A History of Arts and Flowers

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Arts and Flowers
40 Years and counting

As a child I grew up in a bit of a ‘Good Life’ household. I lived with my parents Roy and Jenny and my older brother Darren at Manston House which was an old farm on Manston Lane, they both worked at Treats but their passion was plants and flowers and with the space we had they were always growing Tulips, Dahlias and Chrysanthemums for wholesale at Leeds Market. I used to toddle about, mainly hindering everyone by pulling the heads off although as I got older I ‘grew into’ helping out more positively.

One day, Dad came home and announced he’d rented a shop and we were opening a Florist in Crossgates. Mum’s immediate reaction was a state of panic and she almost passed out but he had faith in her and her ability.  He was and still is calmness personified and he convinced Mum she’d do a fantastic job. Mum was always good with words and as the yellow pages was the only way to advertise at the time, it was a stroke of genius on her part that the shop was called Arts and Flowers, which would always be one of the first in the phone book.

Dad enlisted the help of an experienced florist Adrienne to teach Mum the skills of  floristry and she took to it like a duck to water.

In fact she was so good, Adrienne left a few months later to open her own shop in Farsley. It’s like a sister shop to us and we still work together to this day. Although Dad continued to work at Treats, he’d managed to cut his hours from the eighteen hour days he’d become accustomed to and was on hand to buy flowers and deliver the orders.

Kirsti's-mum-and-dad

Jenny and Roy (Mum and Dad)

His next step to cause Mum sleepless nights was when he began taking wedding orders after a convincing argument she could do the bride proud. And she did, many times. As the years went by me and my brother Darren just accepted the shop as part of our lives and used to go there straight from school. I don’t think there’s a family member amongst us who hasn’t been dragged into the shop to do a days graft.

My Grandma Renee (Jenny’s Mum) always helped in the shop, she was especially passionate about making holly wreaths. Renee was always the most patient of ladies but when it came to her wreaths she had a fierce sense of pride.

A story I’ll always remember was late in the day just before Christmas.  A customer asked if they were fresh. A very tired Renee, with her hands cut to shreds from the holly leaves replied..“Fresh..Fresh..I’ll give you bloody fresh…” I think she’s have chased them out of the shop if she’d had the energy. Me and Darren looked at each other in a state of shock, we’d never heard her raise her voice, let alone swear. The customer hurriedly chose a wreath and left with a face like a holly berry with Renee’s voice ringing in her ears. “Do you think we’d make them with dead holly?”

I think it stood us in good stead though as we now make about 500 wreaths every Christmas. It’s now passed to the fourth generation – my daughter Leah and we still use fresh holly!

We continued to grow flowers at home for wholesale and at one point we had three shops but we soon realised you can spread yourselves too thinly and decided one great shop was better than three mediocre ones.

Over the years Arts and Flowers grew in reputation for quality and value for money. Mum went from strength to strength as a florist and gained a great reputation with her funeral tributes and wedding bouquets. She was always showing family members the tricks of the trade, I was always in the background, silently taking things in but equally determined to tread my own career path and not work in the shop. But the hours in our early teens spent in the shop did install a work ethic for both me and my brother. After leaving school Darren started his own business and I did a variety of things from packing oil to purchase ledger clerk at United News. I was very settled there, with a good salary. I helped Mum out at the shop on Saturdays but more out of a sense of duty than anything else, although I have to admit I secretly enjoyed it! Then Mums right hand woman, who was also my cousin Kim left to have baby. Mum and Dad asked if I wanted to join the shop and  with a heavy heart, I agreed. I’m sure anyone who has worked in a family business will agree there’s a whole lot of love and commitment involved before the money.

 

Trainee Florist, general dogsbody and an 80's perm!

Trainee Florist, general dogsbody, Simon Cowells trousers and an 80’s perm!

So began my life as a trainee florist and general dogs-body. Apparently my Mum used to say I was a natural but I don’t remember it like that, I remember struggling wondering if I would ever get the hang of it. Sometimes I used to beat myself up about it…I mean how could putting a few flowers together be so difficult? One thing that really helped was a contract with the Hilton Hotel, they were ordering between 20-50 posies a week, so practice sure made perfect. As I mastered each new challenge Mum always had another one lined up for me.

