Family flower business blooms

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 13:13 24/02/2014
Aromaunga Flowers
John Kirk-Anderson

FLOWER POWER: Kerryn Lyes, left, Lena Kraft, and Doris Gachnang at work at Aromaunga Flowers, The Tannery.

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In a tough environment of cheap imports and low margins, the city's oldest family-owned florist has survived 30 years in the business. TESS McCLURE talks to Aromaunga Flowers about the thorny business of floristry.

Aromaunga Flowers has survived seeing an original shop destroyed in the earthquake, three subsequent location moves, and a tough, low-margins industry threatened by foreign imports.

But for them, business is blooming.

A team of seven full-time florists work on between two and four weddings every weekend, and more than 120 weddings a year, as well as selling bunches to around 80 customers a day.

"We've been inundated with wedding inquiries, and have never had to turn so many away," co-owner Hannah Marsh Dore says.

Established in 1983 as a family owned cut-flower farm, the flower shop remains in family hands, run by mother-daughter team Elisabeth Marsh and Hannah Marsh Dore.

But even for the longest standing and most experienced, floristry can be something of a prickly business.

This Valentines Day, the New Zealand Flower Growers Association estimated that half of the 600,000 roses sold would be imports from India and Colombia - with subsidised foreign blooms sometimes half the price of their kiwi competitors.

It's a discount which Elisabeth says "simply ruins the market for the local growers".

Adding some insult to economic injury, imported roses are dipped in pesticide for 20 minutes, to kill bugs, and shorten the bouquet's lifespan. This approach - which triggered alarm for romantics hoping to sprinkle petals on cakes or bathtubs - is quite opposite to Aromaunga, which sells locally grown and foraged blooms.

Elisabeth Marsh considers the poison-dipped flowers with a degree of sadness. "Once they've been dipped, you know, the roses don't actually open. They just stand still - frozen, really."

Aromaunga itself has been far from frozen - experiencing several incarnations and locations over the last three decades. At its original site on Bridle Path road, the flower farm supplied markets, with no real shop.

The retail side began informally, and built momentum.

"People just kept driving up the drive wanting to buy flowers, and it grew and grew," Elisabeth says.

But in the February 2011 earthquake, the building they traded from was destroyed. Unable to rebuild the flower shop from scratch, they moved to a temporary Port Hills premises, before making the final shift to Woolston's Tannery last year.

Flowers have always been part of life, and family drives were often interrupted by foliage-gathering detours.

"We'd go out in my old orange Volkswagen Beetle, with the dog in the back and Hannah in the front, and return with flax flowers, bullrushes and rosehips just bursting out the back windows," Elisabeth says.

The store today still shuns artificial, highly treated bunches, and roadside-grown additions will often turn up in arrangements - forget-me-nots, fennel, or the occasional bough of crab apples.

"Our aesthetic is a little rustic," Elisabeth says. "It has to be beautiful and useful. Fragrant, unstructured, wild. A bouquet should look sumptuous, not bare. It must be full of flowers."

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Having a distinctive aesthetic has helped them to build a loyal customer base, essential for florists who face stock easily wasted before it's sold, and slim profit margins. "We've really tried to achieve a shop full of flowers - fresh flowers - and that is extremely rare today."

It seems to have worked, and business at the Tannery is strong.

Hannah says the switch to a retail space has brought a swathe of new customers, and larger premises mean more projects. "We both love what we do, and we love being here. Being able to have a dream of both of ours - of having a flower shop - come true."

- BusinessDay

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