3 Sordid Secrets about Flowers – Drugs, Stress and Fire

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Drugs, stress and fire. They all share just one unlikely thing in common, flowers.  Indeed, from bud to bouquet, a flower’s life is not quite as innocent as one would think…
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1)      From The Netherlands with drugs

On occasion, the Dutch flower industry has been utilised by criminals as a cover for some of the most lucrative drug smuggling enterprises known to date.

Chrysanthemums and cannabis seems a highly unlikely coupling. Yet on March 10th 2010, British police unearthed a staggering ten tonnes of skunk with an estimated street value of £30 million in a farm near Swindon. A gang were found to have been purchasing boxes of chrysanthemums at the enormous international flower market at Naaldwijk near The Haig before concealing cannabis inside each and exporting them to Britain.

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Cannabis is by no means an isolated drug in its occasional illegal relationship with the Dutch flower trade.  Indeed, on September 15th 2010, the Spanish National Guard uncovered 120kg of speed masked in a shipment of Dutch flowers. The 400,000 doses of amphetamine sulphate were seized in time to prevent it flooding the market, a strategic move in the preservation of the Spanish population’s aesthetics, as the pictures below of methamphetamine users attests to.

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Rest assured, the only drug with which the flower-buying public has any contact is the crucial plant-food used during the growing process to make flowers beautiful and long-lasting.

2)      Dawn duels for the farmers’ jewels

It’s 6.30am and Europe is contemplating a shower over its morning coffee. Meanwhile, a fierce battle is underway in a small town in Holland where everything is at stake for those who dare to partake. The peaceful lakeside town of Aalsmeer boasts the largest flower auction in the world. The daily auction, frenetic, fast-paced and disturbingly competitive, is an event restricted to only the most stout-hearted members of our species.

After rising at an unseemly hour of the morning, 3000 buyers flock to the Aalsmeer auction house to make or break their fortunes in “the New York stock exchange of flowers”. Each morning upon entering an auction room, one will encounter an auditorium of anxious buyers, eyes frantically darting between the thirteen prominent clocks above and the convoy of flower laden carts below.

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The clocks, invented by a Dutch cauliflower grower in the 1870’s, rapidly tick down the price of the displayed batch of flowers. In order to buy the flowers, a buyer must press a button on their desk which freezes the price at its point on the fast-moving clock. Press too soon and the price paid will be too high, press too late and the competitor to your side will have beaten you to the bunch. Either way, a mistake will prove costly.

3)      Fiery funeral for a flower

A fiery end awaits those ill-starred flowers which remain unsold at the culmination of the auction. These hapless flowers enter a frightening incinerator, never to grace a table.

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As the auction sets a minimum price for each group of flowers, if no buyer stops the clock before it lowers beneath this price, the flowers are deemed unsold and are burnt. Greater numbers of flowers meet this fiery fate during the summer months when the flower yield is greatest yet holiday-making Europe exerts less demand. On a happier note, growers are paid this minimum price by the auction, a Dutch rose earning €0.05 for example.

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Not For The Faint Hearted – "Flower Skeleton Sculptures"

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When travelling around the web, one comes across lots of funny and bizarre things. The “flowers skeleton sculptures” below from Dutch artist Cedric Laquieze must rank amongst the more bizarre offerings we’ve seen recently though. Not a product  / service we’ll be offering at Flowers HQ anytime soon…

Flower Skeleton One

Flower Skeleton Two

Flower Skeleton Three

Flower Skeleton Four

Flower Skeleton Five

Original source.

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Celebrating Our Fifth Birthday and A Look At Our Past Birthdays

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This post is in fact a little overdue as our Birthday was back in July so please excuse the tardiness (what can I say, it was a big party :). Its also been a while since I last wrote a post so seeing both are overdue I thought I would pen this particular post.

Somehow the years have slipped by, summers and winters have come and gone and we have quietly got older and dare I say it, wiser. We celebrated our fifth birthday in July and whilst this may be just a fraction of ones lifetime it is noteworthy as it is a long time in business. Truth is, celebrating our birthday in July is a bit formal as that is based around the paper work of setting up a business and moving into our new warehouse. For me the fun began on the 19th September 2006 when the florists moved in and we made our first sale (so perhaps this post isn’t late, just perfectly timed!). Seeing your hard work come together like that is genuinely priceless.

There have been many exciting times at Arena Flowers, with each year showing growth and innovation in numerous areas of the business. I am lucky enough to have been at Arena from the start and so have watched as we have built upon our foundations and grown up. As a parent I can say this as watching a business evolve is not unlike watching your kids get older, you take pride in each new development and want to tell your family and friends why yours is better than the rest. Will, our MD, may not be a dad (yet) but as the father of our business he will be the first one to talk your ear off about how amazing Arena Flowers is. :)

Much like the pencil marks in my kitchen that show my kids’ growth, I thought I would use this post to highlight some of those moments that have helped grow Arena into the business it is today.

