Some of you may not have encountered on line care package provider Don’t Buy Her Flowers. The brain child of a homegrown girl but now London based Mama Steph Douglas, this fabulous company has now relocated back to Stroud. As you know we love a Gloucestershire based business, even more so when there is a strong, stylish and savvy Maman at the helm and Steph was kind enough to give us an hour of her time to tell us how she balances it all.
CMHQ: Hi Steph! So pleased to have you on the good green grass. We start all of our interviews at CheltenhamMaman with a question about the most important peeps – tell us about your small people?
Buster is six and Mabel is four. They are both strong-willed and dramatic, which was inevitable with parents that both did a little Am Dram in their childhood. I think they’re the best thing I’ve ever seen. Most/some of the time.
CMHQ: So tell us about your original connection with Gloucestershire?
I was born and raised in Stroud! My parents, three of my siblings and their families and my oldest bestest friends all still live here. We lived in Cheltenham for a few years in my teens and then moved back to Nailsworth when dad became vicar there before he retired a couple of years ago.
CMHQ: What did you do professionally before having children?
I worked in Brand & Communications managing and integrating large teams on national campaigns like London 2012 and Government campaigns including smoking and Learning & Skills.
CMHQ: So the business was born in London? Talk us through your lightbulb moment and how you took the Don’t Buy Her Flowers concept to reality.
It started when I had my first baby, Buster, and I received 8 bunches of flowers. I was sat on the sofa feeling overwhelmed and leaky and these bouquets kept arriving. They were from people that wanted to send something for me, which was really kind, but it struck me as bonkers that the go to gift for new mums is another thing to care for, when you’re doing more caring than you’ve ever done in your life. After that I’d put little packages together for friends that had babies and they were so grateful and the idea started to form. I’d returned to work after both babies, but I was looking ahead to when the kids started school and wondering how the hell I was ever going to pick them up or drop them off alongside the commute in to London. I set myself a task of starting a blog – the business felt like too much of a leap. The blog went really well and at that point Doug encouraged me to go for it so I quit my job.
CMHQ: What part of the setup process caused you the most sleepless nights?
Probably just pressing ‘go’. I’d kept the idea fairly quiet, just running ideas by a few close friends. As soon as you tell someone you’re going to start a business they chip in with ideas and they can lead you to doubt your plans unless you’ve got them really firmed up. Then there was this intense period of putting packages together, ordering products and materials and getting the website built and suddenly it was all ready. I’d never set an exact launch date, so we just did it one Sunday night. The website crashed where people went nuts sharing it, so it was well received!
CMHQ: Was there anyone in particular that you really relied upon to help you juggle it all and plough forward with your idea in the early days?
My husband and my best mates – they were brilliant at just encouraging me if I had a wobble, which is inevitable. Doug also had to step up on a practical level – my biggest learning is that you can’t do everything you did before and run a business on top. So many women do the majority at home, but if you try to do that AND run a business, you’ll probably combust. It’s another learning curve and we don’t always get it right but generally things are shared out more evenly than they were before I started the business.
CMHQ: If you could do it all again what would you do anything differently?
No. In some ways it’s like motherhood – nothing can prepare you until you’re in it. I’ve learned a lot. That first year is especially tough.
CMHQ: When do you think the business changed from being just a Mum and her order book to something a little more serious? Can you attribute that changing point to anything?
We started it as if it were a bigger business than it was from the beginning – it was my proper job from the start. Although I was on my own (except for my brother in law Alex who runs freshpage.co.uk and built the website) to an outsider it never looked like a one woman band. The website and stock management system were built so they could handle much bigger numbers, and we had the branded packaging and professional set up. It’s grown month on month with huge boosts at times like Mother’s Day, and then the last few months have really taken us to another level. So it’s a good job we’re not still packing them from my spare room! But it’s been two years, nothing happens overnight.
CMHQ: What one piece of advice would you give anyone starting out on their own or considering turning an idea into an income?
Well first of all the reality is you won’t see any income for a while! Everything gets ploughed back in to the business, so it’s a long term plan rather than a quick money spinner.
On that basis I would say, keep the faith. Stay focused, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing – which is tricky when it’s under your nose constantly on social media. That first year was a rollercoaster and it’s so easy to get knocked and anxious, but you have to keep pulling yourself up (or leaning on your best crew when it all gets too much!) and take a minute each week to look back at how far you’ve come.
CMHQ: And now… tell us about the product range? What are you most proud of?
I love all of them! Genuinely, each product is really carefully picked to be useful or thoughtful or practical – the aim is to let the recipient know they are loved, from dry shampoo to chunky socks to a thermos for a HOT cup of tea. We also work with COOK Food so their vouchers can be added to any package, so the recipient can get meals delivered to their door when they need it. We’ve just launched two new packages that have been really well received – The Gin Package with the Hurrah for Gin book in it (and gin of course), and The Man Package, our first for men.
CMHQ: And how are the new premises shaping up? What difference will they make to how you operate?
It’s brilliant! We’ve just had this bonkers week of orders and rather than thinking ‘oh gawd, I’ve got to get back and get the packing girls in while my kids have their evening melt downs, it’s all happening without me there! We’ve taken on my brother full time as Head of Operations, in charge of fulfilling the orders, managing stock and suppliers and all that side of it, and one of my very best friends manages all the customer enquiries and deliveries. It means I can focus on new ideas and marketing and growth, so it’s a great balance. They are two very different roles and I had to do them both for a period but now it’s just too big, which is a good problem to have!
CMHQ: Is the commute a slog or have you got it all sussed?
I’m not coming back all the time, just when I need to and can fit it in with childcare. But I love coming back to Gloucestershire – it’s so nice to see my family a bit more regularly, and it always feels like coming home driving over the common. Also, I’ve discovered podcasts – including the awesome Scummy Mummies who I know came to see you guys. It’s actually rather nice being in the car with no distraction for two hours!
CMHQ: Finally we don’t suppose that between the family and the business that you get a lot of downtime. But in those rare moments when the stars align to give you a completely free weekend how would you choose to spend it?
My favourite kind of weekend is one with no plans, nowhere to be by a certain time, and when we just hang out the four of us, go swimming, go to the park and end up in the pub for tea. That’s when the kids are most happy and I’m most relaxed. Which may have something to do with the large G&T…
CMHQ: Will you come and speak about being a Mumboss at a CheltenhamMaman even in 2017? We’d all love love love to meet you!
YES please! Would love to.
CMHQ: Thanks Steph. Though you’re technically not a brand born in Gloucestershire we’re sort of planning on adopting you as our own. This county is bursting with inspiring women and we’ve added you to the list; don’t worry, you’re in great company. Thanks again for chatting to us today.
(Oh and Mamans….save the date of Thursday 23rd March (morning) for a MumBoss event with Steph on the topic of Building a Brand!)