In the latest in ECA’s interview series with founders and CEOs of innovative ecommerce brands, we speak to Aron Gelbard, CEO of Bloom & Wild.
Tell us a little about Bloom & Wild?
We are Europe’s leading online flower delivery company, and now have three beautiful brands – Bloom & Wild, bloomon and Bergamotte – trading across eight countries, including the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
We’re probably best known in the UK for pioneering the letterbox delivery concept for our bouquets but over the years we have grown our ranges to include hand tied bouquets, dried flowers, house plants, tiny Christmas trees and last year even large Christmas trees. We think that some 40% of UK households have now either received or gifted one of our bouquets.
We’ve come a long way from the days of me and my co-founder Ben Stanway packing and sending every order ourselves!
Has it been tough disrupting a well-established category?
It was my own poor and frustrating experiences of ordering flowers online as both a sender and receiver that first drew me into the flower industry. Although the industry was well established it was highly fragmented and had been slow to respond to the opportunity that online afforded.
At the time a friend of mine was running Graze, the healthy snacking company, and I saw an opportunity to adapt their letterbox delivery concept to the flower industry. After a few painstaking months spent measuring letterboxes all over London, myself and Ben launched Bloom & Wild in 2013.
From early on we used innovation, technology and data to create a superior customer experience as our way of securing a foothold in the flower industry. We shortened and simplified the supply chain, cutting it by half to substantially increase the vase life of our bouquets. At the same time we were developing our own scalable technology and data science capability, which had never really been done before in the industry.
Today, we use our data and machine learning algorithms to effectively forecast demand and then in real time work with actual stock availability and dynamic merchandising to provide greater availability for customers of what we’ve learnt they’re likely to want. It also helps us limit waste to less than 5%, in an industry where waste can be as high as 40%.
How has the business developed?
We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy 60% plus organic growth each and every year since launch. Initially purely UK focused, we expanded into Germany, France and Ireland in 2017 and Austria in 2020. When Covid hit we were able to meet what was an unprecedented more than doubling of demand, pretty much overnight. These customers who met us during the pandemic have by and large stayed with us as restrictions have eased.
Later this year we will report our 2021 results, which will show a substantial maiden profit. We expect to report a second consecutive year of profit for our current year ending March 2022.
On the back of our Series D fundraising in 2021, which in total raised £105 million of new equity, we stepped up our growth strategy, investing some of the proceeds in two acquisitions. In April we acquired bloomon, a leading brand in the Netherlands and in July we acquired French brand Bergamotte. These acquisitions have consolidated our European leadership position, delivered us strong brands and market share in new markets overnight, whilst providing significant revenue synergies through knowledge sharing across the enlarged group.
What have been the key lessons you’ve learned?
There are many! In the early days I learned the value of using technology throughout the forecasting process. We had over ordered for Valentine’s Day 2015 and I was left with 4,000 red roses in my flat. I spent the day driving around London in my Mini gifting them to hospitals and care homes.
I would also advise anyone looking to start their own business, not to put it off too long. In hindsight I probably didn’t need as many years in consulting before making the leap and there are real benefits to starting young and learning/adapting as you find your feet.
Anything you’d do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Yes. We could have looked at acquisitions earlier on in our evolution. I would challenge the conventional wisdom that acquisitions are a form of replacement/substitute for organic growth. When you are growing at a rapid pace it can be challenge enough just ensuring that your operations can take the strain without any drop-off in customer experience, as well as working hard to ensure the momentum continues.
But acquisitions can deliver strategic benefits, which organic growth alone just can’t do, in addition to which they have the advantage of speed, delivering us overnight highly respected, strong local brands with attractive market shares in new markets.
How important do you view operating ethically and with positive impact?
We all work hard to lead through culture and values, together with exceptional levels of customer satisfaction. We live and breathe our core values of Innovation, Care, Delight, Pride and Customer First. This really sets the tone for how we do business.
A good example is how we pioneered the idea of offering customers an ‘opt-out’ of marketing for sensitive occasions such as Mother’s Day. And we founded the Thoughtful Marketing Movement to encourage other brands to adopt the practice, sharing the knowledge and the tools to implement it. Take-up has been beyond our expectations, with our opt-out discussed in Parliament, over 170 sign-ups to the Movement, and other multinational companies following our lead.
And it’s really important to me and the team that we are environmentally responsible and take meaningful steps to reduce our impact on the plant. We measure and offset our full emissions – covering scope 1, 2 and 3 – using approved offsetting programmes, as well as redesigning our processes and procedures to reduce our impact.
What’s your best route for customer acquisition and how do you retain them?
We are very fortunate that about half of our new customers come to us having first been the recipient of one of our bouquets or through a customer recommendation. This level of brand advocacy is rare and speaks of the whole team’s efforts to ensure that we always deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is backed up with our UK customer Net Promoter Score, which at +85 puts us above global giants including Amazon, Apple and Netflix.
Personalisation is a big trend, how are you dealing with this?
Our data capability is second to none in the industry. With our customer insights from over two billion data points, and millions more added each and every week, we are able to put in front of customers at the right times, those products that we think will most appeal to them, making it easier for them to find the perfect choice for the person and occasion they’re buying for.
Our app has also proved its worth, with over 25% of orders in the UK now made through this channel. We can see that those customers using the app typically have higher customer satisfaction levels, and a higher lifetime value. There is a huge focus continuing on personalisation and rolling out the data capability and app across our enlarged group.
Would you consider having any stores?
We are an ecommerce business first, operating in an industry which continues to transition online so there’s a lot of opportunity to go after in the online space. That said, we’ve partnered very successfully with Sainsbury’s in the UK and our latest acquisition, Bergamotte, has experimented with the use of pop-ups. One of the benefits of acquisitions is the sharing of knowledge across the group and we will look and see if there is value in trialling these pop-ups more widely, which could help with broader brand building rather than a pure sales driver.
What were the key reasons for going overseas?
Ecommerce recognises few geographic boundaries and like most entrepreneurs considering launching a business in this space we had an eye on the international opportunity from the very start. From the beginning when we were building out our tech and data platform we always considered the flexibility required to extend into other territories.
For us it was simple; Europe is a growing £22 billion market that is fast and irreversibly transitioning online. Why stop at the UK?
What does the acquisition of Dutch rival bloomon signify?
bloomon was our first acquisition and it was a big one. If it signifies anything it speaks to our ambition. Not only did it give us instant and significant share in three new markets including the Netherlands, but it also increased our size in the important German market by some 50% and gave us a strong local brand, to trade alongside Bloom & Wild.
There are also revenue synergies, and just a few months into integration we’ve found even more upside than planned in certain areas. Our knowledge sharing across the group is working both ways. For example, we’re building the learnings from their more developed subscription product into an updated subscription offering for the Bloom & Wild brand in the UK. bloomon by contrast is benefiting from our strength in occasion-based gifting and our use of data to power more efficient and effective marketing.