Heather Gorringe is an environmental business pioneer. She started Wiggly Wigglers over 20 years ago, initially selling wormeries by mail-order. She embraced digital and social media, grew fast, won awards… But then Recession hit hard. Of course she is innovating out of it, with a vibrant range of natural garden products and a new British Floristry brand. Prowess 2.0 caught up with Heather to find out more.
Why did you start your business?
My Dad had started and run his own business, and so this was an inspiration. I went and worked for him and gained some experience of how to deal with all the different aspects of running a business and so was looking for a product or a market that would enthuse me for a year or so. My business started with a wormery and then developed with products for the natural gardening market. At the same time the aim for us was to add value to our farm and we are able to do this through growing and mixing our own wild bird seed and growing and arranging our own British Flowers. The company is based on Lower Blakemere Farm in Herefordshire and we have a team of ten, including three florists.
Why have you chosen to be a sustainable business and what difference has it made?
We start as farmers, and so consider ourselves to be custodians of the land. One of our aims is to leave our land in a better condition than when we were handed it, and so the sustainability aspect is part of our DNA to some extent. Added to that waste costs money and so if we can minimise it we can be more profitable. An easy extension to this thinking is seeing a gap in the market for more sustainable and natural gardening where you can a have a wildflower meadow which looks lovely, and is so much less work than mowing your lawn every week.
These values have helped us find new markets and new products. We have been developing our British Cut Flowers for eight years and have launched a new brand the Great British Florist to help us grow this side of the business (we recognised that buying funeral, and wedding flowers from a company call Wiggly Wigglers could be a step too far for many potential customers).
What has been the toughest challenge so far?
There have been two main challenges, the first was the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001 which caused us real logistical challenges and it resulted in us expanding our product range. On the other hand the biggest challenge has been the recession where although we have great customer loyalty the order value reduced. This prompted a real review of where the business was headed and we decided to focus on the product sectors that were growing and that included the elements we could grow and add value to from the farm. This meant we reduced our range of products and are focussing on Wild Birdfood and Care, Wildlife Gardening and British Flowers.
How do you define success?
I like Winston Churchill’s quote:
Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.
This rings so true in my experience of small business, because there are always failures, whether that’s the product is not quite right for the market… Yet… Or perhaps there are issues within the team, or whatever. So, you have to get used to challenges and problems and push on through. I suppose success for us is doing a really good job for our customers, enjoying working on and in our business, as well as profit and growth at the same time, so we have had tastes of success but are looking for much more to come.
What help and support have you had?
We have had a lot of help from other small businesses who have shared their experiences. We have made good use of training through our local authority, the chamber, Lantra and other organisations. We have also won two national awards and this has really helped.
What are your future plans?
Focus on Wildlife gardening and British Birdfood through Wiggly Wigglers and build The Great British florist.
Wiggly Wigglers will develop its range of product within a pretty tight sector. We offer our customers good value with lots of added benefits in terms of knowledge and experience. We are aiming to develop this more and more through customer videos and blogs. We are specialists on British grown Birdfood and so this range is offered online and will also be sold through farm shops where we will aim to create the market and then fulfill it.
We are aiming to be one of the market leaders in British Flowers online and offline through our brand The Great British Florist. We can despatch UK grown flowers on a next day delivery to anywhere in the UK and we are offering a greener and more natural alternative to corporate flowers in offices and hotels that can also save the client money. Regionally we will increase our profile and sales and aim to compete in the funeral, event and wedding market offering ALL British flowers to those who want provenance and a more natural look to their flowers.
What would you say have been your top three learning points?
- Choose ideas and products that you believe in and are passionate about, adapt but don’t give up.
- Take time to review properly and regularly, and take according action. Celebrate and repeat the wins, and learn from the problems.
- Hire the attitude, teach the skill. Aim to get on board a fabulous team.