Smriti and Sameer Dalvi, CEO and Founder, Florista India Pvt Ltd

Saying it with flowers

Anytime is a good time to say it all with flowers, whether it is a formal occasion or one personal such as the birth of a new baby, a birthday, anniversary, wishing someone ill a speedy recovery or empathising with a bereaved family, or to express inchoate emotions such as love, affection or sympathy.

And any occasion for flowers could well be a time to remember Florista, one of Mumbai's leading florists, with a presence both online and offline.

Florista caters to both individuals as well as corporates.

Individual customers can avail of services ranging from exotic flower arrangements with chocolates, cakes, wine and champagne etc to having them delivered at locations both in India and abroad, to ordering floral decorations at various events.

Corporates on the other hand can enter into contractual arrangements for floral decorations of office or meeting space, celebrating birthdays/ anniversaries of both employees and key clients, various events and parties hosted by the senior management and for the corporate greeting and gifting calendar.

According to Smriti Sameer Dalvi, wife of promoter Sameer Dalvi who started the company five years ago, customers can walk into any of Florista's retail outlets or place orders on its e-commerce site or call centre number.

An electrical engineer by training, Smriti worked in the software industry for 15 years before taking over the reins of the business two years ago. She was joint chief operating officer of SOBIS, a German software firm, before turning entrepreneur.

Smriti quickly realised the role IT could play in Florista and decided to build an order management system software that could change the way the business was done. Over the years, she has been continuously upgrading the software to build in more modules to assist the operations.

Her move to Florista has allowed Sameer, also an electrical engineer with an MBA in marketing, to look after his main business -- an advertising agency called Bridge 360 Brand Solutions that also handles the brand communications and advertising for Florista. Like her, Sameer too had worked for a few ad agencies before starting out on his own.

This husband-wife duo are sure saying it with flowers.

Florista has grown by a respectable 40% a year since inception. The company's operations currently include 42 employees, six outlets and a 24X7 call centre.

Besides establishing its brand identity, Florista has been able to standardise products and has put in place replicable systems, and is looking to expand rapidly through the franchise model (two of the company's six outlets are franchised already) both in and outside India.

Among the other key differentiators of Florista are:

* Confirmation SMS sent to customers after delivery of flowers

* Reminder service for customers for birthdays and anniversaries

* Innovative products such as the Golden Rose, made of 24 karat gold.

* Innovative services such as the Singing Florigram, where one can send flowers along with a song. A guitar-strumming singer accompanies the flower delivery boy and sings a song or two to the recipient of the flowers.

For all that, however, Florista did have its share of initial hiccups. "Customers were not accustomed to a professional flower company. They would refuse to send order by email. They would not pay up in advance until they saw the floral arrangement," says Smriti. "Payments were also an issue. We were not able to collect payments from customers and had bad debts of more than Rs 1 lakh. Customers did not pay us for orders and we got caught in a complete tangle."

Things changed as the good word spread, through word of mouth and repeat orders from corporate customers. Before long, they were swamped with orders beyond their capacity.

This posed newer problems: services were taking a hit, man management of delivery team was poor, there was pilferage of cash by some handlers, etc.

"We almost had a fleeting thought to close the company, but as an afterthought we decided to turn it around," says Smriti.

"The turning point came when an American retail consultant who happened to see one of our outlets claimed it to be the best that he had ever seen and said it should be at 1,000 malls if we played it right and maintained the quality of products and services. He sure had a point, for before long people were enquiring if we were the franchisee of an international brand and we were receiving calls from other parts of the country where people were keen to open franchise outlets."

There has been no looking back for the entrepreneur couple since then.

Their vision is to make Florista a 'top of mind' brand in and outside India; a Rs 500 crore + company with a full-fledged call centre and a cargo division for import and export of flowers; and having a retail network of over 1000 Florista branded outlets across India, the UK, the US, Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa.

Smriti, though, owes it all to her team and to her customers, and to the inherent growth potential of this business.

She believes in giving some back to the society, too. As a corporate social responsibility initiative, Florista has tied up with Project Nanhi Kali - an initiative by KC Mahindra Trust and Naandi Foundation for the education of underprivileged girl children -- where Re.1 from every order placed with Florista is donated to this cause.

Smriti's tips to budding entrepreneurs:

* Make a business plan, document it and create operations manual first. It's a one-time exercise, but worth the while

* Team selection is crucial

* Technology must play a role

* Get professionals to handle accounting right from the start

* Always watch your competition closely, visit your competition and keep updated information regarding your industry

* Network with other business associates or join a business network like BNI

* Have funds to take the risks

* Do not completely utilise own funds for business

* Involve relevant people for strategic discussions every mont


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