Thursday, September 8, 2011

From budding spin-off to blooming success

Source Website:
Joy Fang,, Tuesday, Sep 06, 2011, my paper

PHOTO: Mr Chioh launched his pet project in 2000, after he decided that the flowers and gifts sector had a lot of potential, especially in terms of e-commerce, but was under-marketed by the company at the time.

When he was a little boy, Mr Ryan Chioh would follow his mother to their family's orchid farm and watch her work, occasionally helping her to harvest and collect flowers.

Mr Chioh's relationship with flowers and gifts began then.

The managing director of, the online retail arm of floral giant Far East Flora, grew up with the industry around him.

His father and two uncles set up Far East Flora in 1965, and he watched them build the company up from scratch, from the days when they peddled flowers and eggs from the back of a van to the thriving corporation that it is today.

PHOTO: Lilac Flowers, the most distinctive feature of the flower is that its blossoms grow in panicles—dense clusters of flowers that cling to the branch. Although the flower’s name indicates the most common color of the flower—a soft shade of purple or violet—the lilac also grows in pink, white, pale yellow, and a bold burgundy.

While Mr Chioh, 40, was not always certain if he would one day work in the company, he decided to hop on when his uncle, Mr Danny Cheok, group managing director of Far East Flora, asked him to help out.

He had been working in the United States then.

"I felt that my educational background was for me to understand what was out there, and that eventually I should come back to contribute to the family business," he explained. had humble beginnings.

Mr Chioh launched his pet project in 2000, after he decided that the flowers and gifts sector had a lot of potential, especially in terms of e-commerce, but was under-marketed by the company at the time.

PHOTO: Flower wallpapers

There was only a small department under the parent company that took orders by phone then. The online business - a separate entity from its parent company, which focuses on plants, garden landscaping, imports and exports, and foliages - faced many obstacles initially.

At that time, use of information technology was not as widespread and's back-end operations had to be done manually. For example, phone and online bookings were not integrated.

This meant that things "can get lost or misplaced, and message cards can get attached wrongly", said Mr Chioh.

PHOTO: Pink-dogwood-flower-tree

"Once, a customer called us and said, 'My wife's name is not Paula'," he said with a laugh. was made up of a small team of about 12 people then and was struggling to survive, so aspects like branding were put on the back burner, he added.

He also had to grapple with how to run a business, as he had little practical experience at the time.

His uncle taught him that running a business took hard work and not just ambitious dreams, and that one has to "remain grounded".

Fortunately, those troubles are a thing of the past.

PHOTO: Spectacular festival, held every year in the country that made Tulips famous.,j98gchHg3XRE is now one of the largest online flower and gifts companies in Singapore, and Mr Chioh said its sales numbers put it among the top three in the industry.

While he declined to disclose the exact figure, he said the site contributes about 20 per cent to the total revenue of its parent company, up from just 3 per cent a decade ago.

He has also seen a rapid increase in the proportion of sales made by individuals online. Online sales now make up 50 per cent of's revenue. It still takes phone bookings as well.

PHOTO: The Straits Times, 31-Jul-2009: Miss Universe Singapore 2009, Rachel Kum, models her national costume, a dark pink silk-satin and chiffon gown which has a giant Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower attached to the back. For the first time in a Miss Singapore Universe contest, the choice of the costume was put to an online vote on Singapore's national service portal

"People are becoming increasingly tech savvy and better educated," he said, adding that his customers are typically aged between 18 and 45 years old. The site also offers an option for people who want to make last-minute bookings, he said.

The company launched its site in Hong Kong in 2006, and another in Malaysia last year. The chain plans to expand further into the region, such as to China and Taiwan, within three to five years.

The company is also leveraging on social-media sites such as Facebook. It has gained 11,000 fans since its page was set up in July last year, and rolled out a mobile application last month.

Available in Singapore and Hong Kong, the app enables customers to view the site's full selection and make transactions. The company was the first florist to offer such an app at the two locations, said Mr Chioh proudly.

PHOTO: Blooming Blossoms Flower 2010

"We've had some success in breaking away from the traditional mould of being a mom and pop flower shop, just waiting for orders to come in. I don't like to stand still, we always need to try to be different, to do things differently," he said.

Of course, commitment to his work means that Mr Chioh, who married his wife, Michelle, in 2000, has had to sacrifice family time, especially in the earlier years. He used to work some 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

The couple have two boys and a girl, aged six, four and 1½ years old.

"Luckily, I have an understanding wife and she knows that a business requires a certain time commitment," he said. He still works about eight to 10 hours a day and travels overseas frequently.

He tries to keep his weekends free, when he will drive his kids to their enrichment classes, help them with their homework and at least have a meal with them.

PHOTO: Flower - Dew Covered Dahlia

"I do miss them, but I don't beat myself up too much," he said. "I grew up that way, knowing that my parents worked really hard in their business to support the family. It's for a purpose, and it's a principle I'll pass down to my children."

Don't be surprised if, one day, you order a flower basket for your loved one and Mr Chioh himself comes a-knocking.

The affable boss sometimes makes deliveries using his own car, something he finds "fun and exciting".

He also wants to see who his clients are and what they are buying. "It helps me to understand the operation flow better," he explained.

By Joy Fang,, Tuesday, Sep 06, 2011, my paper

PHOTO: Riding through the ‘tunnel' of snow white flowering pear trees. Extraordinarily calm, quiet, and outstandingly beautiful. Not colorful....but so therapeutic.

我的字典: Wǒ de zì diǎn

Peddled: 沿街叫卖 - yán jiē jiào mài
Foliages: 叶子 - yè zǐ
Tech savvy: 对科技熟懂 - duì kē jì shú dǒng
Affable (Friendly): 和蔼可亲的 - hé ǎi kē qīn de