Meet the investment bankers who quit their jobs and started premium flower delivery in Bengaluru

Started by Girish Sannappanavar and Anshuman Subhedhar, The Flora's basic subscription includes roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and more. Customers can also pick a different set of flowers to be delivered each week.

In the early 2000s, Girish Sannappanavar and Anshuman Subhedhar worked as investment bankers at Pioneer Investcorp in Mumbai. But after five years of growing wealth, they decided to quit their jobs to grow flowers instead.

As radical as that sounds, Girish and Anshuman had plans to make it big in a growing market for floriculture. According to market research firm IMARC, the Indian floriculture market is projected to reach Rs 472 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of over 20 percent during 2019-2024.

“We arrived at the idea of doing high-tech floriculture after extensive research of different industries,” Girish says, adding, “We identified agriculture as a booming sector with a lot of opportunities, and we saw that floriculture had the most promise.”

Girish (left) and Anshuman (right), Founders and Directors, The Flora

Having predicted the growth back in the 2000s, they started Dewdrops Agritech in Pune in 2005, along with co-founder Hiraji Dhanwatay. With an initial investment of Rs 4 crore, the company started cultivating roses in protected environments, such as greenhouses. The goal was to not only tap into domestic floriculture markets but also international ones.

But to their misfortune, a few stone-crushing industries opened nearby and the environment became too dusty to continue growing flowers.

“At this stage, we were exporting 60 to 70 percent of our roses to the UK and Japan. But because of the stone-crushing units, we were forced to close the Pune unit and relocate the business to Hassan in Karnataka,” Girish says.

According to him, another Rs 4 crore went in setting up the Hassan operations. Located just outside Bengaluru, Hassan had a lower temperature profile, but it was too humid to grow roses. Eventually, Dewdrops moved out of cultivating roses entirely.

Girish and Anshuman at the Hassan facility

Girish and Anshuman then started growing carnations, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, lilies, and sunflowers.

“We are wholesale producers of flowers. We knew that maximum value addition happens at the retail end of the value chain. So, we wanted to be in that side as well,” Girish says.

It was this kind of thinking that led Girish, Anshuman and Hiraji to start The Flora, a flower retail brand, in late 2018. “We entered the retail space as we understood flowers very well. The Flora is a retail brand owned by Dewdrops, and Dewdrops is The Flora’s promoter or supplier. The Flora’s farm near Hassan is thus a Dewdrops facility,” he says.

The Flora now delivers premium, high quality flowers to individual customers as well as corporates, event planners, and more. It also source flowers from domestic and international vendors and sells them.

One of the chrysanthemum greenhouses at the farm

The farm operations, including work for Dewdrops, employs around 75 employees, while the corporate office in Bengaluru has 10 people. The Flora also has its own delivery team which brings flowers to customers in Bengaluru.

The farm setup

The 11-acre farm near Hassan is approximately a 250-km drive from Bengaluru. It has 13 greenhouses used to cultivate carnations, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, and lilies.

“The chrysanthemums usually have a three-month cycle. Our greenhouses manage the microclimate by ensuring light for 16 hours and darkness for 16 hours,” Girish explains.

A white chrysanthemum with a nylon bud cap

To pull this off, LED bulbs and black covering material are used alternately.

The farm can produce over 15 lakh chrysanthemum stems, or 1.5 million chrysanthemums, annually.

The varieties present include yellow, red, pink, and white chrysanthemums. A nylon bud cap is used to protect the bigger flowers.

These chrysanthemums are the staple, have good demand, and are the most popular after hydrangeas, Girish says.

“We are one of the few commercial growers of hydrangeas in India. Ours is the Dutch breed,” he adds.

According to him, hydrangeas are usually imported and had a niche market. But when Dewdrops and The Flora did trials, they found success in growing hydrangeas. Over 1.6 hectares of hydrangeas is currently cultivated at the farm.

Carnations also have dedicated greenhouses, but these take around four months to grow. The production for these carnations, coupled with that for chrysanthemums and hydrangeas, cost Rs 2 crore, Girish says.

Girish and Anshuman had already started moving production towards these flowers by mid 2018. After the challenge of growing roses proved insurmountable, the shift was inevitable and took a long time, but it is now complete.

Inside a hydrangea greenhouse

“Today we have completely moved away from roses. However, we are not in full production for all four crops,” Girish says.

The farm’s capacity for roses was around five to six million stems a year, with a turnover around Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 crore. But Girish says the current setup can help them reach Rs 6 crore to Rs 7 crore by next year.

With the aim to promote sustainable farming, the Hassan unit also has a herd of local cows whose dung and urine is used to made bio-friendly fertiliser and pesticide for the flowers. It also sources water from a nearby river and has rainwater harvesting facilities.

With this set up, the flowers cultivated on the farm are taken in a cold storage facility to the office in Bengaluru. Here, The Flora does the packing and sends the flowers for delivery. If the order is much larger, say in the case of a corporate order, the sorting and packing is done at the Hassan facility.

Flower power

The Flora follows an ecommerce model where customers can purchase flowers online. Girish says the initial set of customers ordered flowers for their own premises, but soon realised these flowers could be great for gifting.

To address this, The Flora has a subscription model, which Girish says sets them apart.

“There is big demand for high quality flowers in offices and homes. With the subscription model, customers can get four deliveries sets per month, that is, one per week,” he explains.

The Flora's Lily Delight arrangement

This works well for gifting as the recipients can enjoy a whole month’s worth of flowers. “Normally, flowers wither away. But monthly subscriptions are enjoyable for longer and enhances the gifting experience,” Girish says.

In the subscription model, The Flora offers a range of options. Starting at Rs 300 per week, the basic subscription offers roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and more.

Customers can also pick a different set of flowers to be delivered each week. “We also have specially-curated arrangements as part of the subscription,” Girish adds.

The premium subscription starts at Rs 2,400 per month and includes flowers such as hydrangeas, sunflowers, oriental lilies, orchids, and more.

These subscriptions are planned deliveries and The Flora allocates them for specific days. The arrangements are done the previous day, and the delivery boys leave early in the morning.

“Delivery is the most important part of out service. The flowers need to travel well and arrive undamaged. We don’t outsource delivery for this reason,” Girish says.

He goes on to say a lot of people hear about The Flora and its subscription model through digital mediums. Since the brand doesn’t have any physical stores, digital marketing is a core component of its customer outreach. :

“We are active on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn. Instagram is most effective in terms of branding and sales. We are also using Google to market ourselves. The sales team reaches out to corporates,” he says.

The Flora now plans to enter more cities and target between 20 and 30. But once the Flora scales up, it will have two options: grow the delivery team and control everything, or outsource it while maintaining a large degree of control. Girish admits that while The Flora will take the first option for the time-being, it will eventually have to outsource delivery.