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Don’t Buy Her Flowers is a thoughtful online gift box service

My business:

I started my company Don’t Buy Her Flowers in 2014 in my spare bedroom with £13,000 of savings. Don’t Buy Her Flowers is a thoughtful online gift box service. Customers make up their own boxes of gifts or can choose from selections that the team has created. We have products and gift boxes for every single occasion or sentiment, from new mum’s to someone experiencing grief. Each box comes with the customer’s message handwritten and because customers can handpick products they know someone will love, it conveys a thoughtfulness that is so much more than just a box of products. We create a human connection through our gift boxes, often when someone can’t be there in person. During the last eight years of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, the messages we’ve seen between people sending gifts and the responses we get from our customers tell us that people are really touched by the sentiment – as soon as we launched I started receiving messages from people saying that the recipient had cried, and I wasn’t expecting that! But thoughtfulness is at the heart of everything we do so when the recipient feels that connection and care that someone has for them, and the thought they’ve put in, we’re getting it right. 

Starting the business:

I didn’t rush into starting the business. I did a lot of the planning whilst still working in a brand and marketing role. When we launched we had steady growth from month one. Initially I managed all the orders myself, packing them on a bedroom floor with the stock and packing materials in various cupboards in my house. After a year I had a couple of girls who would come in after college to help. They were really flexible which is what I needed while I got the business going. I didn’t pay myself at the beginning which put a strain on our household income as we still had the same bills to pay so we relied on my husband’s salary. It was a means to an end, keeping overheads really low while testing the business. I didn’t have a marketing budget so I used free tools such as social media, blogging, and building a network with other bloggers and small business owners so we could all share within our own online communities. Social media played a critical role. The community of people I had following me and the business were incredible. They shared the business to their networks as well as becoming customers. Our repeat customer rate as well as our conversion from recipient to customer has meant that the pot continues to grow. My older two children were two and three when I started the business, so it was really full on. 

Growing the business:

We turned a profit within a few months, and reinvested everything back into the business continually. We have followed a pattern where we’ve grown and invested in people, operations and marketing. Then sales increase and we invest again, and repeat. Two years into running Don’t Buy Her Flowers from my spare bedroom in South West London, I realised that we needed a bigger space. My brother Chas suggested that he set up and run a warehouse for me in Stroud where we are from. In order to focus on the business, grow it and come up with ideas, I needed someone handling operations but I wanted to keep it in house. Each gift box is bespoke, hand wrapped and includes a handwritten note and the occasions people send gifts might be celebratory but could be bereavement or diagnosis so it is imperative we handle orders and customer services very sensitively. I couldn’t confidently hand that over to a fulfilment house.  I knew that it would be cheaper to run a warehouse in Gloucestershire rather than in London where I live and Chas was experienced in managing teams and had run a pub with one of our brothers. Two of my oldest best friends are also Head of Customer Services and Warehouse Manager; most importantly, I trust them all implicitly and  they have  been integral to the growth of the company. In 2019 the business was doing well and we moved to a larger warehouse, and we were able to start spending more on marketing. Then the Pandemic hit and we rocketed and by the end of 2020 we were up 600% year on year. We actually had to stop marketing at points because we were at capacity operationally and needed to balance volume with maintaining quality. That growth involved a huge amount of luck – we’d just moved into a bigger space that enabled us to quickly scale up operations while keeping everyone safe. The team was awesome. We were able to stay open when many businesses couldn’t and our product was exactly what people were looking for, a gift to connect with other people who were all stuck at home. Those two years of the Pandemic saw us really test out the business, turning over £2.5million in 2021 and enabling us to rebuild and improve our website and invest in a new stock management system without raising money. 

My lightbulb moment in starting the business:

The idea for Don’t Buy Her Flowers came after I had my first baby; I was on the sofa feeling exhausted, massively overwhelmed about what had just happened and like I had no clue what I was doing.  I received eight well-meant bouquets of flowers and in the exhaustion it struck me as bizarre, to give someone doing more caring than they’ve ever done in their life another thing to care for. It didn’t make sense that I should be worrying about keeping eight bouquets of flowers alive as well as feed and care for my newborn and the physical recovery that someone who has just had a baby needs! I realised that actually what new mums want is a gift that encourages them to take a bit of time for themselves; some chocolate, a magazine, soothing creams and a little luxury with something like cashmere socks. Don’t Buy Her Flowers originally launched as Gifts for New Mums but now we cover all occasions as well as corporate gifting, with thoughtfulness at the core. 

The effect of the economy on my business:

The Cost of Living crisis has become more apparent for us now and we are feeling it to a degree, as the majority of retail businesses are. Even though as a business we haven’t reduced marketing spend, getting a customer costs more in this environment. People are nervous to spend and there are less people in the market with the money to spend. We haven’t taken investment to this point. To ride this downturn we are diversifying. Corporate gifting is a huge opportunity for us that we’ve already seen grow significantly in the last three years. With many businesses working remotely, they find it a challenge to stay engaged with their teams and customers. Often a thoughtful gift is a way to connect with people, and we can create something to briefs and budgets and include branded packaging and products. We’ve also recently started offering fulfilment as a service to other businesses. The fast growth during Covid gave us capacity and experience. We have a fantastic team and warehouse space. We know that with what we have learnt we can help other businesses with their operations. We already have two clients which utilises our brilliant team and adds an additional revenue stream that was not something I’d ever considered prior to last year. 

Be clear and focused when starting a business:

My advice to anyone starting a business is be focused and clear on what you want to do at the start. Don’t worry about what other people are doing as it can be a distraction, just don’t be so focused that you miss opportunities that might not be what or when you expected. For example take into consideration partnerships and hires or a pivot. Listen to your customers, they might be telling you they want something different. It is a balance to know where you want to get to but also listen to what is going on around you. Sometimes that can positively influence or change the route you take and the advantage of being a small business is that you are agile. Also, employing  family and friends within the team has really benefited my business. I know this is not always the case but it has worked for us. They are in it with me. They are more than employees, they want the business to succeed and I know they take it more seriously than ‘just’ a job. When Covid hit, the team were amazing. It was a rollercoaster, for the business and also everyone’s emotions. They saw it as an opportunity and worked their socks off with me to make it work. Together we were able to ensure customers still got the best service. This was alongside juggling homeschooling and keeping each other safe. It showed me how crucial culture is. Being able to communicate honestly and vulnerably, looking after each other and the importance of being a team is paramount. 

Running my own business has taught me a lot:

I have learnt a lot of lessons over the years about running a business. Don’t Buy Her Flowers was incredibly fortunate to see a boom during the Pandemic. I do feel that then we should have adequately capitalised the company when business was booming, but like most online businesses we didn’t know the shift to online would dissipate to the extent that it has. The dampening of consumer sentiment in 2022 driven by the perfect storm of the cost of living crisis, inflation, Brexit and the war in Ukraine have made the last 6 months challenging. If we had raised money earlier then undoubtedly the last six months would have been less stressful, BUT adversity leads to ideas! The fulfilment service  is creating another revenue stream and we are really proud of it. Accuracy is critical when delivering services and we provide that. Ultimately we are incredibly proud of the service we offer. It is unique and thoughtful. A good basis for life!

Nataly Komova
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