Having gone from a traditional family farming business to one of the leading biodegradable confetti producers in the UK, we hear from Shropshire Petals Marketing Manager Ashley Corrigan how the business has gone from strength to strength.
To start with, can you explain more about how Shropshire Petals was founded?
Michael and Rosemary Bubb are third generation farmers who initially founded the business. Alongside the traditional arable business, they also originally sold whole flowers into the dried flower market. This was very much at the time of the Laura Ashley era, but the market for this literally dried up overnight.
With surplus flowers, Michael and Rosemary identified that there was a growing need for dried petals. This was a change in mindset from selling whole flowers, but they could see there was a growing demand of natural petals to be used by the wedding industry as confetti.
As a result, Shropshire Petals was born in 2005 with very little in the way of resource and the business grew from here. We started with very small orders, and now we are selling our petals internationally as well as in the UK.
How has the business model evolved to where you are now?
One of our USPs, which we are very proud of, is that everything is grown, picked, stored and shipped from the farm in Shropshire which has very much shaped the business model, processes and systems we have in place.
Jim, one of Michael and Rosemary’s sons runs this side of the business and is responsible for all the agronomy. Everything is grown, harvested by hand during the summer and then dried and stored onsite.
90% of our orders are made online, so we have a system in place which ensures everything is made to order and dispatched mainly by Royal Mail. We do use couriers if needed and also ship internationally for orders that are abroad.
How many people are part of the Shropshire Petals team?
There are eight of us between the office and dispatch, and then during harvest we can have up to 100 people onsite. Our seasonal workers are a big part of our team and we generally see 60 to 70% of these return each year which is great as we get to know them, and they get to know the systems.
Petals are a very delicate product and with the potential to have a short shelf-life, how do you manage this?
This is something we have learnt how to manage over the years. We tend to grow enough petals for a year and a half which means the petals must be stored away from heat, light and moisture to preserve their quality.
Some of the flower varieties, such as the orange calendula, will naturally lose their colour after a couple of years and so rather than grow yellow calendulas we use the older petals to meet the demand for this colour.
Are there any other challenges the business has to deal with?
Every business has their own challenges, and there is no getting around the fact that we are producing a fragile product.
For us, our harvest time is fixed due to the British summer time but this also coincides with our busiest wedding period so time is constrained during these months. However, we know this and put plans in place to be able to manage this. With planning and preparation we can do more and still deliver.
One service we offer our customers is ‘delayed delivery.’ This means that wedding parties can place an order for their petals months in advance of their big day. As we then know about the order we can prepare this in advance which helps us with the time limitations during busy periods.
Predicting wedding trends can also be tricky and therefore knowing what colours may be on trend for the coming year is not always easy but we keep in touch with people in the industry and do our own research to keep on top of this.
We carry out field trials each year for new varieties and colours to ensure we keep a pace with the changes, but with a whole growing season to contend with it’s a long-term investment to see what the outcome may be, and there is no guarantee the outcome will be worthwhile; it’s often trial and error.
Is your core market prospective brides and grooms?
Predominately yes. Our main demographic are females between the ages of 22 and 35. We do operate with trade as well, for example we have a contract with the handmade cosmetics company Lush who use some of our delphiniums in their bath oil products, but our core market is weddings.
We have carved ourselves a niche market. Being one of the few growers in the country to sell a product with guaranteed provenance ticks a lot of boxes for prospective brides.
How has your product range developed since the business started?
Our petals come in all shapes and sizes. There is the option to select pre-chosen confetti in boxes, cones, wands, pops, pouches and more.
In addition, we also have the option for people to ‘pick and mix’ their confetti choosing the colours they want, and more recently we have introduced a personalised range meaning brides and grooms can add that tailored extra to their special day.
Weddings are very individual with each bride and groom having their own idea of what they want on their special day and we have to be able to match this with the type of confetti we can offer.
How do you market yourselves?
The most important thing for us is to ensure that we are consistent with our marketing message whatever communication channel we use. The fact that we do the growing, harvesting and dispatch as well as the fact that we are human are factors we feel are important to share with our actual and prospective customers.
We do a lot to communicate our message such as newsletters, blogs on our website, wedding fairs and social media. As most of our customers are purchasing their confetti through our website it is important that there are physical touch points in our marketing plan to ensure our customers feel they are being treated like a person rather than a number.
We want their experience with us to be as seamless as possible and we continue to take on board feedback from our customers to ensure we are delivering the best product and service we can.
And finally, what is the future vision for Shropshire Petals?
Like most businesses our vision is to continue to increase sales but as we do so to ensure we retain the family ethos which Shropshire Petals is built on.
We are just starting to dip our toe in the international market. It would be a dream to have our petals available internationally but in other counties biodegradable confetti is not the norm. The paper equivalent is very much common place and therefore we are going to have to start a revolution for people to start wanting natural petals.
Shropshire Petals is a great place to work, with an attitude where trying new ideas is encouraged rather than marred and from a business that started with nothing we’ve achieved a lot in the last 13 years.
Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas
Shropshire Petals fact file: