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.
In 2015 she decided to set up shop 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 be expecting,’ says Lelian.
In her fast moving industry, Lelian is constantly innovating to stay competitive. She says: ‘I get my inspiration locally and by keeping an eye on global trends – not just floristry, but art, culture and fashion too. All of these things impact what people want.’
Flourishing with Technology
When she entered the Singapore market there were no other high end artisan florists selling online. So she developed a concept. ‘I had the opportunity to use technology to make it as easy as possible for people to find beautiful flowers and make a purchase.’
They’ve designed the website so buyers can make a purchase in just three clicks based on a colour, theme or simply price range. ‘This harks back to my belief that beautiful flowers should be for any and every occasion,’ says Lelian. ‘Technology plays a huge part in simplifying the process of purchase, making beautiful flowers more accessible to more people.’
A huge part of Lelian’s offering is retailing, both on and offline. She started using Xero early on in the business, and as her business offering has grown Xero has been able to support back end functions. Lelian uses Xero for everything from invoicing to payroll, which she says ‘is a huge help when you’re running a brick & mortar and eCommerce business.’
A perfect marriage
When she first launched The Wedding Atelier, Lelian was using 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,’ says Lelian, ‘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,’ says Lelian.
She’s now very much looking forward to Xero’s upcoming direct bank feed capability with DBS. ‘I’ve wanted this for so long! Direct bank feeds means no inconvenient, time consuming manual input and matching – and the mistakes that come with them. Automating the process is reassuring as reconciliation will happen seamlessly.’
A lot of people associate being a business owner with freedom, but Lelian says they couldn’t be more mistaken. ‘You’re tied down to a lot of things and a lot of people. You’re responsible for a team and for a vision, and to your clients.’
But the benefits? She gets to work with something she loves.
‘I’m passionate about working with a live medium,’ says Lelian. ‘It’s so different from painting where you have total control over your materials. When you’re working with flowers and leaves, you can’t use force. You have to work with the natural curves, shapes and colours. You’re forced to be flexible but this gives you an end result that reflects the true natural beauty of the flowers.’
Lelian’s has one major top tip for startups. ‘Identify your market. The market won’t find you. Have a target, and make a plan for how you’re going to get there.’
Direct bank feeds from DBS to Xero are now available for all DBS-Xero customers. You can learn more about how DBS-Xero direct bank feeds will benefit your business here. Or find out how you can get started.