All photos: Neill Strain Floral CoutureCan floral doorway displays showcase your flower artistry and promote your business for a decade? They can when your designs are so sensationally gorgeous they literally stop traffic. Internationally-acclaimed florist Neill Strain’s signature floral doorways successfully introduced his boutique to the affluent Central London District of Belgravia in 2008. And then his on-trend outdoor designs became a social media sensation.
“Go big, bold and beautiful,” suggests Neill. "The purpose is to attract people’s attention so let it do just that!”
From the heartThree years after opening the Belgravia flower boutique, Neill opened another location. “We opened the West Halkin Street boutique one week before Valentine’s Day in 2011," he says, "and for the launch of the new location we created an oversized floral heart. It was so successful that we carried on creating more exterior displays as the seasons went by.” “Our displays are highly Instagrammable. A lot of people come to take their picture within our displays and then post their images on their own social media channels which is great publicity for us.”
Traffic-stopping displaysThe purpose of visual merchandising is to create interest and inspire a desire for the products. Neill does this with his over-the-top florals and traffic-stopping displays. “Last May, a Lamborghini and a Ferrari crashed into each other—very slowly so nobody was hurt—because both drivers were looking at our flower displays and not the road!” Neill’s doorway installations set the stage with the storefront but deliver the story inside the boutique. They create quite a sensation in the neighborhood. “Another time, a star from the series Made in Chelsea secretly posed for a photo in front of our floral Valentine’s heart and this followed with a request to film one of the series inside our boutique.”
A time-consuming taskThe time it takes to create the doorway displays differs with the designs, but it can take the team weeks and months of planning. “We have the support frames created especially for our designs and sometimes these are combined with structures and props that we purchase,” explains Neill. “We prepare some parts at our design studio in advance and then do the installation after business hours to avoid any disruption to everyday business.” “Go big, bold and beautiful,” suggests Neill. “Don’t be too abstract as the essence of your design must be obvious. The purpose is to attract people’s attention so let it do just that!” Neill says that Oasis products are instrumental in the construction of his displays. “We use a lot of floral foam, cages, netted garlands, rings and florettes, as well as wire and glue.” The florettes Neill uses in the UK seem like a cross between the floracage grande and jumbo cage we use in the US.
Blending fresh and faux materialsThe boutique's use of fresh flowers or faux materials in the displays varies. “Sometimes we use all fresh flowers, such as our Chelsea Flower Show displays,” explains Neill. “Other times we use a mixture of fresh and faux materials.” For occasions such as Christmas, they use all faux materials due to the cold and wet British weather and the longevity of the display. “Our designs are very seasonal and we use whatever is available at that time of year and selecting flowers that will best match the mood I want to achieve,” continues Neill. Some designs are inspired by specific events. “I love to travel and find it inspirational. For instance, a visit to New York one September gave rise to a Radio City Rockets theme to our Christmas installation!”
Oversized designs can be challenging“The greatest challenge is securing the structure into exactly the right place, making sure that no parts of the design can be blown away and guaranteeing its safety for our clients,” says Neill. The designs must also be constructed in a secure way that reduces vandalism and withstands unpredictable British weather. “In February, when our Valentine’s Heart is displayed, temperatures can be very cold for fresh flowers while in June, for the Chelsea Flower Show, we have to deal with direct sunlight burning and drying out the fresh flowers,” says Neill. His staff has to water the foam and change wilted flowers daily. Neill doesn’t recommend using a lot of orchid tubes with lids.
These doorways are my personal expression of the seasons or an occasion and it is a great way for me to show the world the kind of work we do for our private clients since we never reveal these designs in order to protect their privacy.
Recouping the expenseThe event team tries to create displays as cost-effectively as possible, reusing structures, props and accessories in different ways. Permanent botanicals are a good option as they can be re-used numerous times. Some of the expense is recouped with the new clients the displays draw in. “The Instagrammability of many people taking selfies or photos of the displays, provides us with free advertising that encourages other people to come and visit the store,” explains Neill. The exterior theme is repeated inside the store to include items that will promote sales.
Why does Neill invest in the doorways? “For the creativity; to excite the passersby and entice them to come and visit our boutique; to stir up their curiosity; show off our talent! There was no intention of social media marketing—that came as a fortuitous by-product of the displays.”
A passion for flowersNeill arrived in London with a life-long passion for flowers and a degree in floristry to study set design and special effects in film, TV and theatre. While continuing his high-level floristry studies he worked at a local flower shop. Eager to learn more, he then traveled around Europe working with internationally acclaimed florists. It was during this experience he soon realized he wanted to introduce a new style to London. Ten years later, Neill has the Belgravia boutique, a concession in Harrods in Knightsbridge and a design studio for wedding and event work. Neill focuses on luxury retailing and the floral styling of his clients’ exquisite homes along with spectacular weddings and events. He attributes his success to being a perfectionist with a lot of drive and a vision to create a flower business that would offer the very best in floral design.
Belgravia in BloomNeill Strain Floral Couture played an instrumental role in creating “Belgravia in Bloom.” “For 13 years during the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the local traders, restaurants and hotels in Chelsea such as Giorgio Armani, Jimmy Choo, Hobbs, Hugo Boss and The White Company, hosted an alternative floral art competition decorating their exteriors.” Neill created lavish displays at his Belgravia boutique in the spirit of Chelsea in Bloom and encouraged his area to host a competition similar to the one in Chelsea. “Belgravia in Bloom was officially announced three years ago and our area now contributes to the beauty and festivities of the Chelsea Flower Show with over 50 participants, including several designs created by Neill Strain Floral Couture that have won many coveted awards including two Best of Shows!” How can you use dramatic doorway displays to turn your floral business into a you-have-arrived destination? Share your ideas with us in the comments.
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