Niamh Crowe, owner of Keane’s Florist, Galway in conversation with Mary McCarthy
Career changing I was in my early forties when I switched from teacher to florist – I was thinking about it for a while but inclined to feel it was not possible to change.
I’m the daughter of a policeman with three brothers and three of us became teachers; I didn't have proper career guidance at school. I suppose I never consciously thought about it.
I was working with a targeted group of teenagers to try to keep them in school, and with children with learning difficulties. I loved it but after twenty years I wanted to do something else with my life.
In the end it was a snap decision. I met my cousin Orla for coffee in Bunratty and was telling her about a florist course in the UK. She told me to book it immediately.
The following Monday I flew off to Cambridge for an intensive week-long course – the English were a bit serious but they softened up and I really enjoyed it. I had tried furniture upholstery and considered counselling but floristry was different; I felt sure this was for me.
I did a few more courses in the UK and then one with the enterprise office in Clare about setting up a business and things just fell into place.
Through word of mouth I heard a respected florist was for sale in Galway and a friend passed on my number. I took a career break, as a safety net, but nearly three years later the shop is thriving.
A bed of roses
The men of Ireland are great, so generous. They get a hard time, but from what we see, they are really trying their best to liven things up in their relationships.
We are so busy with Valentines Day and have plenty of flowers in. I took Monday off because I could be here till 5am this week; Irish men are last-minute. It was just as crazy at Christmas.
In the first lockdown we closed for three months which in hindsight was good for us as I got time to think about where we were going and put a new website together – the wedding orders are flying in.
Since we are back we are fairly hammered every day. I never push customers to go for a more expensive bouquet – I want them to be comfortable and within their budget – but I am finding many are spending more in the pandemic.
Dutch flower power
I leave my home in Ennis at 8:30am for the one-hour commute up the motorway. I’m very lucky I have a colleague here to open the shop for me.
Over coffee and a slice of toast with pate and a chat we look at the orders for the day.
We don’t have drops-ins at the moment which frees us up to work more quickly, though we miss the customers. The phone is constantly ringing. Some people are still not comfortable ordering online.
I answer the emails and we start making up the bouquets for delivery. The van goes in the morning and afternoon. I would leave around 6pm but it could be later depending on business.
I have two suppliers from Holland who call to the shop each week and I have a wholesaler in Limerick, Fitzgeralds, who arrives on Friday and Saturday.
The Dutch truck is here Monday morning – it's like a moving shop and we can order online. The boys fly over and collect the truck and go around Ennis and Galway supplying florists.
We have a great relationship with them and there is a good bit of banter. They have a great selection and I try to diversify and mix it up. Out with the chrysanthemums.
I’ve started making shop installations with artificial flowers and recently did a pub in Oughterard. But, unfortunately, I source my supplies from England so I might have to look to other countries depending on the price. Otherwise, Brexit has had no impact.
Buying an existing business
There were a few teething issues but we got through it. I bought the business but rented the premises from the previous owners and luckily we did not have to pay rent when we were closed.
The former business was well established but I am bringing a new theme – vintage as opposed to traditional. We are not into hat boxes, that’s not a criticism of florists who are, but we are more rustic.
With the business I was so lucky to inherit a florist with twenty years’ experience, there is a buddy of mine who is a teacher and works Saturdays, and I have a stream of students I take on and train. We usually have three people working at a time.
I’m not tied to Interflora but I link up with different local craft people like Galway Crystal for vases and there is big demand for skin products and chocolates and I’m thinking about introducing a nice wine.
I work five days, usually Monday to Friday, but if there is a special request I’m available.
We had a customer in Australia send flowers and chocolates to her aunt who had Covid. When she sadly passed away, her niece rang me and asked if I could locate the purple flowers her aunt had loved for her funeral. I contacted my supplier in Limerick and we arranged them for the next day. I have my own way of interacting with people – I am good with understanding what they want to say with their flowers.
The bright side
The people of Galway have been great, I’m from Ennistymon and live in Ennis and get a lot of business from these areas.
In an ideal world I would have a quirky little building, but we are based in a retail park with a gorgeous vegetarian cafe next-door and a Dunnes, Mr Price and a fruit & veg shop beside us. It’s like a scene from Eastenders some days.
I’m not a penny-pusher or a control freak; I can delegate and am blessed with the people I work with – I am happy to arrive each morning.
I tend to look for the positive and put the best foot forward. My parents taught me you’ll be happier if you don’t focus on the doom and gloom. In lockdown I would post an upbeat picture every day.
Working so long with disadvantaged families, I appreciate what I have and I’m lucky to have found a second career perfect for my personality. I want a healthy business but big profits are not my interest.
It was probably a bit easier to switch careers without children but I would love if other people see that I did it, that it is possible and never too late.
I could not have done it without the support of my husband Richie though. He works with the council and manages a few parks as a facility manager. We share an interest in biodiversity so in time our vision is to grow our own flowers in tunnels. I have a plot of land I inherited where we could do this but slowly, slowly.
He’s a massive help to me. I’m blessed because he has an acumen for the financial side. He goes to meet the accountant and then tells me the lie of the land. We are like yin and yang.