Cork florist: Our story so far is one of determination, resourcefulness, tenacity

Artist, designer and florist, Kelly O’Sullivan chats to LINDA KENNY about her blossoming business, The Flowersmith Studio, in Glanmire
Cork florist: Our story so far is one of determination, resourcefulness, tenacity

Kelly O'Sullivan of The Flowersmith Studio Feature with partner Stephen Daly. Picture:Minti Pixels

“ENTREPRENEURSHIP is not for the faint-hearted!” laughs Kelly O’Sullivan, artist, designer, florist and co-owner of The Flowersmith Studio in Glanmire.

Alongside her partner, Stephen Daly, they have built up the most beautiful business that was created with the intention of connecting, inspiring, and making memories through the language of flowers.

Kelly previously worked as an area manager for GAP in London and when she and Stephen relocated to Cork, post-recession, she found it exceptionally challenging to find a job that fit her skillset.

“I was more a generalist,” she explains, and such fluidity of talents didn’t neatly fit into the specific job descriptions on offer in the market place.

Kelly O'Sullivan at work. Picture by Insta@iwona_and_emily
Kelly O'Sullivan at work. Picture by Insta@iwona_and_emily

“I just couldn’t make myself excited about the positions available, but equally, I struggled with the notion of walking away from a steady pay cheque.

“I remember reading an article about changing your career and it advised you should only pick something that you really love,” outlines Kelly.

“My mother and grandmother were both florists and I have always been drawn to the beauty of flowers without ever thinking of it in business terms.

“I am a ‘nester’,” she adds. “My home always looks seasonal. I enjoy the simple luxuries but, as a self-confessed DIY-er, I would always be looking to make things myself.

“I started the business in the winter of 2018 as a hybrid of all the things I love. Now I get to spend my days making beautiful floral creations which make people happy. And it really is a lovely spot to be in in life, working in the fresh air, from home.”

But this is no ordinary floral business.

Marry Kelly’s commercial prowess and exceptional creative talents with a staggering breadth of vision and the advanced knowledge of flowers of both she and her partner Stephen, and you get a most unique and compelling cornucopia of floral options.

From half-day workshops to DIY wreath-making home-tutorial kits, a five-week foundation course in floristry, to dried and fresh floral arrangements, the webshop seems to be bursting with the most beautiful options from which to choose.

The venue where Kelly hosts her workshops.
The venue where Kelly hosts her workshops.

The shop also offers add-on designs from local Irish artisans that complement the blooms and help create the perfect gift.

Like his own father, Stephen is a landscape gardener and he now works full-time with Kelly in The Flowersmith Studio.

They spent that initial winter of 2018 hauling their flowers and equipment to farmers’ markets around the county before an opportunity came up to rent the iconic, but disused, toll booth at St Luke’s Cross.

Long-term, it was always going to be too limiting a space to fit this hugely-talented and ambitious duo’s plans. However, in the short term and from a marketing perspective, as a bustling junction, with near-continuous traffic and foot fall, the location was pure gold.

By the autumn/winter of 2019, they were conducting mobile floral workshops in such diverse settings as the gorgeous glass house within Fota’s Walled Garden to gastro pubs and wine taverns.

Then the Pandemic hit and Kelly and Stephen had to rethink the business.

“With the onslaught of Covid in 2020, trading at the toll booth was no longer possible, but thankfully we were all set up to work from home. We relied heavily on social media and on the webshop, which I had already created and continued to expand.”

They had been living in a first-floor apartment and their inventory had encroached on almost every conceivable space, so they were forced to look for another place to rent.

One year ago, they moved to Glanmire’s Caherlag House, a stunning period dwelling with an idyllic walled courtyard garden and a myriad of disused outhouses.

“The owners liked how we wanted to use the space and gave us their permission to implement our ideas,” says Kelly.

Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.
Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.

“Stephen and I set about reclaiming the outbuildings to use in the business, and the walled courtyard, an oasis of calm and isolation, was the ideal spot for our workshops.

“By June, we kicked off our summer workshop season and had a fully sold-out diary of events for autumn/winter.

Stephen built an incredible pergola within a corner of the courtyard. With covered sides and clear roof to allow natural light to flood the space, it is the perfect setting for their workshops.

It is such a tranquil spot that, for those who come to the workshops, it feels like the ideal getaway.

As their business does not have a classic foot- fall or keep to retail hours, Stephen and Kelly are always thinking outside the box.

“I made a commitment to myself not to look at other florists’ websites,” she outlines.

“I wanted to have a clarity of my own vision without being overly influenced by others.

“Each season, I split my time between creating for the season I am in and planning/creating for the next one,” explains Kelly.

Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.
Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.

“For example, I always plan for autumn/winter in the preceding spring/summer.

“While I’m working on Christmas creations, I make sure to take time to create for the following Christmas to take advantage of the availability of certain seasonal products. I then take lots of photographs so that I’m ready with images of wreaths and Christmas bouquets to upload in plenty of time for next Christmas.

“I’m genuinely camera shy myself,” she insists, “but I’ve learned to take a lot of photos as I’m creating. I know it is going to be beautiful but it is essential to be able to convey this to those who peruse the webshop.

“Believe me, if I had a marketing team to do this for me, I would be so happy,” she adds with a resigned laugh.

“But, for now, it is just me. I’m literally learning as I go, and I have built this awareness of brand-building on social media into the way I work.”

Fresh and dried foam-free floral creations for home, gifts, weddings, and events are the bedrock of the business.

Known for their natural ‘just picked from the garden’ signature style, eco-friendly design methods and recyclable-packaging, not only do Kelly and Stephen source their blooms as close to home as possible, they also dry or press any unused blooms as often as they can to be used in future creations.

“I love knowing the story behind a floral bouquet request,” she says. “The story influences how I pull the flowers together and infuses the arrangement with meaning, love and purpose.

“If Stephen does the delivery afterwards, I can’t wait for him to come home to hear how it was received!”

The vicissitudes of a seasonal business such as theirs means that there can be quiet times and it is in those quiet moments that Kelly says you have got to keep moving forward and have faith.

“We were lucky that the space and set up we created here allowed us to trade in a socially distanced way throughout the pandemic. We were fully booked.”

Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.
Some of the floral displays made by Kelly O’Sullivan at The Flower Studio, in Glanmire.

However, she believes that being self-employed means that there is an innate pressure to keep the business going and “you are constantly firing on all cylinders”.

“Our story, so far, is one of determination, resourcefulness and tenacity. We’ve foregone a lot of little luxuries over the last few years to create our business and build our brand. But, it has all been worth it,” she adds.

“With all my years of experience leading teams and multi-million-dollar businesses, at times I have found myself feeling overwhelmed.”

Like the proverbial ‘one man band’, Kelly is the creative, marketing, finance, IT and distribution departments all in one.

“Thankfully, Stephen and I can work together full-time now and take turns juggling, business, home, and being present for our little boy,” Kelly concludes.

“We’re both big believers in the power of positive energy and focus on doing our best every day. We’re doing work we love, supporting each other and letting our business grow and evolve organically.

“We are so grateful to our customers and excited see what the future holds.”

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