“If it is both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.”
At 22, after graduating from an arts degree I applied for a cadetship at The West Australian as a journalist which was my dream job. I didn’t get it and then the following year I faced the same rejection. I wasn’t sure this was my dream job anymore and I was unmotivated, unemployed and lost. This was the start of my resilience training!
Somehow I found the strength to question what it was I REALLY LOVED and to head towards a different dream. I had always loved flowers and gardening and thought I might try my hand at horticulture. The guidance counsellor that I saw for advice looked me up and down and said “I don’t think you are cut out for that…..what about floristry?” At first I was offended but somehow this insightful person gave me the idea that was to become my future career and I was taken by surprise at how excited I was. There was no stopping me. This was before YouTube, Instagram and mobile phones!
I decided to teach myself flowers rather than go to college as I didn’t resonate with the style. I hustled hard. I spent every spare cent on flowers, flower books and I practiced. I took photos, made a sample portfolio of my work and then hit the pavement to look for work experience and a job. I was 23. Filled with confidence I was on a mission to find someone to train me, to take me in and inspire me. I came up against endless brick walls in my quest. I was considered too old and too inexperienced for someone so old! It was awful. During all this I attended two lessons at a ‘progressive’ floristry school and quit in frustration at the horrible designs they were teaching.
Manic Botanic is born
There were no other options left. I was exploding with creativity and confidence but naive to the fact that I had NO IDEA what I was doing.
I decided that the only way forward was to open my own shop. My stomach churns when I think of this now as I know it sounds so crazy…but I did not have a single doubt in my mind that I could do it. I was completely unaware of the reality of entrepreneurship – I had learnt minimal floristry through books and practice and I had no business skills – this is where the fun began.
I enrolled in The New Enterprise Scheme – a government funded business training program for the unemployed. I completed that, wrote a business plan, was accepted for a small grant, applied for a business loan, found premises in Leederville and opened Manic Botanic in 1994 – my first real job. I worked hard, days and nights. I would practically fall over myself with excitement when a customer came in. I had $6 days and tears…..many of them, it was lonely and scary.
I grew along with my business and Manic Botanic soon became a leading flower shop that did things differently. Manic Botanic was a success because I was fussy – fussy about customer service, presentation and creative change. Time spent with customers was important and I was so proud of the shop and my team. I experienced business ownership alongside motherhood and I am a firm believer that you should give your best in every situation, the juggle was real and the learning swift!
Although I started with a lot of inexperience I embraced the learning curve. I am convinced that being self taught is one of my strengths. I am always open to new things. I believe that you learn new ways to improve your product and service everyday. I ran my business on gut instinct and commonsense.
I feel it is important to work in your business and to have a feel for your product and what your customer needs. I was (and still am) fiercely proud of the reputation I have built over the years. I created a profitable business that was a big success but I have never forgotten how it started and how I got there. People bought from the shop because they loved what we created but they came back because we gave them a quality product, took the time to have a chat with them and actually listened to their needs.
Listen to your heart
I sold Manic Botanic after 17 years at the helm, it was my baby but it was time for a change. I dabbled in retirement (not for me…), worked as a stylist and then joined The Angove St Collective (See blog – Angove St Collective) co working space as the florist for 5 super fun years.
I was itching to have a flower shop again so opened my current store Debra Hayes Floral in 2019, it was like coming home.
I wrote this ending for a talk I gave to a women’s business group 17 long years ago and it still resonates with me today….
“Stretching his hand out to catch the stars he forgets the flowers at his feet.” Jeremy Bentham.
This quote is on my business card and on the wall of my store Manic Botanic. People often ask me what I think it means. For me it is a reminder to stop once in a while to appreciate what you have. All too often we set unrealistic goals for ourselves and spend way too much time focused striving for the shining stars we think we need, the jewels, the cars, the house, the riches of success. The flowers at our feet such as our family, our friends and our customers need our love, care and time to flourish too. Try not to overlook the riches that are already yours. Try not to undervalue the riches that you already have. Be ambitious and keep sight of your dreams but never forget the simple joys that surround you everyday.