Kings Road, St. Leonard’s-on-Sea – a diverse and unique place is home to many independent stores. I caught-up with the amazing Suzanne, owner of Made & Merchant, to discuss all-things floristry, the importance of supporting fellow indie businesses and what it takes to make a dream a reality.
I love the name Made & Merchant, how did you come up with this?
It was actually the first name I thought of! I went through a list of about 40 other possibilities before coming back to it. As well as working with plants and flowers I champion the work of makers, designers, artists and artisans, firstly locally but then British and beyond who make such interesting and beautiful things. There are so many talented small concerns that need an outlet for their work and I want to be a merchant for them.
Kings Road is home to an array of beautiful shops, why did this area appeal to you?
Obviously footfall is important to any business and with the station at one end and the sea at the other, the location is ideal. However, it was the interesting architecture and the array of independent shops already located there that really drew me to it. It is a fantastic, diverse and interesting place.
What’s your creative background and have you always been a florist?
My mother is a florist so I grew up in a florist shop helping out and learning from her, however, I made my first career in an office based environment. It was only once my children came along that I had the opportunity to return to education and retrain in horticulture. This allowed me to work initially as a garden designer and later led on to working on interiors. I had always wanted to go to art school, so when I trained in horticulture I finally had the opportunity to combine two of my passions, my love of plants and my creative passion for design and art. I think my previous interests and experiences have helped me shape what I have created at MADE & MERCHANT.
You stock some amazing indie brands that look amazing against your floral backdrop. How do you discover/source them?
Some I already knew, some I have sourced, and some have found me! Once I opened the shop a wealth of talented people came in to say hello and made contact. St Leonard’s and Hastings are full of creative people and I am pleased that I am able to provide some of them with a platform to display and sell their craft. As much as possible I buy from small independents and I am also concerned to support ethically minded and eco friendly businesses. I believe as a business operating today, whether large or small that we should all take stock and evaluate how we function and be mindful of our environmental impact. Stocking products that enable customers to see, touch, sample and enjoy these products is a real pleasure and what better environment to experience this than one that is filled with the fragrance and colour of flowers and plants.
Had it always been a dream to own your own space and where did you get your interior design inspiration from?
Yes, I always wanted to have my own space but because of the massive amount of time and commitment it takes to both be in a shop, but also to do all the behind the scenes work, it wasn’t practical until now. I had definite ideas about the layout of the shop and creating a pared down backdrop for the plants, flowers and other products to be able to shine. I was also very fortunate to have a friend who was a carpenter and my daughter’s partner who is an architect and joiner to help me realise my vision. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped, encouraged and supported me during this past year.
What’s your favourite season in terms of the produce/flowers available to you?
All the seasons are special, so I really couldn’t choose. One of the wonderful things about working with flowers and plants is seasonality. Spring and summer are all about massive abundance of colour, scent and texture, but the more limited palettes of autumn and winter are just as interesting, and of course the Christmas season is fantastic. As you can see, I relish it all. There is never a boring time when you work with such beautiful living things – though fluctuating temperatures and weather can bring their challenges!
You recently held an amazing wreath-making workshop, are you thinking about organising any more?
Absolutely. This year has been about becoming established and getting to know this fantastic road and my customers better. It is a wonderful place to work, full of genuinely interesting and supportive people. Next year I will aim to gradually create a range of courses, not only with plants and flowers but in other areas too. Workshops are a great way to meet others, learn new skills and above all have fun!
What advice would you give to anyone working towards making their business dreams come true?
Be prepared for an immense amount of hard work – it really is difficult to switch off as there is always something that needs attention. If you want to have a shop make sure you have the right temperament as you need to be a ‘people person’. You also need to have self-belief and a passion for what you do as you are going to be spending a huge amount of time making it happen. Essentially make sure that you have a good business plan and sufficient funds to finance your enterprise. Be prepared for set backs and long hours. It can be scary and definitely exhausting but there is nothing like opening the doors to your own little kingdom, being your own boss and see your ideas come to reality.
What’s your vision for the future of Made & Merchant?
After 8 months of trading I now have a much better feel for my customers! The next thing will be an online presence so that people who have visited the shop, but are from out of area, can still enjoy what we have to offer. I have a huge number of plans of things I want to do and what MADE & MERCHANT will be involved in, but these need to stay under wraps at the moment.
You must have quite a lot of early starts when visiting the flower markets, what’s your top-tip for unwinding after a long day?
In an ideal world, a relaxing candlelit soak with a good book and some of the lovely organic soaps and bath products, all from MADE & MERCHANT of course, is high on the list. If energy levels allow, getting down to the beach is always amazing and rejuvenating whatever the time of year. Eating out with friends or family at one of the great local eateries that we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep is a great way to unwind. It is important to have a life beyond business, though this first year I have had to often remind myself about this!
I always ask this one: what’s your favourite smoothie blend?
Something refreshing and zingy with red berries and citrus fruit always hits the spot.
Thank you so much Suzanne for being a part of my Inspire series, I adore your shop and I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds for Made & Merchant.