

My husband was working as a full-time strength coach at the time, so there was limited flexibility around him helping out with Milla. And to make matters worse, my boss at the agency was no longer happy for us to work from home.

I was faced with a dilemma. Do I quit my stable job amid the turbulent economic climate to pursue my business full time? Or do I try to continue to juggle both?

After much back and forth with my boss, long discussions with my husband, and plenty of prayers and thinking it over, I decided to take the leap and resign from my full-time job to grow Milla Rose, a short 6 months after founding.

At the time, I was only paying myself around $200 a week, so I would need to push hard to make this viable for myself and my family. A challenge I was enthralled to accept.

Take us through the process of designing your product

To start the business, I borrowed $300 from our own money to purchase a variety of different dried flower stems to experiment with. Fortunately, there are several local suppliers here in Melbourne, Australia I could find after a few days of research.

I asked questions in Facebook Groups, reached out to other dried flower brands (silly idea), as well as spent plenty of time Googling to find a variety of different stems at the best prices. Within a few days, I had dozens of different varieties at my doorstep to experiment with.

What was a massive blessing about dried flowers is that they don’t expire. I didn’t have the stress of worrying about the flowers wilting or having to clear stock before it soiled (which is the difficult part about fresh flowers).

Although I didn’t really know what I was doing, I, fortunately, have a good eye for what looks nice (and what doesn’t). After taking hundreds of pictures of brekky and lunch for my food blog, I thought I could give it a red hot crack.

At the start, I took inspiration from Etsy, Pinterest, and other online florists but would always put my own spin on things (I can’t stand copycats). I tried different combinations of colors, types of flower stems, styles of vase, and arrangement sizes/prices.

From there, I would decide on a design, create it and post it on the website and Instagram page to see if it would sell. I was constantly testing to see what people would like or not.

I started to notice that the arrangements which people commented about most on my Instagram would usually be the ones that sold. This provided a great way to gain feedback - from my initial base of followers.

As a result, over time I started to learn what designs were the most popular and the ones that never sold. I would do more of what worked and less of what didn’t and organically started to find my style which consists of mainly Australian natives and neutral-colored flowers.

While most other dried flower brands (including our biggest competitor) would use bright colors, I would stick to neutral shades as that’s what I believed looked the best for most people’s homes. Trusting my gut seemed to work, as sales continued to increase.

My arrangements started between $30 - AUD 80 and looking back I genuinely laugh at my first few arrangements and can’t believe they even sold. Over time, as my arrangements got better in quality and my brand became more renowned, I was able to charge between $140 - $215 AUD per arrangement.

Before:

milla-rose

Vs now:

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We attribute so much of our success to our ability to try and test hundreds of different combinations and over time have developed a ‘core collection’.

Our core collections are the arrangements we know will sell. If any of them stop selling, we remove them from the collection and test a new one, which means our signature range continues to improve.

Our recent addition has been adding a ‘Milla Rose’ ribbon to each product, as people have started to buy from us purely for the fact that they know our brand and want to showcase this in their homes.

This further helps us separate from the competition which is extremely high as the barrier to entry is quite low for dried flowers. There are always new players entering the market and undercutting us, but because we’ve built a brand around our arrangements and have our own style, we continue to perform.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Before Milla Rose, I had a catering/event styling company called Places to Style which had around 1000 followers. I quickly pivoted this Instagram page and started promoting dried flower arrangements with captions saying ‘coming soon.

I also knew how to quickly and effectively launch a website, so created a Shopify store within 48 hours as well as an Etsy store from which I could start selling arrangements.

Although Etsy helped us get a few sales initially, Shopify soon took over as our main platform for getting sales as we use it exclusively to this day.

Due to high demand and a low initial price point, we saw sales within a few weeks of launching the site. Sales further accelerated during the lockdown periods in Melbourne, which lasted for several months at a time.

Because people could not visit their local florists or send flowers interstate, people turned to online stores to send gifts to their loved ones during these difficult times.

The business has always remained bootstrapped and required an initial investment of $300 to purchase the first stems for me to experiment with. The only other money we have ever received is $5,000 from my husband's grandpa, which helped us attain our first two employees.

Over time, we have slowly increased our prices as our product quality has improved, which has allowed us to grow. Our average order value went from around $80 AUD in April last year to $180 AUD this year whilst maintaining sales volumes, which we’re extremely proud of.

One thing that is a constant struggle is managing cash flow. As our business grows, our fixed costs increase in order to pay employees to manage making all of the arrangements. I also pay myself a modest wage, which in a way slows the business growth but is a must for me and my family.

