Tucked away in an unassuming perimeter unit at New Covent Garden Flower Market are the offices of Smith & Green, holders of the prestigious Royal Warrant to Her Majesty the Queen, suppliers of wholesale flowers.
Peter Green is thrilled with the accolade: "It is a real honour. The Royal Warrant is only awarded to select companies who have proven to be extremely reliable, and to have consistently offered good quality product and outstanding service to the Royal household for over 5 years. Not bad for an old punk rocker!"
Peter Green first started out in the Flower Market straight from school at the tender age of 16. It was meant to be a 1 year stint before he moved across to his dad's business in the Fruit & Veg Market, but by then Peter had caught the flower bug. "If you get it, you are here for life. You can't imagine working elsewhere!" laughs Peter.
After working for William Newton & Sons preparing and packaging order boxes for despatch and for the porters, Peter moved on to J Foster, preparing 'Country Orders', a form of Personal Shopper service for florists nationwide. Customers would send through their shopping lists to J Foster at the Flower Market, who would source the stock from traders around the Flower Market, package it and dispatch it by a same-day train delivery service all over the country.
Peter's next move was to A Chapman Flowers, another Country Orders specialist, where he took a step up to the role of buyer. "You have a consolidated list, but as you are buying, you are constantly thinking about what each individual customer likes and dislikes. You get to know what they want and expect over time. If you get it right, they learn to rely on you and trust your judgement, and so you build up a strong relationship based on trust."
In 1991, Peter was to put the strength of these business relationships to the test, by setting up in business, aged 31, together with friend and colleague Billy Smith as Smith & Green.
"The country was in the middle of a recession," says Peter, "and people thought we were mad to choose that time to go it alone. But after a slow first year, we were able to grow the business really, really well. People trust you and come to rely on you. They stick with you if you are reliable."
Crunch time for the business came in 2004, when British Rail stopped the Red Star service for rail deliveries critically damaging their Country Orders business. Customers we had served for 20 years were lost within 2 months," explains Peter.
Smith & Green needed to re-focus urgently, and worked hard to expand their customer base such that today, their client list reads like an exclusive directory of top West End hotels and restaurants.
"It was around this time that we picked up our first pieces of business for Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle," recalls Peter. "The Palace florists tested us out on smaller bits and pieces at first until over time we became their major wholesale flower supplier. It is a tremendous honour to have the Royal Warrant. It is the ultimate stamp of approval for our work."
So, what's next for Smith & Green?
"Billy retired last year, and I have a new business partner, Paul Winyard. Paul has been doing Country Orders for almost as long as I have," says Peter. "His expertise will be a great complement to mine, and will ensure that I can have the occasional day off, and perhaps even a holiday! knowing that my customers are in safe hands."
How do you get Smith & Green to work for you? "We do help people with one-off wedding orders or event flowers, but when it comes to new and regular customers, we are primarily looking to work with top end florists who want to work with top quality flowers.
I don't want the business to grow too big. To me, it,s really important to be able to be reliable above all else. The whole point of our business is the personal service: I buy it, I pull it out, and I prepare it . You have to be able to keep your eye on the ball, keep the overview and never let people down.."
Sounds like the key to Smith & Green's continued success......