RUNNING ON FLOWER POWER
Troubled with the bad quality of flowers in Delhi when he came wooing his girlfriend, Vikaas Gutgutia started a chain of flower boutiques. The creative mindset of his designer girlfriend, and now wife, Meeta Gutgutia, has helped him power his way to success.
When we think of flowers, we think of fragrance, beauty and freshness, if all elements are brought together it becomes a creative piece of art. What if every time this creativity is given a new shape? And that too all across India! Bringing creativity as the core of enterprise, Vikaas Gutgutia, founder, Ferns n Petals, knew how he could bring scale to this creative enterprise.
Although he belonged to a family that was in a flower business, this never fascinated him as he had seen his elders slogging in this business. Being a 25-year-old, he didn’t know which way to move. When he came to Delhi, he observed that florists were not giving the desired service. This gave him the idea of starting an air-conditioned flower boutique. His grandfather and uncle in Kolkata were florists. Agreeing to this being a guiding light, Vikaas says, “If I did not have a family business in flowers, I would have not got into it. My family business was a helping hand.” In 1994 when he came to Delhi with Rs 5000 in his pocket to meet Meeta, he wanted to surprise her with flowers but got disappointed when he saw the quality of flowers being delivered to her. Thus, he felt there was a dire need for a florist in Delhi who was a class apart. Considering this untapped market, he decided to venture into this segment with Delhi’s first air-conditioned flower boutique by the name of Ferns N Petals (FNP). He shared the idea with his friend, who financed the business and they became partners. But, later they parted their ways.
Not a bed of roses
Bringing creativity and class to beautify flowers has been no mean task for Vikaas Gutgutia who has grown FNP group through weddings, retail and e-commerce. Today, it has 11 verticals in different segments of weddings and flowers. Teenager or an industrialist everyone uses FNP’s services. Page 3 celebrities and politicians form the clientele of FNP Weddings. For Gutgutia, creativity has to be practical without losing the aesthetic value of design. According to him, nurturing talent, accepting the impracticality and making economic sense out of it are imperative to build a creative economy enterprise.
Talking about the difficulties during start–up days, Gutgutia says, “Since other florists were working from the roadside, their overheads were much lower than mine. So, it was very difficult to position ourselves.” Achieving success was not easy while serving an unorganised market with untrained man power and an expensive retail space. “Previously, mandis had local flowers only. There was very less scope for importing flowers from abroad. Moreover, there was no organised rental space and the concept of gifting flowers was almost nil. The real challenge in running a business under these conditions was to manage operations and the back-end. FNP shops need expert florists who could make a good bouquet. To the company’s disappointment, such florists were not readily available as there were no training facilities in India,” says Gutgutia. “Cash flow was a big problem, I was in debt, I could not pay my suppliers. The money we used to generate from day-to-day sale was used in salaries and rents. The first few years were disastrous. I do not think I can dream of being in the same situation,” he says. To overcome the challenges, FNP tried to make growth in an organised manner. At the very onset, FNP trained people, gained knowledge from many books and the Internet and implemented them keeping in mind the requirements of Indian market. It also tried to bring a change in the outlook of consumers through FNP’s offerings. Gutgutia started sourcing flowers directly from growers, so flowers remained fresh for a longer period. He developed a team of skilled persons, and with their help, trained further manpower in flowers and shop management. Owing to the high wastage and large overhead costs, it took FNP 15 shops and seven years to finally reach break-even in retail business.
FNP’s first marketing campaign was initiated in 1994, when Gutgutia conceptualised the idea to open floral boutiques in South Delhi. He sent direct e-mailers to his intended customers for a survey with a little note requesting them to fill their birthdays and anniversaries. Without missing any of these, he made sure that bouquets reached his customers without failure on all these occasions as a gesture of thank you.
