Anubhav Sharma, Blush Petals:

AU: "I expect logistics to remain an issue for the coming 3 to 6 months"

What if the airline industry comes to a standstill and you have clients waiting for their flowers? During the peak of COVID-19, this was the case in Australia, causing headaches for many importers. However, Anubhav Sharma, CEO at Blush Petals - a large wholesaler in Melbourne - did not throw in the towel. To fulfill the orders, he even chartered private planes. Despite the situation putting pressure on the company's profitability, his determination to ensure a steady supply to the market enabled the company to grow significantly over the last year. When looking at the coming year, Sharma is pleased about the increased demand, but in terms of logistics, he expects the coming 3 to 6 months to be challenging.

Anubhav Sharma and his wife Parul Sharma (Marketing Manager)

2021 - a roller coaster year
In December 2020, Sharma took over the leadership of Blush Petals and when looking at his first year, he describes it as a roller coaster. "Before the vaccine roll-out, we've had many lockdowns: businesses hadn't even had a chance to get back on their feet from the previous lockdown and they were being faced with a new lockdown. This resulted in weddings and events getting canceled. Fortunately, flowers kept up pretty good: during the lockdowns, the demand for flowers from online retailers increased."

Logistical challenges 
Yet, flowers still needed to be imported. The impact of COVID-19 on logistics has been severe all over the world and it is no different in Australia. Bringing flowers into the country has been a challenge, explains Sharma "It was really stressful. Freight costs were high and on top of that, freight forwarders were dealing with a lack of space not only regarding airplanes but also sea containers. So, even if we were willing to pay an extra dollar per kilo, we could not guarantee the space."

Own charter planes
Blush Petals has commitments with its customers and has deals with supermarkets and other stores, especially during periods like Mother's Day and Christmas. But, how to get the flowers here? Sharma asked himself. "As a company, we don't want to disappoint our customers, so to overcome any sort of issue, we decided to charter our own planes for the Mother's Day and Christmas shipments. In this way, we could fulfill all our orders."

Pressure on profitability
All in all, even though the constantly increasing freight costs and their decision to charter their own planes put pressure on the company's profitability, it enabled them to grow as well. "We did not want to pass every cost increase on to our customers, so we had to absorb most of that ourselves. But we still delivered on the volumes and this achievement gained trust among our existing and new customers and enabled us to grow significantly in 2021." 

Blush Petal sources and imports a wide variety of fresh and dried flowers, including orchids chrysanthemums and roses, and has several contracted growers who strictly produce for them. They sell the flowers to wholesalers and florists across the country. 

Enough flowers for Valentine's Day?
According to Sharma, the logistical challenges are not over yet, especially because of another big holiday around the corner. "In the first week of February, we will start shipping for Valentine's day. Yet, the problem now is that we do not know how many flowers we will get in. Flights from Ecuador, Colombia, and Kenya are very limited as there is almost no space available commercially. And for the space that's available, we need to pay prices that are three times higher. I've never seen a situation like this before. Now, we are looking into alternative options, like different routes, alternative sources, or the option of doing charter flights again to ensure that the flowers will arrive." 

Sharma expects logistical challenges to stay for several months. "For the coming 3 to 6 months, I expect logistics to remain an issue, particularly if borders and hubs like Singapore and Malaysia aren't fully open. Hopefully, when the COVID situation calms a bit in Europe and sea shipments ease as well, logistics will become less of a concern."  

Positive note - increased demand for flowers
Besides logistical issues, there are some hopeful developments. "As we see worldwide, the demand for flowers seems to have increased. In Australia, the consumer's behavior has definitely changed. Most of the experts say that COVID will stay with us for the coming 10 years. Then, we would be seeing waves come and go, which means that more people will work remotely or work from home more often. As a result, they may go to bigger houses and make their surrounding more pleasant, including more domestic decoration consumption. Flowers will become part of their everyday purchases and I think it will increase or keep the demand up. I do think this overall will be higher compared to pre-pandemic times."

High number of orders
At Blush Petals, they already notice an increase in orders, but according to Sharma, this may not indicate the consumer purchasing trends. "Our orders increased, but we cannot say if this is due to the increase in demand for flowers from the consumers or from the fact that we have gained more market share because we have always fulfilled our orders. Next year we will have more insight into the behavior of the end consumers." 

Strong year
All in all, 2021 has been a strong year for Blush Petals, says Sharma. "It has been very stressful, but we managed to fulfill our orders and engage our workforce." 

For more information 
Blush Petals
Facebook: @blushpetalsau
LinkedIn: @anub-sharma
Instagram: @Blushpetalsau


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