Steph Douglas left a career in brand and marketing to start thoughtful gift company Don’t Buy Her Flowers in 2014.
Originally set up as gifts for new mums, the business now caters for many different occasions from birthdays to bereavement and any time someone needs some TLC. Steph regularly writes and talks honestly about motherhood, relationships and business on her blog and well-followed Instagram account.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I run thoughtful gift package company Don’t Buy Her Flowers; I had the idea when I had my first baby and was sent eight beautiful, well-meant bouquets but I was on the sofa feeling weepy and leaky and it struck me as bonkers that the go to gift for new mums was another thing to care for. When I returned to work after my second maternity leave, I had really noticed there was a gap in the market for a gift that was all about TLC. I launched in 2014 from my spare room, doing everything from PR and social to dealing with suppliers and packing orders. We now have a team of ten and a warehouse in Gloucestershire, where I’m from, which is headed up by one of my brothers. I have five siblings and live near Richmond with my husband and three children.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No! I did one sensible thing at University, which was a careers talk on Government communications. I then applied to a regional office for some work experience between my 2nd and 3rd years at Uni, and ended up doing a few hours a week in my third year, which lead to my first job after I graduated. It set me on a career path in communications and later brand and marketing and that has been invaluable to starting a business. I had lots of jobs growing up – cleaning, waitressing, stacking shelves, and I didn’t have a gap year or anything. Now I look back and can see I just wanted to work.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I found returning to work after having children difficult – I was part time and felt a bit displaced. I didn’t want to go full time but I also love working so was torn between the two roles, of employee and mother. Then I’d say the first two years of running Don’t Buy Her Flowers were the most challenging, in that I didn’t know what success looked like and you’re never ‘done’ running a business but especially in those first couple of years, so I found that overwhelming. Having spoken to other business owners, it’s often just how it is. Getting something off the ground requires hard work and often at a time when you don’t have a team around you so it’s quite isolating.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Don’t Buy Her Flowers and the growth we’ve seen, year on year. We’ve done it without outside investment and last year saw our biggest growth yet. I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go in the five years since we launched, so the fact we’re not only still going but growing and with lots of plans to come makes me really proud. We’ve just moved to a bigger warehouse, we’ve grown the team, we’re really clear on who we are and I think we’re just hitting our stride.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Staying focused and knowing what it is we do. Our focus is on thoughtfulness, and all our products and packages are about encouraging the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves. While the idea was set up as gifts for new mums, that core idea translates through to many occasions – from get well and bereavement to birthday and ‘sorry you’re having a hard time’. That absolutely remains our focus, and our customers come back because the feedback they get from the person they’ve sent a gift to – which is often emotional – shows how much that person felt cared for. When everyone is so busy, it’s a real human connection that we get to be a part of. We also ensure that thoughtfulness is carried through the entire business, from our packaging to our customer services and the way we treat each other.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I don’t have an official mentor but I have people I can call on for advice, and I know a lot of women who started businesses at the same time as me and we get together regularly to share our highs and lows and chat about detail like couriers and recruiting. I also have a core group of friends who were the first people I told about DBHF and they are advocates and supporters, and picked me up if I wobbled in those first couple of years. I’ve a few women who’ve started out more recently that I’ve worked with and I’ve really enjoyed being a mentor at some speed-mentoring events – it can be really useful to get a fresh take on your ideas, even if it’s in a very short space of time. I’m conscious of how much capacity I’ve got currently with the business and young children but it’s something I’d like to give more time to in the future.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
It has to start at home. If women are always the ones to manage the household and children – to drop everything if someone is sick, to have to fit work around school hours, we will always have ‘lesser’ roles. We have to work on finding more balance at home rather than just taking on more – I see so many women edging towards burn out because we’re working and starting businesses, but doing all the things we did before as well and it’s not sustainable. It’s a huge adjustment when for most of us, our role models were our parents and their roles and expectations were very different to the ones we have now – it’s a big deal for women AND men and won’t happen overnight. I think men in management positions need to lead by example – paternity leaves, regularly taking the kids to school, walking out of work early to pick up the kids. That will trickle down. You cannot be what you cannot see.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I’d like to say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ but I’m nearly forty and still struggle! I’ve always been a worrier, but I’m trying to get better at sensing the overwhelm before I fall over the edge. Switching off the phone, family time, reevaluating and taking some things off the list. So I’d probably say something like that – ‘try not to worry, you’re doing ok’.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Short term, we’ve got Mother’s Day 22nd March and it is a huge time for us so we’ve got new packages lined up, a gift guide, and the team are ready! Longer term, we’ve set ourselves some pretty tough targets for this year, and have a lot of plans – our corporate gifting is a huge opportunity and we’ve worked with some clients to create some really amazing, bespoke gifts in the last six months. I’m interested in testing out a retail space, and we have some new package ideas launching. Now we have the team and space set up, I want to see how far we can take Don’t Buy Her Flowers, as the number one thoughtful gift company.