Aron Gelbard looks alarmed as I lean to touch a small, pink pineapple. The co-founder and chief executive of Bloom & Wild is showing me one of his company’s signature letterbox bouquets, flat-packed in a slim box, at the firm’s office in a Vauxhall startup hub.
Since it launched in 2013, Bloom & Wild has reinvented flower gifting in the UK by using a modernised, tech-focused strategy to deliver its attractively named letterbox bouquets.
The pineapple I’m reaching out for features in a summer bunch of pink snapdragons and dark tropical leaves called the Carmen, just one of the 15 or so bouquets Bloom & Wild offers at any one time.
The company sells hand-tied bouquets in larger boxes, but it’s the convenient letterbox sets – self-assembled by the person it has been sent to – which are its flagship product, comprising between 80 and 90 per cent of sales.
Bloom & Wild’s ascension has been impressive. It has quickly risen to become the top-rated seller in its sector, besting lists on the likes of reviews.co.uk, the Apple Store, the Android Playstore, and Google Reviews.
Since 2013, when Gelbard put some of his own savings into starting up the group, it has amassed £7m in funding, including a £2.5m series A round led by MMC in July 2015, and a series B round led by Burda Principal Investments in February this year.
Revenues, which are undisclosed, grew more than three times in 2016 over 2015, and are set to double this year on last. The company will likely turn a profit “soon”.
For a business built on making flower gifting “the joy that it should be”, it may come as a surprise that this was not the service Gelbard and his co-founder, Ben Stanway, initially set out to provide.
When Bloom & Wild was founded, the pair had visions of using the letterbox delivery strategy to build a subscription-based model for flowers, similar to snack delivery group Graze.
“When we started, you couldn’t choose the flowers, and we only delivered on Thursdays. You had to order by Monday for delivery on Thursdays, and could only order on a desktop, via Visa card… it was pretty basic,” Gelbard says.
The fast realisation that few customers could maintain a flower subscription service and that their company was actually a gifting business changed “the whole customer economics of the business”. They reoriented the digital marketing strategy to put more focus on email and reminders of events such as birthdays, anniversaries and major holidays. The most popular year-round gifting events, for example, are mothers’ birthdays (and the most frequent gifting pairing being daughters sending their mothers flowers), while Mother’s Day, Christmas and Valentine’s Day are relevant to customers across the board.
A corporate gifting arm has also expanded rapidly, offering companies the ability to send Bloom & Wild flowers in bulk to customers as a bonus gift – or, on the other hand, as an apology gift if something has gone wrong. (According to Gelbard a yellow and purple bouquet of freesias and alstroemerias called the Jessie is the most popular “sorry” bouquet for companies to send.)
When the company started, Gelbard and Stanway were newcomers to the cut flower trade – a market worth more than £2bn in the UK, and growing.
Gelbard worked as a consultant at asset manager Bain Capital where he dealt with retail, consumer and tech companies. His previous employer was supportive of the venture, giving him sabbaticals and letting him extend them until he was ready to make the move full-time.
Switching to entrepreneurship was “a huge adjustment”, the 35-year-old says; one that saw him going from having “my own office in a nice building on the Strand with an assistant” to “packing flowers in a room that we were renting by the hour in New Covent Garden Market in the middle of winter”.
As well as wanting to pursue the kind of entrepreneurship that was “going to make people happy rather than just sell widgets or whatever”, Bloom & Wild’s genesis came from identifying a fundamental gap in the market.
“People were going to Google and typing in ‘flower delivery Birmingham’, clicking a few links and ordering like that – not really having any brand loyalty,” Gelbard explains.
“It felt like a space that hadn’t really been modernised. There wasn’t really anybody who tried to bring great technology into the flower industry, or anybody who had really created an affordable luxury brand at scale.
“So that made me feel like there was an opportunity to do something a little bit differently and maybe the fact that I was from outside the industry would help me to have a new perspective.”
Part of that new perspective is having an emphasis on tech and data, which is paying off when it comes to preventing waste and understanding orders. Knowing roughly how many bouquets will be available at any one time allows Bloom & Wild to buy in bulk, cutting out middlemen, and poorly performing bunches can be “retired” quickly, such as wheat-containing bouquets last year that proved to be poor sellers.
The company’s trove of data on what performs well in the UK market will be a crucial point of comparison when it expands its service to other territories, taking the aesthetic of the English country garden into Ireland, France and Germany, a move it is currently in the process of completing.
“We think that sort of British aesthetic and design can be really successful in France and in Germany, so rather than coming up with a really different house style I think we’ll start with a similar style which we’ve developed over a few years and see how that goes down in other countries,” Gelbard says.
Bloom & Wild’s move into the continent won’t entail opening a physical office overseas, at least not at this point.
In terms of the main spectre of UK-EU relations at the moment – Brexit – Gelbard believes the biggest impact of Brexit “will be access to talent.
“Like many startups, we’ve hired really quickly. We have almost 50 people on our team now – a number of people come from other countries in the EU. Especially our software developers, who come from countries in Eastern Europe where there are a lot of great engineering schools.
“My biggest worry about Brexit is that it’s already really difficult to find engineers in particular, and I worry that it will be even more difficult if it’s harder for people with these skills that we don’t have enough of in the UK to come here.”