Year One, March 2006 > June 2007

For me the first year starts a little earlier, back in March of 2006, when Will, Steve and I met in my local pub to talk about a website they wanted to build. The plan was to sell flowers, online! That first meeting quickly formed a plan and from there a first draft of a website, this grew and grew until it was something that Will felt confident he could show investors. A short while later, in July, we found ourselves in a board room in Pall Mall signing the incorporation document.

Like any new business our first year was all about setting up. We had set ourselves a significant benchmark, to be the best online florist out there and that required attention to detail in all areas from floristry, customer service, delivery and even our photography. We set about kitting out our new warehouse with a bespoke built fridge for all our flowers, hand made benches for the florists and the necessary phone system and computers.

Will quickly found his feet as MD and was soon immersed in paper work, buying a fleet of vans for our London deliveries and negotiating with suppliers. Steve, who had a background in the flower industry, got to work with the florists getting our ranges together (whilst also working on our SEO and Adwords). With the website up and running (we had finished building it in August 2006) I started work on a long to-do list to add more features to the site with our developer Zach. Having a background in photography and design I also set up a studio upstairs in our warehouse so we could take our own product shots. Jackie was kept very busy building the customer service team which quickly grew to match the increase in orders we were getting. Mariusz our head of distribution, was tasked with managing our London drivers, organising their orders each day and then managing the next day delivery orders. Everyone had their own department to manage and it quickly became evident that there was much to do!

Our first bit of development for the year (enter Henry, developer number 2) was an integration with Parcelforce so that our customers would get instant notifications of the orders being delivered. We also built our own SMS tool to extend this feature. Cool hey! This was followed by adding cross sell to the checkout, so you could add chocolates and balloons etc to your order and our Upload Photo tool which lets you upload a digital photo for us to print out and include with your message card. We had fun building our first Facebook app, Flowers&Fun which lets you send our flowers virtually to your friends on Facebook. As you can see from the links to past posts we also launched our blog. Not a bad start.

Year Two, July 2007 > July 2008

12 months later and with a successful Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day under our belts we felt ready to start building on to the business. We added our International Flower delivery section, allowing our customer to send flowers all over the world. Our chocolate sales impressed our supplier Prestat so much that they asked us to build them their own chocolate website and manage their CS. We also took our first step into Europe, setting up a warehouse and business in Holland and launching ArenaBloemen.nl (which meant a lot of translations and adding Euros to our code base). Hot on the heels of the launch of our Dutch website we set our sights on Germany and armed with our new translations database we set about building ArenaBlumen.de and launched it in April 2008. I had fun branding our vans and my son Luke was born and Will stepped in as Godfather :) A good year all round.

Year Three, July 2008 > July 2009

This year marked our entry into B2B partnerships with our first white label website for Cancer Research UK. We also launched our Arena for Business service which allows approved businesses to order flowers on our website and add them to an invoice rather than getting their credit card out. In July 2008 we were invited to the IMRG online green awards and were delighted to win an OLGA. Enjoying our European expansion we launched our French website ArenaFleurs.fr . With four international websites operational we started building up our bi-lingual marketing team, employing a bright young team each one fluent in their native German, Dutch and French languages, as well as English. Keeping the development ball rolling we released our Calendar Reminder feature allowing our customers to add important dates to their account and we then remind them in time to send flowers next time the Birthday or Anniversary comes around.

Year Four, July 2009 > July 2010

At the end of July 2009 we launched our Dutch language Belgian website ArenaBloemen.be which was followed by the French language Belgian website ArenaFleurs.be. This marked our fourth country in mainland Europe and the realisation that we needed more boots on the ground in Holland. Steve took up the not insignificant task of moving to Holland and learning the language! His dedication to the task at hand and love of the country was confirmed when he married Elsa (who he had met when she joined us to help set up the Dutch website). Meanwhile we completed our API designed to allow larger partners to send us orders through a seamless XML service that manages prices, stock control and delivery dates to name a few. This milestone began some exciting conversations with some very interesting brands, all hush hush as I am sure you can appreciate :) In the later part of 2009 Pascale joined us to head up our marketing team and grow our European roll out. Perhaps the most significant addition to the Arena engine for the year came when Steve set to work planning a new stock control and buying database. Destined to revolutionalise our purchasing and warehouse management in the UK and in Europe the project rapidly expanded and we employed extra developers to help us build this crucial tool. In February 2010 we launched our Twitter app, FlowersFun.co.uk which instantly took off. Winning the Smarta 100 award was a nice way to conclude a very exciting year!

