After bagging the Digital Innovation award at last year’s British Farming Awards, Shropshire Petals continues to push its ever growing business by focusing on customer interaction through social media. Emily Ashworth speaks to the company as its busiest time of year approaches.
The wedding business is a competitive field to be in, but by focusing on customer needs and feedback, Shropshire Petals are able to tailor its product in a way which makes it unique.
Operating as a web-based business, it is unsurprising brothers, Jim and Jonathan Bubb, ensure their customers are achieving the best online experience across all their platforms.
As testament to this, they were named the winners of the Digital Innovator of the Year award at last year’s British Farming Awards, co-organised by Farmers Guardian. And the brothers admit being digitally savvy throws up its own set of positive challenges.
The business has come a long way since its first order for four packs of confetti: one lilac, one pink and two mixed colours compared to more than 8,000 orders every year now taken, offering extensive packaging options to suit all wedding trends.
Jim manages the floral crops overseeing the process through from crop to shop, while Jonathon looks after the traditional arable farming side, growing potatoes on 728 hectares (1,800 acres) at Lynn South Farm.
The farm dates back to 1948 where their Grandparents, John and Daisy Bubb farmed sugar beet, cereals and potatoes alongside a dairy herd and it was Daisy who initiated the whole flower frenzy.
During the 1980s, she took flowers from her beloved garden and dried them on her Aga for the Women’s Institute.
The concept evolved naturally and she started planting in the fields behind their home.
Ten years later and with the help of Daisy’s son Michael and his wife Rose, they had developed a few hundred acres for growing, drying and selling flowers on the stem.
As the millennium hit, trends in what customers were buying began to waver and it became apparent the look was leaning heavily towards a minimalistic feel when it came to dried flowers, resulting in dipped sales.
The family had to re-think and in 2005, Shropshire Petals was born. After exploring the possibility of letting the flowers fall from their stems as a natural product and receiving enquiries about using their products for confetti, business was back on.
“We thought this was something we could definitely do after a couple of years struggling to sell stock.”
Ninety per cent of what the company now grows are delphiniums – a flower known for its rich blue colour with a towering stem of anything between two and six metres. The delphinium is, however, available in alternate colours such as lavender, yellow or pink and can be a single or double bloom.
The remaining 10 per cent is split between cornflowers and calendula across 16 hectares (40 acres).
The desirability of these chosen flowers is down to their lightweight effect when thrown as confetti, giving couples on their wedding day time to capture pictures.
Shropshire Petals has already expanded at an impressive rate, but future success lies in uncovering new products, and finding fresh and innovative colours is Jim’s biggest drive and challenge.
The company is known for producing petals which are natural in colour.
With no dye or artificial touching involved, pushing this aspect forward with new palettes is highly important.
“We have a constant trial area,” says Jim. “Confetti colours follow the fashion trends to a T and the girls give me a colour palette 12-18 months in advance.
“Our seed suppliers can find the colours we are hoping for but until we dry them out, you never know whether it’s going to work.”
Their core colours include ivory, pink (lemonade pink at present) and blue and there is a wide variety of packages on offer.
Prices range from £1.95 for an individual confetti sachet to £62.50 for a box holding six-litres and it is their Shropshire box, a 25 confetti cone keepsake package which is at present most popular.
As the business grows, so does the team in the petal shed. It has employed two new full-time staff over the past two years to help with the increase in orders and marketing the products and it also employs local students over the summer months who supervise the flower harvest.
Photography is extremely important because of customer expectation
PR and marketing manager, Ashley Corrigan, says one of the company’s aims is to inspire future brides.
“Photography and the use of it through multiple social media channels has to be completely on point and accurate because the reality is that those customers will end up buying the product,” she says.
Jim is also keen to use customer feedback and online comments as a way to develop the business.
“By being digitally active the transfer of knowledge is a lot quicker to a larger audience”, says Jim.
“Customer interaction is a benefit of social media and when we are out at national wedding events, people can put a face to us as a company.
“Having the evidence online makes us real. The website is who we are.”
Customers can also learn about how their confetti is made as the production process fills their Twitter and Facebook presence.
There they can witness pictures of the crops being grown, the drying of the flowers and it goes, says Ashley, full circle.
“It’s great because the customers can see how our product is grown on-farm, right from the beginning and then we get the photos from the weddings coming in with that very confetti on show,” she says.
The company also runs confetti photo competitions and has created a “pick and mix” feature which allows you to pull together your own, unique mix which you can then share with friends on social media or order a free sample of your creation.
Blogs are also a must for those wishing to speak to customers on a more one-to-one basis.
Shropshire Petals have a vibrant blog voice picking up on what is going on in general life – a recent post celebrates The Queen’s birthday by using flower petals to recreate the silk jackets her jockeys wear – as well as letting you get behind the scenes of the company.
They believe it is a fun way to encourage people to stay and spend time on the website.
On winning the award Shropshire Petals said: “The award allows us to see how far we’ve come as a company because the wedding market is constantly competitive.
“It recognises how hard the team work and that our staff are doing a good job.
“Innovation is essential and we need to be in there – a little old farm building in a farm business can become quite a star on the website.
“Teamwork is fundamental to our business. It is only as good as the weakest link and we like to treat people as we would like to be treated ourselves.
“We would like to thank the British Farming Awards for giving us this opportunity and our imaginative and hard-working team who are constantly developing new, innovative ideas to make the website even better.”
Achieving a strong digital presence has not been straightforward, says Jim, and their initial website did not have the current feel or image.
“My brother and I tried to design the site but when we employed Katie, our general manager, she ripped it apart.
“It was too male orientated and since 2012 we’ve had major re-vamps.”
Shropshire Petals website is layered with Polaroid’s to showcase the company’s work, pitted against an almost vintage feeling brown paper background.
“It’s country chic,” Jim describes.
“Refreshing certain points is imperative and we are not hesitant to change things.
“If something needs altering, we will do it right there and then.”
As times change and people become more aware of sustaining the environment, the attraction to using eco-friendly products such as the confetti produced by Shropshire Petals becomes stronger.
The company still uses traditional methods due to the delicate and precious nature of flowers.
Jim says: “We will continue to use our traditional techniques as we can guarantee all of our petals are of the highest quality.
“We have considered using more modern techniques, but our flowers are precious and take a long time to turn into confetti from start to finish.”
After the seeds are sown, weeded and watered, there is a six to eight window where the flowers bloom.
During this time, the pickers go out in to the fields to harvest the flowers by hand, an aspect which is no doubt to capture quality.
The flowers are sent to the de-petalling shed where each petal is taken from its stem – again by hand to gather only the finest petals – and moved to the drying shed.
The orders are then personally mixed.
With two excellence in customer service awards under their belt, their accomplishments can be no doubt put down to the way they approach their audience believing every inquiry or question deserves a response.
Being digitally engaging drives sales and they believe that as the confetti market grows – which it is doing currently – re-educating consumers is the way forward.
“There isn’t many other producers who specialise in natural, bio-degradable confetti like we do and we need people to know they have a choice: They don’t have to go for the paper stuff.
“People these days are interested in the story. We are British grown. We know how our crops are cultivated and what’s put on them and we bring it right back to home.
“By the time our customers come to actually buying, they already know who we are and our ethos.
“We present ourselves as just normal people rather than leaning towards becoming too commercial and we speak to past and future customers through our social media channels no less than three times a day.
“We pride ourselves on everything which leaves here and everything has that lasting personal touch.”