Owning a small business during a pandemic is rough for anyone. But with a small two-person team, a run-down van, and tackling multiple DIY projects, Liv Wakem of Kensal Flowers certainly had more on her plate than most.
Wakem owns Kensal Flowers, a florist shop located in Kingsland, Auckland which she set up in 2018. After spending six years in the UK honing the craft of floristry at a boutique, Scarlet and Violet, Wakem returned to New Zealand and originally ran her store from her laundry room. Around the same time, she purchased the “unreliable” van and built her own website.
She says the van, purchased from TradeMe, was “consistently breaking down” and ultimately became “a bit of a nightmare”.
Unfortunately, her obstacles didn’t stop there. Along with the rest of the world, Wakem was then hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. When the virus made its way to New Zealand and the entire country was under a nationwide lockdown, Wakem had to stop operating.
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“At alert level 4 we sadly weren’t able to trade, so after building the business to a positive level Kensal basically ground to a halt,” she says.
“It was a time for us to rest and take stock of the situation,” she adds.
During the lockdown, Wakem kept herself busy with DIY projects on a cottage she had purchased, but says she would have loved to have been able to deliver flowers during alert level 4.
Despite the pause in trade, when the country moved to alert level 3 and Wakem was able to resume contact-less operation, “the support was huge”.
“As we are a small team of two, we were able to adapt and make the most of trading in alert level 3.
“The support from our customers was very humbling and kept the two of us very busy,” she adds.
Collaborating with others, Kensal Flowers was able to trade even with shop doors closed. Working alongside her local growers, who were also struggling, she was able to support not only her business but her friends.
Delivery runs during the lockdown continued to thrive, and though there were only two of them, Wakem felt the support of her friends who helped her “in these uncertain times”.
In 2020 her luck changed, and Wakem won a Mercedes Benz van at FieldDays, the largest agricultural event in the southern hemisphere.
She says the van has made her life a lot easier after struggling with her rundown van previously. “The fear of breaking down at any moment has gone – it’s such a relief,” she adds.
She says that for small businesses to thrive during the pandemic, they need to be “flexible” and be able “to change direction at the drop of the hat”. With the pandemic now hitting everyone at unexpected times, being able to change accordingly is key.
“We haven’t had any major failures, but we’ve definitely learnt a lot along the way in the pandemic journey.”
“It is so important to surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Some days can be really hard but knowing you have a village to support you does wonders,” she adds.
With a new normal just around the corner, Wakem says she hopes Kensal Flowers will “carry on as we are”. Not only does Kensal Flowers sell bunches of flowers, but they also have a range of funky vases for the bouquets.
“Quality is super important to me, so I’d rather stay small, manageable and make pretty things without compromising because we got too busy.”
“We may take on another person in the future but right now we’re in a good place,” she says.