Year Five, July 2010 > July 2011

Seeing the business grow over the past years has caused us all to have to focus on our own specialist tasks. Gone are the days of multitasking, so much so that we hired a Group Financial Controller, Adnan, to manage our group finances < lucky him :) The snow in the winter of 2010 was eye watering to the extent that we are now integrated with 3 full time couriers. Despite this we had a successful Christmas and that was followed by a very slick Valentine’s Day And Mother’s Day. With Steve’s mega database live and monitoring our every step we had complete visibility of all our teams both here and abroad, a system that allowed us to fulfill over five times the number of orders that we delivered over our very first Valentine’s Day. With a larger management team we outgrew our offices in the warehouse and marketing, product and web development and admin moved to shiny new offices opposite BBC Television Centre. Once installed I set to work redesigning our website and in May we released the new design on our UK website and the rest followed shortly after. We also redesigned our product page to better display the photography our new product development team have worked so hard on. Finally, our international focus has caught the attention of the eCommerce Awards for Excellence 2011 and we have been nominated for the International e-Retail Award. The nomination alone is worthy of raising a glass, or two :)

Phew, that wasn’t supposed to be a long post, I guess we had been busier than I though and believe me I left a lot out! As I said at the beginning, five years is a long time in business and knowing we have done all this is testament to the hard work put in by each and every person (past and present) at Arena. To plagiarise Mr Newton we have only come this far today as we stand on the shoulders of giants. Here’s to the next five years.

Good times!

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Top 5 Most Expensive Flowers in the World

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Expensive Flowers

Flowers have always been considered a romantic gift for a loved one, as a pleasure for the eyes and the nose, they are a temporary luxury. Their frail beauty is a perfect combination of tragedy and romance, they are decadent in their lavish glory and impermanence, lasting only a few days before they wither and die. The rarer the flower, the more expensive this short lived gift becomes. Although it is not best to buy too cheaply when trying to woo someone with a bouquet, the following list pushes the financial boundaries far beyond the reach of your average romantic gesture.

5. £600 per pound – Saffron Crocus

Saffrom Crocus
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Saffron Crocus is 5th place in our list, which may come as a surprise to some, as it is neither a rare nor an expensive flower. A bouquet of Saffron Crocus would cost less than a dozen roses, for example. In spite of this however, Saffron Crocus does have a rightful place on the most expensive flowers list because its stamens are cultivated to produce the spice saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron costs $1,000 or around £600 per pound.

4. £80,000 – Bouquet consisted of white orchids, white lilies, moonflowers and the root of a 100 year old ficus

 World's Most Expensive Wedding Bouquet
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4th place goes to the most expensive wedding bouquet of all time. The bouquet consisted of white orchids, white lilies, moonflowers and the root of a 100 year old ficus. However it is not just the flower content that made this bouquet so expensive, as it also contained 90 two-carat red ruby facets, nine one-carat diamonds, and a 21.6-carat star ruby. This is cheating a little bit, but it is still a horrendously expensive bouquet costing $125,000 or around £80,000. The bouquet is still on display on the 6th floor of the Ruby Plaza in Vietnam.

3. £3,000 per flower – Gold of Kinabalu Orchid

Kinabalu Orchid
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The Gold of Kinabalu Orchid, is an endangered species of orchid that can only be found in one small fenced off area in the Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia. This extremely rare flower costs up to $5,000, or £3,000 for just one stem at a time! This incredibly expensive flower is also a very impractical gift, unless of course the occasion falls between April and May, because that is the only time of year that the Gold of Kinabalu Orchid blooms.

2. £160,000 – Shenzhen Nongke Orchid

Shenzhen Nongke Orchid
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The Shenzhen Nongke Orchid is a completely man-made flower that was developed during 8 years of research in agricultural science by its namesake Shenzhen Nongke Group in China. In 2005 the flower was sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for a jaw dropping 1.68 million Yuan, or £160,000. This completely unique Frankenstein flower remains the most expensive flower ever bought.

1. Priceless! – Kadupul Flower

Kadupul Flower
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The Kadupul Flower is at the top of our list, even though it has never been sold for more than the other flowers in the list. The simple reason why the Kadupul Flower is the champion of the most expensive flowers in the world list is: it is completely priceless. No amount of money could ever buy this flower. It is so rare and so frail that it lives for only a few hours, and then dies. Even the local people of its native Sri Lanka seldom see this delicate beauty. Blossoming just before midnight and perishing before dawn, no one, neither orchid-lover nor oligarch, has yet been able to remove the flower from its stem to make a gift of it. Due to its incredibly short life span, this flower has become almost mythical in its status and is revered by many as the most desirable and valuable flower on earth.

Kadupul Flower
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Kadupul Flower
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