When stay-at-home mum Lilian Chia was thinking of a name for her online flower business, she chose a pretty-sounding Floral Estella.
Estella was made famous by a key character in Charles Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. Similar to the novel’s title, Lilian has great expectations of her fledgling floral venture.
Sharing that Estella means star in Latin, she says with a shy smile: “I hope that my flower shop can shine like a star.”
The mother of two, who has been a full-time mum for over a decade, decided to start an online business earlier this year despite having neither experience in starting a business nor ecommerce.
But the timing felt right, says Lilian. With her children now older – her son is nine and daughter, eleven – she could focus on turning her passion for flowers into a business.
The online business allows her the freedom and flexibility to manage her time and work demands. It also gives her something fresh to look forward to, other than housework and looking after her kids.
“There is a lot of satisfaction in building your own business, and knowing that customers like what you have done for them,” she notes.
Lilian’s interest in floristry was piqued during her dating days with her boyfriend now husband. He often bought her bouquets to celebrate special occasions such as her birthday and Valentine’s Day.
Instead of putting the bouquets in a vase, she would proceed to disassemble them. She wanted to figure out how the roses, lilies and tulips were put together. “I wanted to explore how the florist could make some arrangements look so natural and effortless,” she recalls.
She stopped this habit when her children were born as there was simply not enough time. But in recent years, after her children started school, she resumed her floral foray by attending short-term courses to learn floral arrangements.
Today, she is putting all her learning into practice with her online floral shop.
Her workday begins after her children leave for school in the morning. She takes a 45-minute bus ride from her home to a nursery to buy fresh flowers, before making the same journey home to prep.
“It is time-consuming, but I want my customers to receive fresh, high-quality flowers. I’d rather go through the hassle of traveling,” she says.
After buying the flowers, Lilian spends the next few hours making bouquets. Standing at her dining table, her fingers move quickly as symphony music plays in the background.
The assembly process seems almost in sync with the tune. Like a dance of its own, she swiftly pulls out a peony and replaces it with some hydrangeas – both are her favourite flowers. Slowly, a classic ball-shaped bouquet in pastel shades of red, pink and purple comes to life.
“Sometimes, a single flower might look out of place in an arrangement. It’s just based on a feeling,” she explains of her floral dance.
While she finds fulfillment in building her own brand, balancing a business and motherhood can be challenging, she admits. Sometimes, she does not have sufficient time to cook lunch or monitor her children’s school work.
“I like my children to have home-cooked meals, but if I’m rushing work, I won’t be able to cook for them and I’ll just buy food back,” she shares with a tinge of guilt.
But her face lights up when she talks about how supportive her children and husband have been. “My husband will drive me to buy the flowers if I’m rushing orders. And on weekends, my daughter helps me with simple tasks such as sweeping the floor and cutting the flowers.”
It is clear that Lilian finds inspiration and motivation from her family. One of the bouquets advertised on her website is named The Pink Lady – Natalie, after her daughter, who loves all things pink.
“It is a form of dedication to them,” she says.
Apart from her family, the Shoptiq platform has also been a big help. As an ecommerce novice, she appreciates the platform’s ease of use.
“The features are very user-friendly – it is easy to learn and the specifications are easy to follow,” she says, citing its photo tool.
Showcasing photos of her bouquets is critical for her business, and Shoptiq helps by allowing her to adjust the dimensions of photos whenever she uploads them. This saves her time from having to upload photos in a specific dimension.
Customers also benefit from its straightforward checkout and payment system. “It takes them only a few clicks to see and buy whatever products they want,” she adds.
While it is still early days, Lilian has big and bright ambitions. She hopes to open a physical store and establish her business as a household brand.
Setting up an online business and finely balancing it with the role of a mother has been a guiding light to horning her craft on this entrepreneurial journey. For now, Lilian is focused on pampering her customers with exquisite and elegant bouquets.
“I hope that people feel like stars when they receive my bouquets,” she says, a reference to her shop name Estella.