Down to Business: Don't Buy Her Flowers

Reader's Digest Editors 7 April 2021

Steph Douglas, founder of Don't Buy Her Flowers, on her business successes and lessons she's learned. 

RD: For those who aren't familiar, how would you describe what Don’t Buy Her Flowers does?

Steph Douglas: We send thoughtful gift packages for all occasions which offer TLC and are all about encouraging the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves.

Customers can choose from a set package, like "5 Minutes Peace" and the "Spring Walk Package", or they can create their own with items they know their recipient will love. You can choose from beauty, books, teas or booze, snacks, and more.

RD: What did you do before Don’t Buy Her Flowers? And how has your past experience led you here?

SD: I worked in PR, brand, and marketing across a number of organisations in government and then my last role was at EDF Energy working on the London 2012 sponsorship.

I gained strong experience in devising marketing campaigns, managing agencies, and a good overview of how to communicate with people and sell a product. I also met my head of marketing there and the contacts I made during my years in employment were priceless. 

Sophy of Dont Buy Her Flowers

RD: When did the idea for Don’t Buy Her Flowers come to you? And why do you think it's needed?

SD: When I had my first baby, I received around eight bunches of flowers. They were obviously well-meant, but it struck me as bizarre that the go-to gift was another thing to care for, when you’re doing more caring than you’ve ever done in your life. I found those initial weeks of motherhood overwhelming and emotional and what I really needed was someone to just tell me it would be ok and maybe offer me a bit of TLC.

From then on when a friend had a baby, I started sending packages with treats for them. A magazine, chocolate, a mini gin—nothing big, but just accompanied with words of encouragement. Their reaction was always so unnecessarily grateful, and it made me curious as to why someone wasn’t doing that. 

"In the last year alone we've seen a 600% growth"

It was after my second maternity leave when I really couldn’t shake the idea and combined with wondering how my role at work was going to fit with family life, I started to get curious about the idea of running my own business. I started a blog as a bit of a stepping stone, writing honestly about motherhood and relationships, and the success of that told me that other people felt like me—overwhelmed and a bit lost—and acknowledgment of those feelings really helped me connect with people.

I launched as gifts for new mums a few months later and very quickly found customers wanted to send our packages for a whole host of reasons—always to offer TLC, but for birthdays, bereavement, work gifts etc. Nearly seven years on we now have 32 employees, upsized our warehouse at the end of 2019 and then, when the pandemic hit, it went to a whole other level—in the last year alone seeing 600% growth, which has been crazy. 

RD: What does a typical workday look like for you? Has it changed with lockdown?

SD: Yes, with three children at home on and off throughout the lockdowns, it has changed massively! My husband and I are working from home and so we juggle our calls, workloads and family life between us. The first lockdown, when everything changed overnight and all three were at home, is a bit of a blur to be honest! I’m grateful that the older two (8 and 10) are the ages they are as they could cope with zoom classes and school work—I really feel for anyone with younger children or teens. It helped when nurseries opened in June as the three-year-old did not respect the school timetable!

I work at the warehouse for a couple of days every week as the majority of the team are there and with such fast growth, we’ve needed to really pull together and constantly relook at systems and plans to keep up with that growth. My brother and two of my oldest friends work with me, so it’s also been good to see them!

In terms of my schedule and role, every day is different from working with my team on planning, driving projects forward, sometimes a PR interview or virtual event. I try to log off after school—some days they have clubs to make the day a bit longer, but generally will still have an eye on emails. There’s always more to do and some days I’m better at switching off than others. 

dont buy her flowers example box

RD: Has lockdown changed what your customers are looking for? 

SD: The main difference for us during lockdown has been the demand for our packages. It’s been amazing but also strange to be successful during this time. While so many businesses had to cease trading, we saw the need for thoughtful gifts rise. The first lockdown in 2020 was a week before Mother’s Day, we also featured on the Lorraine show that week and sales rocketed. I am so grateful we could meet this demand—it was unexpected and obviously had logistical and operational challenges, but I’m lucky to have an amazing team who really worked together and a business that was allowed to stay open.

We have since built a much larger base of customers and have a lot of repeat customers so we’ve got much better at bringing in new products, changing them up, seeing what customers like. Crosswords and books were very popular during lockdowns, along with G&Ts, tea and chocolate!

RD: What positive change do you see Don’t Buy Her Flowers making in the world?

SD: The feedback we get is often about how we help people connect—whether that’s showing empathy, acknowledging a birthday, someone who is living away from a loved one, or someone who wants to reach someone going through a difficult time and let them know they’re loved. The fact that our products are often about encouraging someone to take time for themselves conveys so much more than just "a gift", which I definitely underestimated when we started. We get a lot of messages about recipients crying when they open their package, because someone has really thought about them.

We have always had charity partnerships too and with the success the pandemic has brought that has meant we’ve been able to give back more. We donated £22,000 last year to charities we are affiliated with. We ongoing partnership with Stand Up To Cancer and baby loss charity Teddy’s Wish, having developed packages with them and donating from those sales. This year we’ve also partnered with family support charity, Home-Start UK, throughout the whole of March 2021 with a donation of £1 from every order placed.

"I’m a big fan of having a nap when all else fails"

RD: What do you do to switch off from work?

SD: I used to love weekends with no plans and just hanging with my family, although after the last year I think we could all do with a bit more social interaction and a few plans! I’m a big fan of having a nap when all else fails. When you feel irritable or anxious it might be pure exhaustion and so I go (usually sneak!) upstairs on a weekend if we’re all home and I can disappear for an hour. Sometimes it’s not possible, but when it is, I find it really helps reset things.

Sleep is the key to everything and it takes the pressure off getting a good nights' sleep, which usually means I’ll sleep better anyway, and I can handle things that would have potentially got on top of me otherwise. 

RD: If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?

SD: I fancied myself as a TV presenter or journalist when I was younger, so I think my love for communicating has always been there. I never envisaged having a business, but I absolutely love it. 

 

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