We’ve had the privilege of being able to employ my mother-in-law and brother-in-law, which has been incredible. They help with the fulfillment side of things, creating arrangements and making sure all of the orders get out on time.

This has allowed me to focus on looking for new business opportunities and scaling the business up over time.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Fortunately for us, the value proposition of dried flowers is a very compelling one. After all, they can last up to 260x longer than fresh flowers and look absolutely incredible in your home for years.

As a result, the demand for dried flowers was extremely high when we started and continues to be so. And although we were up against many other competitors, most of these people were not experienced in running an online store and ran their sales via ‘DM to order’ on Instagram.

SEO + Content Creation

By having a secure, easy-to-use Shopify store, we quickly became a trusted brand in our industry. It was only a matter of creating arrangements people liked and taking photos that represented how great they looked. Sometimes, having a small point of difference (like the ease of ordering) can be extremely significant.

When launching the business, I immediately optimised the Milla Rose website for search engines. This included optimising all of our pages, writing blogs about home decorating, gifting and dried flower FAQs, as well as building relationships with other websites to help boost our google rankings.

Because we are a bootstrapped business, having this background in SEO was pivotal to our success over time, as it allowed us to gain essentially free traffic from Google for a highly growing search term.

However, SEO takes time. In order to get our first wave of sales, we were going to need another channel to get traffic. This is why in the early days, we used our instagram to post new flower arrangements and also experimented with Google Ads (but not very well) to get our first customers.

As our organic traffic picked up, it became our main traffic channel and was responsible for 80% of our sales in the first year. However, in order to scale, we would need to get in front of people who had no idea that dried flowers were even a thing (problem unaware people).

Google Smart Shopping Ads

As a result, we started investing money in Google Smart Shopping ads (now Performance Max) - outbound marketing ads which go and find new prospects. These are different from the traditional ‘AdWords’, where you’re needing search volumes to remain high.

These campaigns are very scalable and the only thing stopping us from increasing our ad spend is our cashflow. Our Google ads are now responsible for around 45% of all sales.

Instagram + Email List

Over time we’ve also managed to build our instagram up to 7000 followers and have an email list of around 1300 subscribers.

Having grown my food blog to 30k followers, I had a pretty good idea of what it takes to grow an Instagram account. Our most effective tactics so far have involved competitions, giveaways, superb product photography that stops the scroll and regular engagement with other accounts.

In order to grow our email list, we offer site visitors 10% off their first purchase over $170 AUD in exchange for their email address. This is done via a pop-up that enters between 10 and 60 seconds after a prospect lands on our site.

As soon as they join our list, they are added to a flow of emails that presents several different value propositions to the prospect.

We find that this 10% discount is a good way to entice buyers on the edge to pull the trigger and also allows us to remarket to them essentially for free.

We’ve experimented with different email campaign frequencies, from weekly to monthly. As of now, we email our subscribers between 1-2 times a month with a combination of nurturing emails speaking about our brand values, as well as sales emails leading up to dates like mother’s day and Christmas.

Although these channels are only responsible for a small percentage of sales overall, they allow us to connect with our customers and give them exclusive discounts during peak seasons.

You really have to believe in yourself and try to surround yourself with voices that encourage you. Most people won’t understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, but that’s okay!

We currently prioritise our google ads and SEO, as these are responsible for the majority of our sales. It’s easy to get caught up in trying new marketing channels, but what we’ve found is that sticking with what’s working is where you should spend your time.

Until we’ve continued to scale these channels and see diminishing returns, we won’t be trying Facebook ads or turning to B2B outreach sales methods.

In order to get to 1 million in annual revenue, focus on selling one type of product to one avatar using one channel.”

That’s what we’re trying to achieve before we spend too much time focusing on other markets that have upfront friction.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Although we continue to grow and our monthly revenue has doubled since this time last year, we still continue to battle with cash flow and trying to scale. At any time we have at least 10,000 worth of stock we need to have to be able to make the 20 different arrangements we sell.

My husband also quit his full-time job halfway through last year to help me, as well as support a growing family and pursue his own fitness media business.

Therefore, because we pay ourselves and two casual employees a small wage, the business is certainly growing, but it is slow. We are trying to live frugally so that we can reinvest as much of our profits into the business as possible.

In terms of Google Ads, we’re operating at a ROAS just over 400%, with the COA being around $40 for an average order value of $173. Fortunately we’ve also got plenty of sales coming through our organic search which helps to bring our average COA down.

milla-rose

Gross margins at the moment hover around the 70% mark but because we offer free shipping this comes down to around 60%. Arrangements cost between $30 - $50 AUD to create which we sell for between $140 - $215 AUD. We currently get between 7500 - 9000 visitors a month coming through the site, with about 50% paid and 50% organic or branded traffic.

