Surrounded by beautiful flowers like Gardinia, Orchids and Magnolia, Suzanne lived in Malaya as a child. Her inspiration for floristry came from early memories of her mother arranging flowers at home.
1972 saw the launch of Suzanne’s first business. She set up Lincoln Plant Hire to hire out fresh plants to corporate clients whilst working from home. Suzanne is passionate about her family and she wanted to be able to work around her children’s school hours.
Suzanne thoroughly enjoyed studying for her first flower arranging qualifications with Mrs Damms in North Hykeham. Before long Mrs Damms, recognising Suzanne’s natural talent, suggested she take things further. Whilst juggling family life and her new business Suzanne began her floristry qualifications at the London School of Floristry. The course would take 2 years to complete, with Suzanne studying in London Monday to Friday.
“I will always remember travelling home from London on the train, laden with my floral creations and doing my homework on the journey so I had some time to spend with my family at the weekend.”
As the industry and people’s tastes changed Suzanne adapted her business to suit the trends of the time. Artificial flowers became the fashion so renamed the business Lincoln Flower Hire, sold her caravan and used the money to purchase her first stock of artificial flowers from Continental Imports in Blackpool.
Suzanne wanted to remain working from home to be around for her children so she converted a large shed in her garden which became the base for her business. She would arrange the artificial flowers by setting them in plasticine which had been softened overnight be leaving the heaters on in the shed. Suzanne would then sell these arrangements to the coastal hotels of Lincolnshire.
The beginning of Flowers by Suzanne as we know it today came when Suzanne was approached by a similar business in Navenby who wanted to sell. An agreement was made and Suzanne took over their contracts, including one with the RAF bases at Scampton, Waddington and Cottesmore. Many of these new contracts were for fresh rather than artificial flowers and so Suzanne’s fresh flower business was born.
One of the most lovely stories from the early days comes from Suzanne being asked by RAF Scampton to create a large design to hide some cigarette and slot machines because an important, unnamed guest was going to be visiting the base. Suzanne created a garden within the Mess at RAF Scampton which included a pond. She had an instinct that the secret visitor might be the Queen Mother so she included some of the Queen Mother’s favourite flower, blue hydrangea in the design, just in case.
“I was absolutely delighted when the Mess Manager called me the following day to say that the visitor had indeed been the Queen Mother. The most special thing was that the Queen Mother had noticed the blue hydrangeas and commented on the fact that they were her favourite flower. You never forget something like that”.
A similar thing happened in the 1980’s when Suzanne was requested to design a feature at RAF Cottesmore to hide a hole in a carpet – this time the undisclosed visitor was the Queen.
It was in the early 1980’s that Suzanne took on her first employee. As her business began to outgrow her garden shed she began her search for a retail shop in North Hykeham. She eventually converted the Barbers Shop at 141 Moor Lane and later purchased the adjoining property and renovated it into one shop. Moor Lane houses the headquarters of Flowers by Suzanne to this day.
Suzanne remembers her son Mark often visiting her in the shop on his way home from school and to ask if she needed any help. After 20 years in the Armed Forces, Mark returned home to talk about joining the family business. He trained as a florist with Constance Spry in London and completed his Masters in Tourism before joining Flowers by Suzanne in 2005.
As well as running her business Suzanne is also a very active member of the Lincoln community. She is currently a board member of the Lincoln Business Improvement Group, Investors in Lincoln and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce of which she became the first Lady President in 2002. Suzanne was Mayor of North Hykeham in 2009 and 2010 and has been a Councillor in North Hykeham for 6 years.
Suzanne can hardly believe she has been in business 40 years. She has enjoyed working with her team, the flowers and overcoming and learning from the challenges the last 40 years have thrown at her.
“A family business with values is what matters and creating jobs for good people in the community around us. A family business is hard because you take it home with you, always thinking about the customers and making sure you have done everything you promised, because at the end of the day any business is all about the customers”.
Suzanne talks with fondness about her husband Keith. He has been her main support throughout the past 30 years in business and when he retired from his career in the power station industry he focused his efforts on assisting Suzanne. She is very proud of Keith and grateful for his support.
Being a working, entrepreneurial Mum Suzanne believes needs one more thing than the usual drive and determination to make a business work. And that is a home. The home has to be your first priority, your husband, children, family and friends, cooking a proper meal, sitting down together to eat and talk, creates the grounds for everything in life, including a good business.
She is excited about where the business will go and is looking forward to see what her son Mark will do next.
Look out for more of Suzanne’s stories in future blogs.