Geraldine Carton speaks to sisters Dee and Janette O'Rourke of Kay's Flower School, who explain how they developed their business into their game-changing company it is today.
Ahh, the life of a florist. It's one that many of us imagine is filled with sweet scents and endless romance; of whimsical displays of affection and poignant bouquets of heartfelt commiseration... Whether or not this is the reality, the question remains, how does a person actually become a florist? How do they learn the tricks of the trade? And where do they train??
Your only option: work your way up
The simple fact is that, up until 1987, there was nowhere in Ireland where people could go to formally learn the commercial trade. If you had your sights set on a future in flower arrangements then you had to work your way up from the very bottom; cleaning buckets and mopping flower shop floors, picking up the tricks of the trade as you went. This was usually only possible if you were born into a family of florists, though; “the sector was very closed-off to outsiders”, says Janette O’Rourke, co-owner of Kay’s Flower School.
‘There were a few hobbyist night courses, but even in those no one would share the “trade secrets” and it was impossible to get into the wholesalers. It was really ‘closed shop’ and no one wanted to share information outside of the business."
The other downside of this was that it meant florists encountered considerable difficulty finding fully-trained staff at short notice.
Then came Kay’s
Kay O’Rourke (mother of Janette) was aware of these issues all throughout her lifelong career in floristry. She could see that there was a gap in the market and one day decided enough was enough; she was going to fill this gap.
Thus, Kay’s Flower School was created, taking up residence in the unit above her original Rialto-based florist on the ground floor. The uptake in the school was immediate, and it wasn’t long before the floristry school was taking so much of Kay’s time that she had to sell the florist below in order to commit to it fully.
Two daughters leading the way
Kay’s daughters Deirdre and Janette have since taken the reigns, with Deirdre looking after the IT side of things whilst Janette covers the teaching. The duo are best friends and brim with passion and positivity for every aspect of the service they offer.
In the time it takes to finish a pot of tea in the training room I am told a stream of gorgeous stories; from special moments that this line of work has brought them, to all the lovely people they’ve met along the way. It goes without saying that these two love their job.
Over the last twenty years, the sisters have been building up quite the reputation and are now widely known for the professionalism with which they lead commercial training courses (which include job placements, and often job offers at the end of it all), not to mention their fun-loving approach to hen parties and evening courses.
Despite recessions and game-changing technological advancements, the sisters have kept their heads above water and ensured their business has continued to thrive. How? By constantly adapting and forever moving with the times. Like their mother before them, when they saw a gap in the market, they moulded their offering accordingly.
Janette & Deirdre O'Rourke
First, there were the “brooch wedding bouquets”; the idea of intertwining keepsakes and mementoes into a fabric wedding bouquet. When this trend became hugely popular overseas, the sisters reacted immediately and started selling “brooch wedding bouquet kits”, which contained everything that the prospective bride would need to make her bouquet. These kits became best-sellers for the company, with orders coming in from all over the world.
“It was mad, we had been importing the materials from China and then all of a sudden we were getting orders from Chinese women looking for the kits, so we had to post it all right back!”
Then came YouTube, and with it the trend of “YouTube tutorials”, which some worried might thwart the need for in-house floristry courses altogether. And so, the duo adapted again; Dee invested in top-of-the-range recording equipment whilst Janette put on a fresh layer of lipstick, and together they started making their own video tutorials.
From there the online version of Kay’s Flower School was born, and to this day the company has sold thousands of video tutorials and online courses, as well as offering “a few free tutorials here and there, to give customers a taste of what we’re all about”.
Adaptation for the win
This business model of adaptation has clearly served them well, as Kay’s School of Floristry remains the only full-time commercial florist school in the Republic of Ireland today. “I’d say at least one florist in nearly every flower shop in Ireland right now has attended Kay’s School at some point or another” says Janette, beaming with pride as she says so.
Students at Kay's Flower School
Hobbyists and homemakers
Finally, there is the offering for those who don’t want to become a florist, but who want to learn to make a mantlepiece arrangement for their dining room, or maybe hope to sell some homemade Christmas wreaths at their local market. Ever ready to meet the public’s needs, the Kay’s sisters have a range of evening or one-day courses to suit these individuals, too.
“Whether they want to make a classy and cream wreath, or one that’s blinging and glitzed up to the nines, we’ll accommodate it all. If nothing else, getting a grasp of some floristry can be a real confidence booster.”
So if you fancy delving into the world of daffodils and door swags, then check out if there’s a course or evening class at Kay's Flower School to suit your need. You might even find a free tutorial for what you’re looking for, if you’re lucky.