Can you catch the vibe? Enthusiastic, innovative and always willing to go the extra mile – that’s Gillian Pollard. Knee deep in flowers and creating beautiful things, Gillian and her team find the joy in adding a bit of this and a bit of that for wild arrangements that are just as Nature would have intended if she was a florist. Always feminine and whimsical, and with unexpected surprises thrown in, such as an amazing colour or sculptural bloom, the arrangements that come from this talented team’s hands will be sure to take your breath away. But above all, Gillian really cares about you, the bride – wanting you to enjoy the experience, not feel intimidated – and love what she has created for you, so let’s join her as she tells us her story.
How long have you been in business and why did you create Gillian Pollard as a business?
I started the brand on a very small scale in 2009. I never intended to start my own business so young, however it was the year of the GFC, I had been working in corporate and event floristry and loved it. I loved the randomness of what each day would bring. I loved going to different places and setting up all sorts of floral installations. When the downturn in the economy hit, flowers in corporate spaces were one of the first luxuries to go and unfortunately that meant I did not have any work. I found myself very willing and experienced, but as it was the middle of winter in a quiet and nervous year, I could not find a new job. I’m the youngest in my family and a few of my brother’s friends were starting to get married, I registered a business name so I could do a few weddings for them, then a few of their friends asked, then a few more, then before I knew it I was running a business. I intentionally kept things small scale for the first few years, gaining experience in all aspects of wedding floristry, learning as much as I could, refining my style and work method. In 2014 my husband and I took the better part of a year off to do some travelling, then upon my return I relaunched the business into the full time operation it is today. Each season that has passed we have grown bigger and our client base has grown and grown. We are constantly evolving and refining the way we do things, which I think is why we have been successful. I love adapting to trends and the needs of our clients. I don’t like to compare ourselves with other florists, I like our clients to come to us because of our unique way of working, and the results we provide at the end.
Image 1 by Louisa Jones Photography, Image 2 by Madeline Druce Photography
Please introduce your team! What does your awesome team bring to Gillian Pollard?
In the last two years or so our little team has grown quite quickly. I love having a small team to head. We are small enough that we all know what is going on with each job, but large enough that we can pick up slack if someone is sick or need a weekend off. It is a lovely feeling to know that I don’t have to do every single element of the process myself and that I trust each team member to complete tasks up to my brand’s standard.
Bec and Rach are my two senior florists. They both hold client consultations (either with me or by themselves). They both head up jobs on site and are super confident and capable with all aspects of floristry both in the work room and on site. Both the girls assist with market purchasing and are not afraid of some long hours on the weekend. Our routine changes so dramatically from week to week depending on what jobs we have on, and the girls are constantly rising to the challenges this demanding industry requires.
Taylor is our newest team member, she is a super talented florist and has fitted into our little team superbly. Her youth and enthusiasm to learn our ways has been a great addition, along with her own loose and whimsical style of floristry.
Bianca was my first regular employee. She is our glue that sticks everything together. Our studio manager, she is the one that is doing everything behind the scenes. She collects all the props after the event, washing then packing all the glassware away. She then preps everything for the following week, constantly painting or drilling or picking up hire items or prepping boxes or printing signs, the work is never ending. She then assists on set ups and with deliveries on the weekend, always with a smile on her face!
Then we have Nicole, she manages our emails, scheduling and bookkeeping. This has taken such a load off my plate and has allowed me to concentrate more on sales and planning (and the creative ideas), rather than the day to day operations of the business.
We also have a small team of trusted freelancers who come in on busy weekends and times when the regular team members are on holidays.
Image by Carmen Bunting
There seems to be a really positive energy in your business. How does this positive vibe affect your work, your creativity, your customers and where does it come from?
Over the years I have developed my business into something I am proud of, and somewhere I want to work. I have no time for snobbery and put no effort into creating an illusion of grandeur. I know we have the skills and ideas to rise to the challenge of any size event and create it at the highest standard. However, I see no need to present ourselves in a way that doesn’t reflect our personalities. There are many great event florists in Melbourne, dozens who could all create events to a similar standard, and we all have our little differences. I don’t like to compare our business to others, instead I like to focus on us, and what experience I want to create for our clients. I want them to enjoy the experience, I want them to feel relaxed, I don’t want them to feel scared, or intimidated or think we are just a money-making machine, hell bent on squeezing every last dollar out of them. I like to have a laugh with our clients, I like to offer advice on things to help them enjoy their day. After all, there is no law to say you must have flowers at your wedding. I want our clients to look forward to seeing our designs on the day, to experience the ambiance that they create and the way they can transform the venue. I have worked hard to instill this into all our team members, they know our clients’ happiness comes first. I also think that a positive work environment filled with laughs and smiles leads to more creativity. I encourage the girls to have a good laugh, not take themselves to seriously and it leads to a really nice atmosphere. No one is scared to put forward ideas and no one is resenting coming in. This leads to best outcomes in the end.
