Amanda Johnston had always worked as a florist since leaving school. She had always had her eye on a vacant shop in her local high street and made the leap to setting up her own shop when her father offered to lend her some money. However, the dream shop that she had always wanted soon turned into a nightmare.
Johnston knew straight away that the shop would be a good place for a flower shop. It was on a main thoroughfare with a lot of passing traffic. The high street was always busy in the afternoon and the shop even had parking outside. "It was an ideal position and I knew the area really well," she explained.
Her father then offered to help if she could get the premises she wanted. After a visit to the bank, Johnston visited the local enterprise agency and the Princes Trust and managed to secure a £3,000 loan.
Johnston set about securing an assignment of the lease from the existing leaseholder who was using the premises for storage. "My solicitors were talking to their solicitors and it seemed open and shut," she said. With the loan from the Princes Trust secured, Johnston started to advertise Chelsea Flowers in the local paper using the high street address but with her home telephone number.
However, two years down the line and the property is still empty and a court case is looming. Johnston wanted to get the lease checked by a legal clinic run by the Trust. Although the lease was approved, Johnston was advised to get a surveyor to check what repairs might be needed on the property.
The inspection showed that £5,000 was needed to bring the property back to good order. The existing leaseholder was required to do that under the terms of the lease but refused point blank. Although Johnston was willing to take on the lease and made the repairs over a five-year period, the owner refused and chose, instead, to pursue the leaseholder through the courts.
"It has been going on for two years. It is now empty and fallen into dilapidation," she explained, adding that the leaseholder has refused to pay any rent.
With Chelsea Flowers already being advertised and the money from the Trust sitting in the bank, Johnston was forced to rethink her strategy. She took a lease on a property behind the high street with a reasonable rent and Chelsea Flowers opened in February. Without any passing trade, she was forced to concentrate on credit card business. Johnston applied to the bank for merchant status and became a member of a teleflorists. She advertised in bridal magazines and also joined the London Wedding Agency which sends out a list of forthcoming weddings and the brides. “I had never thought about it before because I thought I would be too busy with the high street,” she said. However, the strategy has worked well and Chelsea Flowers has had 10 weddings this year and as the only member of the teleflorists in that area of London has also had a lot of telephone orders.
Johnston would still like to move into the original property but the stress has forced to switch off and focus on her existing business. I was on the phone to the solicitor constantly, she said, “It was mentally wearing and I physically felt ill.”