VIKAAS GUTGUTIYA, Founder and MD, Ferns N Petals, has a philosophical take on flowers. While he spotted a business opportunity after sending flowers as a gift and seeing a sub-standard delivery, now he does not gift flowers anymore, to keep pyar and vyapar separate! Here, he tells in his own words the story of his amazing success, and outlines what he is doing to realise his global aspiration
From Bihar to Kolkata…
I was born in Bihar, and lived in a small place called Vidyasagar, around 250 kilometers from Kolkata. My father was a Government contractor engaged in building roads and wells. My grandfather was a floriculturist - he used to grow flowers. I was a mediocre student, never very flamboyant, but I always thought of being a leader. Barring studies, I was at the forefront of every activity in school. Once I reached Class IX, I had to travel by train every day to a place called Jamtara, around 15 kilometers from Vidyasagar, to attend high school. It was my first exposure to the outside world. In two years, I had to move to Kolkata because there was no college in Jamtara. One of my uncles lived in Kolkata; he also coordinated the sale of flowers grown by my grandfather. I stayed with him. At first, it was difficult. Coming from Bihar, I was a shy boy, and could not speak English fluently like the others; so I had low confidence. Those two years changed me a lot. I became confident, I spoke English, I had friends, I knew Kolkata every inch… I was a true Kolkata hero when I passed out of Class XII!
First tryst with flowers…
My uncle had opened a flower shop in Kolkata by then, to sell the flowers that came from my hometown himself. I ended up assisting him in the shop after college hours. I learnt the tricks of the trade, how the flower business is run, economics of a flower shop, etc. Being a Commerce student, I went about making the baniya kind of flower shop look more professional. I was bright and eager to make a difference. The logical step was for me to be a Chartered Accountant, but I felt if I became a CA, I’d limit my career; instead, I wanted many CAs to work for me. So I could not spend my life selling flowers in a flower shop. Finally, I decided to leave Kolkata for Mumbai to explore opportunities.
In Mumbai, I stayed with my maternal uncle for a couple of years. He was into the garments and yarns business. I travelled to Kalbadevi to understand the yarn trade. But after two years in Mumbai, I realized I was not comfortable and returned to Kolkata. It was decided that we would open one more flower shop, so we could make more money. But my mind was still not at peace.
‘Maine phoolon se pyaar karna band kar diya hain’
I’m a very easy-going, organized, happy-go-lucky person. I always ask myself, how to make life more meaningful… how to keep my heart, soul and mind busy. I love reading. I practise meditation and yoga. I’m very fond of good cars and love driving. I enjoy travelling. Writing poems is my passion. Let me share a poem I wrote very recently:
Ek dhaage ke baat rakhne ko mom ka rom jalta hain
Aur nazron se baat karte hain,
lavz kai baar matlab bigaad dete hain
Bas itne kareeb raho ki baat na bhi ho toh duri na lage.
I’ve learnt another thing through my journey… Jisse pyar karo, uska vyapar na karo... maine phoolon se pyaar karna band kar diya hain. So now I don’t send flowers as a gift to anyone - better to keep pyar and vyapar separate!
It began with a gift…
By that time, I had a girlfriend in Delhi, so I went to visit her on her birthday. At Defence Colony, I ordered a bouquet of flowers to be sent to her. When I met her later, and saw the flowers at her place, I was shocked – they were so sad-looking. I went back to the florist and said I was not happy with the flowers at all. He was very rude to me and said we should have kept the flowers in an AC room, etc., etc. That's when the entrepreneur in me woke up, and I said, ‘There seems to be an opportunity here because of his arrogance and unfriendly behaviour to a customer’. I stayed back in Delhi for a week and surveyed the flower market and weighed possibilities. Then I met a friend, and told him I was thinking of opening a flower shop in Delhi because Delhi needs a good customer-friendly florist. He liked the idea and proposed doing it together. He would invest in the flower shop and I would bring my experience of the business. That's how Ferns N Petals was born.
A rapid growth curve…
We are growing fast. There was a time when we used to open one flower shop a month; now, we open seven each month. We have around 400 stores now, and if we keep going at the current speed, we will have 1,000 shops in three to four years. Overall, the size of business this year was around Rs 600 crore. We have a monopoly in offline selling of flowers. Online, there are a few players, but the gap between us and the second best is huge. During lockdown, our shops were shut but the online business picked up very well, compensating for the offline loss, as people never stopped sending flowers for occasions. Of course, our businesses in countries like Singapore and Dubai never paused.
The global aspiration…
FNP has expanded beyond India to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Now we are heading towards Europe. We want to be everywhere. We want to be the Uber of gifting. The idea is to be a true multinational - anywhere in the world, just use our app and your flowers get delivered.
During the lockdown, we started something called ‘Last Journey’ - the first of its kind professional funeral service. Then there is FNP Pets; a new vertical that we're about to launch. We will take care of everything from birth to burial of a pet, covering all product lines, all services – grooming, boarding, sports, pet insurance, vaccination, medication, training, trainers, pet cafes… We will get stray pets to our pet farm, and let people adopt them. We want to make this big. FNP Media is my personal project; I’ve always been creative and now with the OTT space booming, the opportunity is huge. We will make short films, web series, feature films and have our own OTT platform, going forward.
FNP Gardens remains a strong vertical, helping make dream wedding
experiences, with luxury to mid-range wedding venues. We organized 1300+ weddings until March 2020 and 80+ weddings during the pandemic.
The category needs help…
There are quite a few challenges before the flower retailing category. One, we do not have a good wholesale flower market like we do for vegetables or fruit. The Government will have to create that infrastructure for floriculture, where buying and selling of flowers can happen more professionally. Two, we need a cold chain. Flowers are grown in different parts of India, and to reach metro cities, they have to travel in trains, buses, trucks or flights. Especially for export, a cold chain is required to preserve quality and increase the shelf life of flowers. Three, it is still an unorganized market. We do not have qualified professionals to come and work in our shops. Formal education in floriculture will help grow the business. Four, the market is totally dominated by festivals and the wedding season. In the wedding season, flower prices are 10 times higher than the non-wedding season; the fluctuations are too high. I hope these issues get sorted out.