In 2014, Freddie Garland, then 26 years old, began knocking on doors and scribbling down people’s names and e-mail addresses in the hopes of launching a subscription-based flower service in London. Today, Freddie’s Flowers delivers identical meter-long boxes containing bright seasonal flowers to 100,000 committed members across the U.K. and has a staff of 200. It worked because Garland followed the advice you read in every business “how to” book and hear in every TED Talk but never quite take to heart: find something you know and love. In Freddie’s case, this was flowers. (While he was growing up, his parents ran a traditional flower shop in South London.)
The road to success wasn’t without its detours. At the University of Leeds, Garland studied popular and world music, and completed his final thesis in just two days, titling it “How Hot Is the Sergeant’s Pepper?” He barely scraped a passing grade, and, after graduating, there wasn’t a torrent of job offers. It was during this time that Garland started to notice the rise of subscription services, boosted by millennials in the market for lifetime supplies of fair-trade coffee, anti-aging creams, perfectly proportioned meals, and more. He got a job at Abel & Cole, an organic, farm-fresh-fruit-and-vegetable delivery company, and realized that if people are happy buying vegetables like this, why not flowers? So he quit to start what would become Freddie’s Flowers.
At the end of his first day, Garland already had three customers. But the schedule was grueling. “I would get up at three o’clock in the morning and drive to the Covent Garden Market to collect the flowers,” recalls Garland. “I set up a tent in my mum and dad’s garden, and I brought all the flowers back there. It would then take me four hours to pack the boxes, then I’d go out and deliver until about five o’clock. Next, I was back out knocking on doors to get more customers.”
Well spoken, boyish, and unassuming, Garland has a sense of humor about it all. His e-mail signature reads, “Yep, my surname is Garland.” In the early days of the business, he bought a milk float on eBay—part publicity stunt, part transportive necessity for the deliveries. “I soon realized it only went six miles per hour, so I had to put a sign on the back that said, Please don’t honk, I can’t go any faster.” He only drove it once, but until he could sell it again, from 10 to 11 A.M. every day—when the parking warden surveyed his parents’ road—Garland worked on his laptop in the driver’s seat so he wouldn’t get a ticket.
As subscriber numbers grew, Garland started to hire a team—“People I knew from university, friends of friends, actors and creatives.” The charisma of those last two categories helped the business to grow exponentially, but it also fit with Garland’s vision of “just chatting to people in the right way and not being overly pushy.”
He no longer wakes up at the crack of dawn and instead works directly with flower farms, planning all of the arrangements meticulously. Each week, Garland sends subscribers a new set of stems accompanied by simple and whimsical illustrations instructing on how to arrange them. You can just imagine the dizzying spreadsheets: half a million coral peonies, two million plum-colored delphiniums. To Garland, flowers should be part of the everyday. “The important thing is that you know you’re filling your house with flowers all the time. We’re currently working on a range of ceramic vases, some floral scissors, and a flower press,” he says. But Garland isn’t so interested in expanding into other products—for him, flowers are “what we’re all about.”
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail