Since sprouting from a little space on Margaret Street three years ago, boutique Brisbane florist Maison Fleur has grown to incorporate three studios and a flourishing online store – and there’s still plenty of life in this soil.
Co-founded by world-renowned floral designer Bart Hassam, five-time Australian Florist of the Year and 2019 World Cup of Floral Design winner, and veteran floral design teacher and entrepreneur Carolyn Williamson, Maison Fleur is a full-service floral design studio specialising in seasonal blooms.
Maison Fleur has two CBD studios – the first in a historic sandstone building at the entrance to Spencer Lane on Margaret Street, and the second housed in the Queen Adelaide Building on Burnett Lane – and recently opened a third studio in the Gasworks Plaza precinct in Teneriffe. Bart says the three locations are filling a gap that he and Carolyn identified while working in other people’s flower shops.
“Carolyn and I were both looking for direction in our lives, and we both felt that Brisbane City could do with a high-end floral design concept,” he remembers.
“We started small and grew slowly. From the beginning, we really focused on attention to detail, customer service and quality products that are locally sourced from growers that we have great relationships with. We offer a full floral design experience, and it’s the same experience whether you buy a single flower or a $2,000 arrangement.
“‘Maison Fleur’ is French for ‘house of flowers’, and we offer luxurious products that have that French sense of style and elegance, but at the same time, we don’t price ourselves out of the market. At the end of the day, people will always want to buy flowers as gifts and for special occasions, and we’d rather have their custom several times over the years, rather than hurting them with a high price point once so they never come again.”
From the outside, Maison Fleur’s growth has been a natural progression, but from Bart and Carolyn’s perspective, it’s been their biggest challenge.
“Knowing when to grow, how to grow, when to employ more staff and how many to employ has been a challenge,” Bart says. “We started with one full-time staff member, and now there are 20 of us. To go from one full-timer to 20, and one store to three stores, in just three years… it’s astonishing to us.
“It’s a gamble. You have to learn to recognise the key signs of when you’re hitting your stride… but we knew that if we kept bringing in customers, and with a few larger jobs that were becoming regular jobs, we could accommodate more staff and another store. We made sure to spread the stores out, too. Our two Brisbane City stores are as far apart as they can be in the CBD, so we aren’t diluting the brand.”
In much the same way that plants adapt to their environment by necessity, Bart and Carolyn have had to adjust to a rapidly shifting retail environment.
“We’re finding that a lot of our trade is gift-based now in a way it wasn’t before,” Bart says. “People used to buy for the home, they used to buy for themselves, but we’re finding that as Woolworths and Coles have grown their flower stands and become more professional, it’s taken some of that market from us. So we’ve pivoted to make sure we’re providing beautifully packaged gift products for weddings, anniversaries, ‘get well’, condolences and sympathy cards – the things they just can’t do as well.
“Having worked in retail in Brisbane City since 2012, I’ve also seen the shift to online. We always knew that was coming, but COVID-19 has really pushed that to the limit. So even though we have three physical stores, we’re heavily website-based. A big proportion of our orders come online and over the phone… and that means we have to be slightly clever in how we staff the shops and what work we do from them.
“In a lot of respects, though, the pandemic has been useful for us, because we were already set up for delivery. That wasn’t something we had to pivot to. I feel for the food businesses around us, because their business was based entirely on people walking in and eating. They’d never had to think about delivery before in their lives, and they had to make that adjustment very quickly, whereas we were already prepared for that.
“We’ve done a lot of hotel quarantine gift-giving, and a lot of gifts for people who couldn’t travel interstate and wanted to send flowers for a birthday or a wedding. We’ve seen that change and we’ve grown because of it… it’s been a really interesting learning curve, but we’ve risen to the challenge.”
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