Image 1 by Catherine Forge, Image 2 by T One Image
As you admit it’s not a ‘glamorous gig’ so what keeps you and your team going?
Three things, Coffee, supportive shoes and adrenaline. In this industry we have strict deadlines, we don’t have the luxury of ringing a client and asking if we can deliver the next day due to some stock being delivered late or a team member being sick. It is amazing what a firm deadline does. I am constantly prioritizing tasks so that we can stay on schedule and ensure everything is ready for showtime. Curve balls come up, like they do in any industry, flowers not opening on time, wrong colours being delivered, venues changing our access times at the last minute, but we must be ready for the event. So we work hard, and fast to rectify issues and complete everything to top standard. For this to happen it means long hours on our feet, so good shoes are a must. I’ve always envied office workers wearing beautiful heels on a daily basis… I’m afraid it is Nike’s with insoles for me, but my feet appreciate it. Coffee is a must in our workroom, to simplify things we all take the same order. White, no sugar. We don’t have time for fancy pants orders! During the busiest of times I might have been at market at 3.15am then work through to 7 or 8 at night, multiple coffees are the answer! During our last wedding season I feel pregnant so I had to limit my caffeine intake which was hard at first, but it did force me to control what I put into my body and ensure I got enough rest!
Image by The Love Jug
Please describe the preparation that goes into a wedding day.
Preparation starts well before the day. For a “standard” Saturday wedding of ours we will have two appointments. The first to develop the brief and ensure the clients are happy to proceed. The second (around a month before) is where we confirm all details. From there I spend the weeks leading up to the day sourcing props, paints, feathers…you name it!, along with liaising with our suppliers for the fresh flowers. Generally, on the Tuesday and Wednesday of wedding week Bianca will prepare any candles, vases, boxes, props etc that we may need. We also receive any blooms that may need a little bit extra time to open. On Thursday I go to the market and get the bulk of the flowers, then it is all hands on deck to processe these blooms. We organize them into jobs, strip off foliage’s, space them out to open and give them a good fresh cut so they drink up as much water as possible. Thursday afternoon and Friday myself and the team will prepare as much as we can in the work room. On Saturday one of us will stop by the market again to pick up any last minute blooms, then it is all hands on deck. Each weekend is different, but we usually all meet at the studio between 5am and 7am. We finish off any items that need it, touch up and ribbon the bouquets, box up the buttonholes and change the water in any vase arrangements, we then will load all the items in the van ready to take to the venue. Depending on the job we will be at the venue for anywhere between one hour and six, making installations, placing table centres and styling ceremony areas. One of our team members will hand deliver the bouquets and pin on the buttonholes. Which is the best part of the day, seeing the client’s face on wedding day! After the event one or two team members return to pack everything up. Depending on the venue, this will happen at the end of the event or the next day, then Mondays are spent cleaning all items and packing everything away. Ready to start another week!
Image by Elsa Campbell Photography
The word that springs to mind when seeing your floral work is ‘generous’, yet it has a delicate look at the same time. Is this your signature style?
I put in a lot of effort in the early days trying not to be locked into one style. After all clients’ taste vary, why shouldn’t our work? However as the years have progressed our clients base has evolved from dictating exactly what they want to letting us steer them in a certain direction. I still take cues from our clients’ personal taste, however I would say the majority of our work has a similar feel. Lush and multi leveled without being too outrageous. I love seeing little details in things, but still ensuring the overall effect is there. I don’t have exact rules for how we create things, or what our style is. In a nutshell I know what I like, I know what I think looks good. Something either works, or doesn’t and our clients trust us to follow through with their vision and create the best possible design.
Images by Michaela Barca Photography
How do you plan what foliage and flower colours to put together? Are you attracted to the unusual and different?
I have three things that influence my choices. Firstly I ask the client if they have any preferences or aversions to anything. Secondly I take into consideration the venue. We don’t want modern, stark designs at a rustic winery, likewise, we don’t want messy native designs in a inner city ballroom. Then thirdly I always consider the time of year, not only as to which blooms will be around, but which colours work best to embrace the season. Such as bright tones in summer or dark and moody tones in winter.
When planning our weddings, we develop a colour palate and theme/style with the client. Then we discuss the “hero” blooms which will be used in the designs. Then we leave the smaller flowers, textural elements and foliage’s vague, that way we have creative control on the weeks leading up to the event to work with suppliers for the best quality products at the time.
Image by Jerome Cole Photography
When at the flower markets, does seeing all the different botanicals give you new ideas for unusual combinations that you note for future weddings? What has caught your eye lately?
Constantly! I always have a list of our upcoming jobs with me so when I see something I think may work for an upcoming job I can order it. My brain is constantly planning around 10-15 weddings at any one time. The girls think I’m crazy, but it is just how my brain has adapted to running the business. I love seeing different things and thinking up possibilities, I love experimenting. My favourite thing is when I have had the idea for a unique prop or installation base, then I sell it to clients, they put a lot of faith in us, as they will be the first client using it, so they can’t vision what it looks like. But they trust us. Then on the day when it looks amazing it is so satisfying to think that something I dreamed up has become a reality!
