Market a perfect fit for Hybrid model

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Flower Market customer Hybrid Flowers is 20 years old this year. Originating from Covent Garden, for the past 12 years Hybrid’s home has been on Bondway in Vauxhall, a short walk from NCGM. The studio-based corporate and events florist has grown to become one of London’s top flower companies, creating floral designs for events, parties, weddings, hotels and offices. Market Times met the floral designer’s driving forces: Caroline Ball, Alan Simpson and Pamela Lada.

Hybrid Flowers was set up in 2004 by Caroline and Alan, whose paths had crossed “so many times since the late ’90s” that they soon became great friends, eventually deciding to set up in business together. “We first met in Chelsea, then again in the West End and finally in Camden; someone was trying to tell us something!” said Caroline in the on-site studio interview.

She adds: “Just before we took the plunge and started up as an official company, I was on the lookout for potential clients everywhere. So much so that I decided to walk onto a building site in central London and ask them if we could do the flowers for the building when it was completed. The occupant turned out to be a very big law firm, we got the job and we provide their weekly office and event flowers to this very day! We were (and actually still are) so excited and optimistic about the future that we took on every opportunity that presented itself.”

“We set up our Hybrid Flowers workshop in the old laundry rooms of a large conference and banqueting venue in the heart of Covent Garden,” says Caroline. “It was meant to be temporary but we stayed there… in the very centre of London… for eight years. And we still do the flowers for that building too!”

Alan takes up the story: “Loyalty is very important to us and we are so proud to still work with a lot of our original customers. We’ve never advertised – all our growth has been word of mouth through the clients and venues that we’ve worked with.

“Fast-forward 20 years and during that time we have worked with massive blue-chip corporations, iconic London buildings and truly remarkable and creative organizations. We have just been listed as an accredited florist for events at the National Gallery and we are terribly proud of all of our clients just as much as we are proud of our amazing team of brilliant people.”

At the time of writing, the Hybrid Flowers’ team of florists was nine-strong, though it was recruiting additional florists when Market Times visited. “It is very important that the company is not just about the founders. We are very proud of the work that everyone, over the years, has put into the company, and so it is hugely important that our team of wonderfully talented people blend perfectly together,” Alan says.

Studio Nirvana
The Vauxhall studio that Hybrid relocated to in 2012 is, they say “the florist’s nirvana: a living, breathing space for props, vases and work benches; a nice cool temperature that our flowers love; and a creative office space for client meetings and team brainstorming”.

“What’s more”, Pamela, Hybrid’s Head Designer, adds, “it’s just a stone’s throw from our favourite suppliers at the Flower Market.”

Alan explains: “The market has always been really important to us; it is at the heart of everything we do. We buy almost everything from there, (apart from a few specific British-grown products and bespoke props). When we first started out it really was just two people (Caroline and me) chatting about flowers all day, every day, so it was a relief to venture into the market to talk to somebody else about them! The people at the market became our colleagues, we could vent to them and learn from them – they became as important to the company as we were. And it’s the same to this day; a lot of those people are still there and they are our friends, part of our Hybrid family.”

Caroline says: “Back in the day we used to deal extensively with John Austin, Dennis Edwards and Zest Flowers. We now buy regularly from Green & Bloom, Pratleys, G.B Foliage and Porters Foliage, Whittington’s and Quality Plants…” Alan interjects, “In fact, there is not one stand in the market that we haven’t bought something from in the last couple of months.”

Alan lives in Margate now and tends to get to the market for around 7.15am, but “our Eddie” (another Hybrid stalwart and familiar face in the market) has usually been in earlier to pick up the orders. Because we have such great relationships, we can always call someone and know that they will help us if they can”, Alan continues, “so on my way in I will often ring Terry at Green & Bloom and ask him if he has got something that he can set aside for me.”

Premium Expectations
Like all florists, Hybrid is reliant on accurate quality, availability and pricing information from the people it buys from, to ensure it can deliver as promised to the customer network. Pamela says: “We’ve always known that we’re only as good as the product we sell. We almost take it for granted that we will get that service from NCGM.”

She believes that while it’s hard to compare quality with alternative sources, as the Hybrid team buys nearly everything from the market, they take great comfort in knowing that the traders at NCGM “understand who our clients are. “For example, they know which flowers are perfect for our 7-day hotel contracts and which flowers need to be ‘open and flourishing’ on just the right day for a large awards event,” she says.

In a nutshell then, what does the market mean to Hybrid? “It’s our home…. our base,” says Alan. “We just love having the market on our doorstep and it means the world to us. It means we can always be creative. Sometimes you can be sitting in the office late one evening agonising over the perfect flower to make a design really stand out for, say, a corporate proposal and all it needs is a visit to the market the following morning to spot something amazing that will finish the design off perfectly.”

So how is the company celebrating its 20th anniversary? “We will no doubt take the team out for a celebratory drink or two,” says Caroline, “but we have found ourselves reflecting a lot. We’re actually gobsmacked that it’s been 20 years – it has just flown by!

“We are slightly tweaking our brand logo; we’ve had the same one for 20 years, and we love it, but we are really celebrating our love of colour and freshening everything up for a new look.

“We’re also changing our website and we’ll be doing a lot more video – we were filming in the market recently and involved many of our suppliers and clients. People were so pleased to be asked to comment on our work and their kind words have been overwhelming. So it’s been a really eye-opening thing to do. We’d never really done that before.”

The anniversary comes on the back of a period that has challenged pretty much everyone in floristry circles. “We won’t be the only ones who had a massive reset during the pandemic and although we wouldn’t have chosen it, we had to look for the positive side to it,” Caroline admits.

Alan says it was the biggest challenge to the events industry in recent history, explaining: “Like a lot of florists, it has made us evaluate what we do, and how we do it. During lockdown, some florists channelled their efforts into online retail orders, but as we had never invested in being a retail florist, we stuck to our guns, kept our focus on our corporate clients and waited for events to resume.”

Caroline adds: “It was worth the risk. Over the last three years, we have worked on some fabulous projects and beautiful events. In fact, the boundaries between corporate and private events have blurred so much since lockdown. Corporate clients have focussed on enticing their staff back to the office with lovely events and experiential installations. Some of the designs that our weekly contract flowers team have created for the boardroom or reception desk are so much more soft and beautiful than they used to be, more reminiscent of styles people might have at home.”

Pamela says that although enquiries nowadays do tend to be a bit more last minute, it keeps the whole Hybrid team on their toes. We are all really enjoying our work,” she says. “The designs we are making for clients this spring and summer are going to be stunning with some very exciting projects that are going to keep us, and therefore the market, just that little bit busier!”

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