While selling flowers, Gutgutia realised the possibility of getting into the weddings business. There were people who wanted him to experiment with flowers in terms of wedding as it was a new concept. As a result, retail clients became their wedding clients. In Gutgutia’s initial days of business, there was a requirement of flower decor at a reputed five-star hotel in Delhi wherein he used his creativity, and for the first time, introduced the concept of cut flowers. His work was very well appreciated. From thereon, there was no looking back for FNP’s wedding vertical. It was the first time in 2001, when shops did not need funds from the wedding business. Gutgutia says, “Once my wedding business took off, it was instant money because it is a one evening show and you are paid much larger amount than you get out of daily sales at a shop. The effort required and the profit margin were much more positive in the wedding business than that of in retail. With that money, I kept paying my debt.”
Dealing with failure
Talking about the lessons learnt over the years, Gutgutia says, “I faced a disastrous situation because of my blind faith in team and lack of planning. Now, I have learnt that planning is very important.”
His journey has been one with a lot of twists and turns. He also got into food business, but that turned out to be a failure. Learning from the failure, he says, “I probably thought what I did with flowers by bringing them from a roadside to a retail shop, I could do the same with chaat. But the idea did not work due to various reasons. I learnt how important it was to have a driver before you buy a vehicle. I must have had a good CEO or a manager when I started the company.”
Floral design and creativity
Today, FNP Weddings provides one-stop-shop solution for all wedding-related requirements ranging from venue selection, caterer, hospitality and entertainment to designing of invitation cards and trousseau packing. Meeta contributes to the décor design department of FNP Weddings and also handles the merchandise for the group. A fashion designer by profession, she previously worked with the country’s famous fashion designers. Talking about her areas of work that helped FNP, Meeta says, “My area of work has been creativity and aesthetics.”
Talking about its success, Vikaas says, “FNP has been the nerve center of the Indian Wedding industry. We are in process of being the sought after player in the wedding segment. We have had a lot of prestigious tie-ups with designers like Preston Bailey, Daniel Ost, Harijanto Setiwan, Rob Von Helden and many more. With the association of Luxury Weddings with JJ Valaya, we now come together to take a flying leap and add another dimension to the wedding industry by creating memorable landmark weddings.”
Today, the brand boasts of about 130 outlets in 47 cities nationwide. FNP’s floral boutique offers a vast variety of fresh cut flowers, unique flower arrangements, exotic flowers, artificial and dry flowers, and an exclusive range of objet d’art, such as scented candles, imported Italian glass vases, fragrance items based on aromatherapy and potpourris. These boutiques offer a wide range of exquisite flower arrangements and displays to match the distinct needs and tastes of customers. Also, FNP delivers in 400 cities and towns across India and around 150 countries worldwide.
After seeing a positive response from Tier II and Tier III cities like Coimbatore, Tirupati, Nellore, Sangli, Surat, Siliguri and Meerut, FNP has been encouraged to concentrate more on these cities and explore multiple outlets. As a result, FNP has recently launched second outlets in cities like Patna, Surat, Bhubaneswar, Mangalore and Coimbatore. FNP plans to target extensively and open about 200 outlets by the end of 2013.
Moving ahead, FNP is planning to go international in retail as well as in wedding business. In the online business, along with flowers, providing gift solutions is also becoming a priority. In fresh flower category, FNP is planning to grow flowers in Bangalore. Gutgutia says, “We are looking at expanding our business overseas, which is Dubai and Singapore. We are also getting into floriculture to meet our demand.”
FNP has also introduced the FNP Floral Design School -- a unique initiative that provides training in floristry, flower arrangements and design. He says, “Now, we have opened a school, a first of its kind, to teach flower arrangements in this country. That is called FNP School of Floral Art.”
The group also has another venture called FNP Select, which is a B2B activity, in all metros for florists to come and buy whatever they want to sell in their shops. “We have already opened shops in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata; and now, we are opening them in Bangalore and Chennai. It is a one-stop-shop for florists to get whatever they need to open a shop from cellophane to tape to artificial flowers to dry flowers. I have the quantity advantage with my own 125 outlets plus non FNP outlets,” asserts Vikaas.
FNP has been a privately held company over the years. By 2013, FNP aims to raise capital around Rs 50-100 core from the market to fuel the growth for foreign expansion.