Image by The White Tree
A part of your business is helping a bride pull together her styling for the wedding day. Is this a natural progression from just offering the floral work for the day – to ensure that the décor is cohesive?
Yes, there were two main factors that made me trial this idea last season. Firstly I found my clients were asking my advice on a lot of elements that didn’t concern the flowers. I didn’t mind giving my opinion, as I see so many weddings. However I could still see some clients were overwhelmed with the planning process. So I asked these clients if I was to offer a more structured service, where they still sourced items themselves but I offered advice on what colours to choose, which companies to go with etc, and held their hand through the process would they go for it? And the response was positive. Then we allow a little more time at the venue on the day to help style any of these sourced products, the clients are happy as they know everything will be set up perfectly!
The other factor that made me think this was a missing link in the industry was after working with some smaller scale stylists. The “styling” industry is so varied in what companies offer. We work with many reputable styling companies who organize everything and do a wonderful job at conceptualizing unique events. However some of our clients couldn’t afford a bespoke package of planning/styling, however didn’t trust themselves to pull everything together, so they employed a smaller styling company, who relied on us to come up with all the ideas and used all our resources, which didn’t sit well with me. They were basically charging our client for me to do a lot of extra work. So I developed a system which appeals to many of our clients. I don’t pretend to be a full service styling company. If clients want a full bespoke service, we recommend them to one of our friends in the industry, and if they want help pulling everything together with our flowers, we offer our advice service.
Image by Chloe May Photographer
How do you help the couple whittle down their many ideas from Pinterest and other sources? Do you have hidden talents in discerning their real style and pulling a look together?
I always start our first client meetings the same way. I ask our clients what they want from the overall “feel” of the day. Are they wanting a glamorous, refined event, laid back and casual or something in the middle.
I then ask to see any images that they have collected, clients are often nervous to show me. However it is a wonderful snapshot into the personal taste of the client. Usually you can see a link between the images, even if they don’t realise it themselves eg. a particular colour theme, or style of arrangement. I then take that on board, mix it together with the time of year and venue, then propose my ideas to the client. From there we tweak the design to suit the space and budget and we end up with a design everyone is happy with.
Image by Carmen Bunting
You are associated also with (but not restricted to) certain venues – how does this assist you to provide the best possible service to the bridal couple?
We do have several venues that push for us to work there. This is great for us as it means we know the venues inside out. We know what looks good, we know what restrictions the venue have and as we frequent them constantly we often have many ideas for future designs in our brains waiting for the right client to come along. In return the venues love having us as they know we are professional, will turn up on time and be clean and cautious, it make them look good for recommending us. Often our regular venues are a little more accommodating with access times or pack down times, which means we can pass savings onto our clients. Win, win, win!
Image by The White Tree
On the day coordination is another part of your business. What are the advantages of ‘on the day coordination’?
Along with the styling advice, we trailed ‘day of coordination’ this past season. Again this is something we dreamed up after completing jobs in the past where people turned to us for lots of things outside our usual scope of work. At the moment we offer it for home based weddings. Basically we have an additional staff member who is dedicated to the running of the day. Ensuring all vendors are on time and where they should be, assisting with putting out diy styling props etc, assisting with the ceremony timing, then looking out for any issues that may arise on the day. Again, this is not a full service option. Our clients organise most things themselves then we take over in the last few weeks to organise time lines and running plans, then be there on the day to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Image by Sarah Godenzi
You and your team must work tremendously long hours. How do you ensure that your lives are not all work and no play?
The nature of this business is that every week is different. I often don’t know exact start and finish times until the day before, so my team must be flexible. I do my very best to fit in with their lives. Half our team have small families so I try to minimize the impact for them. If one of the team has a social engagement I do my best to plan for them to finish as early as possible or have the day off so they can still enjoy themselves. That is the wonderful thing about having a small team, we all work together on all jobs. When a client books with us 12 months in advance, I don’t know what other events we will have on or what social commitments the team will have. But with the flexibility of a small team we know that we can cater for anything that comes up.
Image 1 by Motta Weddings, Image 2 by Jerome Cole Photography
How do you and the team wind down after a busy week?
We are not too outrageous! We are definitely not a group of party girls! I usually get to sleep as early as we can!!! When I do have a weekend off I try to go to the beach with my husband as much as possible. The other girls go for outings with their families and friends or spend time renovating their houses. We all love watching great TV and we find we watch the same shows which does lead to great discussions over the workbench! I do try to organize a few catch ups outside work a year, and if we have had a big day and no one is in a rush to get home we often have dinner or a glass of wine at a lovely bar/pub/restaurant before the trip back to the studio which is a lovely way to cap off a big day!
With a tight knit creative team, lots of coffee and comfortable shoes, I can just imagine how much fun (and sheer hard work) it would be to create the magic that you see when you finally walk into your reception. To find out more about Gillian Pollard visit the website.
Headshot by Elsa Campbell Photography