Take a leaf out of the florist's book and grow profits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2007, 12:00am

NO CONFERENCE HALL, newly opened store or head office worthy of the name would go without its decorative array of brilliant green potted plants or towering bouquets.

There are plenty of opportunities in the horticulture industry for those with a passion for plants and an interest in doing business with commercial and industrial clients and the flower-loving general public.

Everyone in Hong Kong is aware that vast quantities of flowers grace the lanes and side streets of the famous Mong Kok flower market, and that blooms and plants are available at umpteen flower nurseries scattered throughout the New Territories, and in Tai Po, in particular.

When seasonal flowers were required for Christmas and the Lunar New Year, residents in Hong Kong Island headed to Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, said Jay Ko, project manager at Lung Shan Garden, a provider of landscape design works.

There are hundreds of florists across Hong Kong, and the yearly consumption of flowers is about HK$30 million to HK$40 million, according to government figures.

'This does not include flowers bought by the government or for business consumption, such as in shopping malls or for professional decorating jobs, and so on,' Mr Ko said.

Belinda Ko is marketing manager at Brighten Floriculture. She said customers generally fell into two categories.

'One is the loyal customer who visits the flower market once or twice a week, and spends about HK$100 each time. The other is the occasional customer who visits the flower market usually during the Lunar New Year,' Ms Ko said.

'Hong Kong people like fresh flowers for their homes during this period, and they are willing to spend even more than the regular customer.'

Sales also fall into two categories, plants and fresh-cut flowers.

'Some customers are looking for artificial or dried flowers, but the proportion is smaller than that for plants and fresh cut-flowers,' she said.

Ms Ko said that until about a decade ago, between 40 and 50 per cent of plants and cut flowers sold in Hong Kong were imported, from the Netherlands especially, the rest coming from the mainland and local nurseries.

'Now with China opened up to the outside world, the mainland supplies 75 to 85 per cent of our plants and cut flowers.'

As with most products, the flower industry has its seasonal peaks and lows, although these are usually linked to the weather and traditional celebrations, rather than market fluctuations.

'The peak season usually starts in October and continues until February, after the Lunar New Year,' Ms Ko said. 'In autumn the weather gets cooler and is suitable for growing plants and flowers, so there is a greater selection of plants and flowers to choose from.

'Traditionally, customers like to buy new plants or flowers in the Lunar New Year period. Mother's Day is another peak time. People buy bunches of flowers or bouquets for their mothers.'

Other occasions for buying flowers are anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and engagements and condolences.

The low season sets in at the end of the Lunar New Year, and there is another lull in the hot, humid months of June, July and August. Horticulturists and florists have a hard time keeping their businesses going during these difficult months.

One way to stay in business and handle the competition, according to Mr Ko of Lung Shan Garden, is to keep up with the trends and come up with fresh ideas and varied products, and take a new approach to outdoors business.

In recent years, commercial horticulture has opened up opportunities in floral accessories with design elements. 'Customers welcome these,' Mr Ko said. Most were looking for tailor-made designer products, rather than the usual basic materials, he added.

Another trend in commercial horticulture is the one-stop service that offers design, production and installation of plant and floral displays.

A career in horticulture and floristry requires a love of plants and flowers, and also a flair for business and a knowledge of products.

Products in the business come in all forms. One company may deal in pots, vases, garden tools, seeds, sand, agricultural poison, fertiliser and rockwork, while another may deal in foam and greenhouse products. Flowers and plants range from orchids, roses, lilies, tulips and carnations to water lilies, lotus and other aquarium plants.

Those with a flair for floral design would fit well in the industry, said Ms Ko of Brighten Floriculture.