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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.