Welcome to our summer edition of Farming Matters. A lot has changed since our last issue and most of our conversations and the underlying theme of…
2017 was a stressful year for PKF Francis Clark client James Cock, a third generation Cornish cut flower grower/wholesaler. Having worked in his parents’ nursery for 28 years, their decision to sell up and retire left James with a dilemma about the future.
Growing and selling flowers is in his blood, but as much as he knew his way around the sector, did he want to buy the business and take on the responsibilities of employing 10 people and the considerable overheads that he would inherit?
James said: “I was only an employee and not a shareholder of my parents’ business, so taking it on was a big ask. I actually ran the business for 10 years and we always did direct sales which were beginning to outpace other areas of the business and I could see the potential in the increasing interest in British grown flowers.
“Going on my own meant I would be selling my own produce and adding value by creating direct relationships. There would be just me, but because of this I didn’t need to have some of the traditional overheads.
“I knew direct sales would do well but it was untested. Firstly I needed to build on existing relations and connect with customers through a weekly mailshot. There were still risks involved as I had to operate from somewhere. However, all I really needed was a shed, a fridge and the internet to start this business.”
In 2017, after ‘a stressful time and sleepless nights’, James launched Flowers by Clowance as a sole trader. He had acquired five acres of land with a four bedroom house along with suitable sheds to which he has also added a further 8.1 acres. The business is located near the Clowance Estate at Praze, on the outskirts of Camborne right in the middle of the horticultural growing region of Cornwall.
He added: “We had always supplied wholesalers with local grown flowers but the internet provided the opportunity for florists to buy directly, so I took advantage of grants available to help to get broadband onsite and to develop the website.”
Now a hub for Cornish growers, James sources from 20+ growers in the South West and Isles of Scilly. A weekly mailshot goes to over 2500 florists and according to their response, James then orders from the growers thus reducing the risk of having unsold produce on his hands. Current volumes are impressive including moving some 6000 daffodils, 2000 narcissi, 200 bunches of foliage every week, as well as tulips bought by the pallet from Lincolnshire.
The business model is working, but James readily admits that cloud accounting, introduced to him by specialist advisers at PKF Francis Clark, has made a huge difference to his ability to handle the volumes, maintain control and realise his vision.
“I opted to run the business as a sole trader,” said James. “I saw the burden of escalating overheads in my parents’ business so when I went on my own I just wanted things to be simple. I have a strong work ethic and I have a self-employed part-timer who helps me but generally I do everything myself because I am able to work very smartly.
“I have a FedEx Ship Management System which enables me to pre-date labels instead of having to print them on the day of dispatch. PKF Francis Clark also introduced me to Xero cloud accounting software and this has fundamentally changed the way I work and the opportunities open to me. Xero puts me in control and minimises any risk of error.
“I’ve known about PKF Francis Clark for a long time, and partner Brian Harvey in particular, through the Young Farmers and I would always see him at the Royal Cornwall Show. We used another Truro based firm and, although I’m pretty loyal, they didn’t do me any favours. Brian helped guide me through the set-up process and suggested cloud accounting as a suitable business tool for my needs. He introduced me to Georgina Stephens, a cloud accounting specialist in his rural team. Together, they have been very proactive and not afraid to show me how to do things that accountants traditionally make money from.
“Georgina showed me how Xero works as a means of improving and controlling the business and even made up a fake customer so I could really see it in action. It does everything I need. All the customers are stored in it, it can give me an instant update on my VAT position. It was a revelation.
“There are so many advantages to it including control, cost and time efficiencies. It allows me to work remotely and to pre-date work. For instance, I can draft up next week’s invoices today and get ahead of myself. Working in advance is both time-saving and creates more control and less risk of errors.
“Previously, I was paying a considerable weekly sum for accountancy services that Xero now does for me. We now have a package including Xero for a quarterly fee which I’m very pleased with.”
Brian Harvey and his team not only advised James on start-up issues, they are also handling the business’ year end accounts, tax and national insurance as well as advising on the benefits of making James’ wife Debbie a partner in the business.
James Cock continued: “My relationship with PKF Francis Clark is very positive. With Xero, I can do things for myself, but we still have a quarterly reviews and if I have any questions, Georgina is very good at coming back to me promptly with a solution. Brian and Georgina are just a phone call away and that gives me confidence.
“As a start-up, we have had a lot of investment to find, including deposits for land acquisition, initial professional fees and tax bills. I have had good advice and it gives you confidence that Brian Harvey’s brilliant business advice is grounded in his own experience in the agricultural community.
“My USP is Cornish cut flowers and my mission is to be the hub for British cut flowers and we’re getting there. We have plans for the future with PKF Francis Clark and cloud accounting being very much part of them.”