We have two employees who we are training up to take care of all operations while I have my second baby in June, which will have me taking several months off. So for now, we are going to try and maintain our current numbers.

After that, we are hoping to move into a new warehouse and really scale our ad spend to see how far we can get with the D2C arm of the business.

We have also started to get people reaching out organically asking if we do dried wedding flowers, a service we have kind of stumbled upon. This is an arm of the business we will look to capitalize on coming into the Australian summer months at the end of this year as weddings gain traction again.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

In late 2021 I started to feel extremely overwhelmed having to make 150 arrangements in a month as well as manage the whole business myself. I got to the point where I didn’t think I could do it anymore.

My husband got talking to his mother (who was unemployed), and out of nowhere she mentioned that she used to arrange dried flowers in her early 20s. We couldn’t believe it and immediately employed her.

Hiring employees to manage the fulfillment side of the business was the best decision we ever made. I never really thought that the business would get to the point where I would employ other people, so this was quite momentous for me.

Although you sacrifice money in the short term, it is in my opinion the best decision you can make as it frees up your mind to work on longer term, revenue generating activities. If you can outsource it for less than you could be earning, it’s absolutely worth doing.

Secondly, we decided to hire a business consultancy service called the Entourage. Having a business expert as a coach to bounce ideas off and give us direction has been a game-changer. It’s also helped us connect with like-minded business owners and help us to break limiting beliefs.

Because my husband and I don’t come from overly well-off families, we have never really seen ourselves as people who can become ‘rich’ or ‘successful’. So having people close to you who have walked the walk can be a real encouragement.

Most importantly, the coaching has allowed me to spend more time working ‘on’ the business, rather than ‘in’ it.

Finally, one of the vital aspects of business that not nearly enough people prioritise is actually working out their gross margins.

At the start, I would design an arrangement and ‘guess’ how much to charge. This meant at the end of the month I wouldn’t really have any clue where the money was going or how much I could afford to pay myself.

It seems obvious, but getting really granular with each arrangement was, for us, pivotal to ensure we were profitable. This becomes increasingly so as we grow and our fixed costs increase.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Shopifyas our CMS, which is by far the best for eCommerce in my opinion. If we ever run into trouble, their team of experts will always offer support and we can get things resolved quickly. It’s also incredibly user friendly and easy to train our staff members how to use.

SEMRush is an incredible tool we use for auditing our site for SEO. It helps us find and eliminate any toxic backlinks, do keyword research to identify blog topics that haven’t been done well yet and find new PR opportunities.

We use Klaviyo for email marketing, which integrates well with Shopify. Their flows are already set up, it’s simply a matter of making small tweaks and pressing publish.

Xero is the software we use for accounting, which cuts a lot of the work that would otherwise be outsourced to a bookkeeper.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

If you’re in eCommerce and want to learn how Google ads can help you grow your business, I’d highly recommend checking out Solutions 8 YouTube channel.

These guys are the absolute best in the world when it comes to creating scalable Google ads campaigns. With the carnage of FB ads and the third party cookie changes last year, Google ads have been a real life-saver.

We’re also a massive fan of Alex Hormozi’s YouTube channel. Although he mainly focuses on service-based businesses, his general business strategy advice has helped us to think bigger picture on everything.

Finally, although it’s a little left of field, we highly recommend Project 24. Although these guys aren’t eCommerce focused, their blogging strategy has helped us find topic gaps that can help bring organic traffic to our website.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

You really have to believe in yourself and try to surround yourself with voices that encourage you. Most people won’t understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, but that’s okay!

If it wasn’t for my husband’s words of encouragement at the very start, I might not have ever seized the incredible opportunity I did. This speaks volumes for how having a successful team of supporters around you can make all the difference.

Although some of my friends and family never fully understood why I didn’t finish my uni degree, I’m grateful that my husband backed me in.

One crazy thing that you probably wouldn’t believe is that we have sourced our products almost entirely from Australia. This means our cost of goods is larger than if we went directly offshore instead of trading with a ‘middleman’.

Although this may seem like a bad thing, it also has some upside. This is because it has helped us to remain agile, as waiting 6-12 weeks for an offshore shipment to arrive simply wasn’t viable. We can test things faster and we don’t have to commit to large order quantities to flower stems we might not even use.

What I’ve learnt is that sometimes you have to start by doing things that are unscalable and over time you can improve the process and increase your margins. The most important thing is product market fit and ensuring you can continue to sell to a marketplace consistently.

For us, this continues to mean that we source locally until we can save enough money to go directly offshore and complete bigger shipments in one go.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Alexandra, Founder of Milla Rose
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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