My first wedding bouquet proved a massive challenge..all lilies, individually wired. After several hours of struggle I was ready to throw it through the window, my Mum took it off me, placed it in the cellar and told me to go for a walk to calm down. On my return the bride had just entered the shop, dread filled my heart as she asked to see the bouquet. “Of course you can..Kirsti… go get it please.” Panic exhumed from my body as I faced the bride with her bouquet and she promptly burst into tears. That’s it I thought, my days as a florist have just ended. “Its absolutely beautiful it is fantastic its so much nicer than i could have expected” she said. I looked round was someone else about talking about something different. A relief and also sense of pride surged into my body replacing the panic. “Told you said my mum with a grin you’re a natural.”

The next thing to learn was the buying side of things. This time my teacher was my Dad. I’d been going to the wholesale department since I was three, so it was all familiar to me. I’d watched my Dad bartering on price and had an idea of how it worked but where Floristry is generally a woman’s world, buying wholesale is definitely a  mans world. I think my early introduction helped me, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet too much but I feel I mastered that challenge fairly quickly and having done it nationally and internationally for 22 years and we’re still here I think my instincts and judgments are okay.

Having got married, my next challenge was juggling a flower shop and a new born baby!  We didn’t have the time or money for the luxury of maternity leave. Many regular customers will remember pushing Leah around Crossgates. Also around this time the world gave birth to another baby..the World Wide Web. And we had to move with the times, we had to realise this could be both a friend and an enemy. We embraced this technology, we got ourselves out on the net and in hindsight it was the right thing to do, most independent traders realise you cannot survive on footfall alone. The tables turned around this time, I was teaching my Mum about computers and also about Visa Machines which had become vital for any small business. My Mum used to say she felt like the office junior. Daughter number two, Sydney then came along and Mum made the decision to take a back seat as far as the shop was concerned and help me out with child care.

Me on the 'Good Life' farm aged about three.

Me on the ‘Good Life’ farm aged about three.

Sadly on 28th June 2005 my Mum unexpectedly passed away. She’s just turned 60. Her funeral is still talked about today and even now I feel the need to thank our fellow traders and customers in Crossgates because you did her proud. For me I lost not only my Mum but a work colleague, neighbour and best friend. I also was looking to the future with a sense of dread, no one to ask for a second opinion in the shop, no one to help out with my two girls. But I found an inner determination within me, almost like she was still here in spirit urging me on.

And now eight years after Mums passing and forty years after her and Dad started the shop, we’re still here, despite the gloomy economic times. My eldest daughter Leah has just started working in the shop, Mum would have loved that, the third generation to work for Arts and Flowers. She’ll learn in the shop and also at college…Who knows, maybe she’ll be a natural as well. Five years ago we started to accept Interflora deliveries. We’d been approached before but we’re reluctant to compromise our independence. This time it was different and we were allowed to jump on board on our own terms.

Both my parents installed in me to take pride in quality, value and good service. A customer once said you change your florist as often as your Doctor. It took me a while to understand what she meant. As a florist we get to hear about and see every situation in peoples lives just like a doctor, from birth to death a florist shares the majority of these events, because flowers speak a thousand words and when nothing can be said in certain situations everyone accepts flowers as a gesture with good intent.

Id like to end my little story with a huge thank you to fantastic staff,  ones from the past and those from the present, a ship wont sail without a crew !

But most of all I thank you our customers because without you, we wouldn’t be celebrating  40 years in business.

Kirsti x

www.artsandflowersleeds.co.uk    www.interflora.co.uk

 

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6 Comments

  1. Emma Chilvers was Lancaster says:

    What a lovely article. Kirsti I am so proud to have an auntie like you.

  2. So proud of you Kirsti, you are amazing. Love; MAD gan gxxx

  3. Susan Thirkill says:

    Thank you for sharing that.
    Thank you for your time and patience and making such beautiful flowers arrangements for all our special occasions. Happy and sad.
    Wishing you and your family many more years in the thing you do best.

    Regards Sue & family x

  4. Tracey Williamson says:

    Aww what a lovely story Kirsti xx

  5. Kirsti, what a lovely story brought a tear to my eye you should be so proud of yourself. when I got married 8 years ago I knew where I was going to get my wedding flowers from and what a wonderful job you did. wishing you and your family many more happy years. love Diane Garner Parr. xxxx

  6. Catherine Harrison says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the history of Arts & Flowers & looking at the great photos what a proud story of a fantastic family business bursting with friendship family, love & fantastic fresh flowers….. long may it continue. Xx

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