This International Women’s Day, organisers are encouraging participants to #PressForProgress, noting that gender equality is 200 years away. The day is an important moment to stop and recognise the achievements of women everywhere, how far we’ve come when it comes to gender equality, and how far we have to go. The Xero community is full of amazing women doing incredible things.
We talked to Singapore-based Floral Atelier founder Lelian Chew about how she branched out to start her dream of running a small business.
It might be your first corsage or maybe you’re simply feeling nostalgic for the smell of roses in your grandmother’s garden, but beautiful flowers should be enjoyed for any occasion, says Floral Atelier founder Lelian Chew.
Lelian launched her first business, The Wedding Atelier, in Hong Kong four years ago. Her goal was to design magical events for clients that could take place in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Anywhere from the mountains of Bhutan to the beaches of Hawaii.
After two years the business soon had a solid reputation and Lelian was managing 10 to 12 events a year. Though inundated with requests, she made the conscious and deliberate decision to limit her events to one a month. This was due to the sheer amount of preparation required and a stringent focus on ensuring quality.
Setting up shop
In 2015 she decided to establish a store in Singapore’s trendy Tiong Bahru. Shortly after this, and after receiving numerous requests for unique florals, Lelian decided to stop outsourcing and bring floral design in-house – and so, The Floral Atelier was born.
The Floral Atelier is a couture flower house dedicated to creating exquisite, long-lasting works of art for any occasion. As Lelian says, “it could be ‘just because’ – from one beautiful single stalk as a surprise one Tuesday evening – to celebrating the most important day of your life.”
Though she’d always had an interest in floristry, Lelian knew that when she decided to take this function in-house she had to have formal training. “I took some time away from the business to study floristry in New York,” she says. “It was painful to take the time out but it was a must.”
“Floristry is not just an art,” she adds. “It’s a science like architecture, and you have to understand the lines and weights and structures you’re working with.”
Applying investment skills to floristry
Before launching her own business, Lelian previously spent eight years managing investments for high-net-worth individuals in Hong Kong. She reached a turning point when she realised if she wanted to explore it was ‘now or never’. She says her previous experience was a big help when going it alone. “It gave me the vigour, discipline and work ethic that was a huge aid in building my own business.”
And these are attributes Lelian brings to every aspect of her work. “I am up at 7am to check emails and to catch up on the news.” Her next step is the flowers. “We work with suppliers from all over the world so have to plan ahead and keep on top of timings and logistics to make sure we always have flowers fresh for when we need them. We have to be careful not to order too early or too late. Importing perishables means you have to get the timing just right to avoid wastage.”
Not only do her flowers need to stay fresh, but so do her ideas. “We want to be the frontrunners of design. Our goal is to be ahead of the curve and to do this we need to introduce colours and collections that people might not expect,” she says.
In her fast-moving industry, Lelian constantly innovates to stay competitive. “I get my inspiration locally and by keeping an eye on global trends – not just floristry, but art, culture and fashion too,” she says. “All of these things impact what people want.”
A perfect marriage
When she first launched The Wedding Atelier, Lelian used Excel to manage her accounts and payroll, which she says was ‘painful’. But this lasted only a few months.
“I knew that to successfully grow my business, I needed to have the right systems in place at the beginning,” she explains. “The best time to implement a solid business management infrastructure is when the business is still small, otherwise things can spiral out of control.”
Lelian’s success can be attributed to her combined thesis of “flowers for everyone, anytime” and a keen focus on providing customers a tailored and personal experience. “Xero helps me do this with customised invoices,” she adds.
Her one major top tip for startups is to identify your market. “The market won’t find you. Have a target, and make a plan for how you’re going to get there.”