Hannah and Verity saved their business and hired 50 staff during COVID-19


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Florists may not have been considered an essential service by the government, but LVLY co-founder Hannah Spilva says her business became more important than ever during coronavirus lockdowns, with people unable to visit loved ones.

"Our service allows you to be there in a way and we quickly realised that there has almost never been a more relevant time for the product and service we offer," she says.

"People were isolated, anxious, told to stay away from loved ones, and the opportunity to connect became important for people's mental health and wellbeing."

making it work lvly flowers
LVLY flowers co-founders Hannah Spilva and Verity Tuck. Photo: Supplied.

Hannah Spilva and Verity Tuck launched LVLY Melbourne in December 2015. The company now also has offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, and delivers all around Australia.

Spilva won the 2020 Telstra Small Business Award for Victoria, which was announced during shutdown.

She and Tuck come from an advertising background, with Spilva working with big name companies like Uniqlo, Kmart, David Jones and Adidas.

She wanted to use her skills to build a business from the ground up, while Tuck was interested in working with flowers.

"The driving force was about making people's days and connecting loved ones in moments of love, support and celebration, and flowers and gifts just became the facilitators for that," Spilva says.

"We wanted a brand people would love, they could get at the last minute, and would disrupt the flower and gift space in Australia," Spilva says.

When it launched five years ago, LVLY was the only florist business offering same-day delivery. When the company couldn't find a logistics partner to deliver the same day, the founders made deliveries themselves or hired their own drivers.

"It took 18 months for the logistics market to catch up with the service," Spilva says.

"Customer expectations have changed over the last five to 10 years. Our customers are millennials and convenience and on-demand is a baseline expectation now, not a nice to have.

"Good customer service isn't good enough - it needs to be outstanding - and consumers are expecting a level of customisation and personalisation and increasingly, they want to spend their money with brands that have a strong social and environmental focus."

LVLY will deliver by 5pm any orders placed before 1pm across Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide metro, and will deliver to other locations within two days. "Our purpose is to make people's day - and because that's core of who we are - we have the whole business completely aligned in going above and beyond to make customers happy," Spilva says.

Flowers are delivered in jars with personalised messages, and the company focuses on paddock to posy with local and sustainable supply chains.

The business took off, doubling year on year, thanks to some great PR coverage and word of mouth.

"For every customer we acquire, we acquire two advocates of the business - the customer buying and the customer receiving. It meant we could build our customer base more quickly."

Under pressure

Like every business, LVLY faced a wild ride with COVID-19 which they are not out of yet, says Spilva.

She estimates she was working 16-hour days, working out whether LVLY could still trade and how customers should be shopping.

"Very quickly we realised was this would be a story of extremely rapid growth for the business," Spilva says.

The company had been built with a scalable foundation and always had the ambition to be a national retailer, however, the timing caused some difficulties.

"When you are growing 100% each year it's different from 400-500% growth over an eight-week period," Spilva says. "Having to scale at that break-neck speed provides challenges for any business."

The business advertised for staff and received 900 applications for 50 casual roles.

"Dealing with 900 applications from people looking for jobs meant lots of operational hurdles to overcome and at the same time we were dealing with disrupted supply chains," Spilva says.

"We've always had a commitment to building a local supply change, for other retailers their supply chain halted completely overnight and many competitors were suddenly trying to buy from the same suppliers, wholesalers and farmers as us."

Adapting to change

Meanwhile, the company was also dealing with the complexity of strict social distancing rules and the business had to be split into two teams - some working in office and some in home.  LVLY also had to take on additional warehouse space to ensure they remained compliant.

"The prices at the wholesale level definitely increased and that was another layer of challenge, and there were also logistical issues getting products to people on time because of the accelerated shift of people shopping online," Spilva says.

On top of it all, because the business was experiencing such a surge in demand Monday to Friday deliveries were no longer enough - customers wanted seven days a week and LVLY rolled out a "same-day seven days" offering.

Rolling out same-day delivery seven days a week was complex but demand meant the company acted quickly to ensure customer expectations were met.

The future

The company is still trying to establish their new normal for their rapidly-expanded team size and work space.

However, one of the biggest lessons was seeing how effectively staff worked from home.

"It was a fantastic outcome to realise that it's a better way of working and flexibility of working arrangements can be around days and hours people work," Spilva says.

"It doesn't matter if it's not 9-5 or 3-9 as long as people can still fulfill their roles.

"We are now rewriting all employment contacts to make a long-term commitment around the ability to work from home, our people can choose which five out of seven days they work, and that has been welcomed by the whole team."

LVLY has recently announced LVLY Weddings and a corporate offering, both of which have been seeing some demand.

The business is also looking at expanding same-day offerings across different cities and urban areas and building from there.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.

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