Selling sweet-smelling flowers is a tough task, but fulfilling job

By: PAULINE KAIRU

As a saleswoman, your work certainly starts with breeding because you will not have flowers to sell. What is flower breeding all about?

Breeding is about selecting flower varieties, for instance of roses, with desirable characteristics, crossing them and hoping to produce a new one to improve the quality and performance or come up with more desirable traits like colour, shape or size that will be the next big thing.

Every year, there are thousands of new rose varieties produced. They undergo selection and eventually after several years of testing, each rose breeder has a few varieties to hopefully sell in the market – and that is where I come in.

There is a lot of investment that goes into the crossing, selection, growing and marketing of each rose. It is not a quick process and for a new variety to become profitable, it takes a minimum of five years, but even then, your returns are not guaranteed. There is definitely a good deal of luck involved.

What is your typical day like?

Typical activities in a flower company involve work carried out in research and commercial settings, and due to this, individual tasks may vary according to the specialist area and level.

My day is spent either in the office catching up on paperwork, in the showhouse comparing varieties on growth, quality, colour, head size or on farms around Kenya and Tanzania selling varieties and seeing how our crops and trials are growing. Every day is different.

What is your advice to a student who wants to take a career in selling flowers?

It is important to be able to understand floriculture, how a crop will grow and what different factors affect them.

So a background in floriculture/agriculture is a great benefit. But most importantly, understand people. My role is first and foremost as a sales woman, if I can’t communicate with my farmers then I can’t do my job.

I grew up in a mixed beef and arable farm so have a background and a degree in agriculture I have adapted that knowledge to the floriculture industry in my five years in the sector.

When I graduated, I was working in agricultural sales in the UK and my managers both previous and current helped me to develop my sales techniques.

Then, once you get a job in this industry, stay in it rather than switching between companies as this speaks volumes. Employers want to know that if they invest time and money in you, you will commit your time and knowledge to the company.

Are careers in the flower industry well-paying?

Yes, they are. Once you are in the flower industry, there is a wealth of career opportunities, from accountants, farm managers to logistics teams. Your financial reward will depend on the company and your role.

What are your best varieties of rose flowers; the ones you would not be pushed to sell?

We have many successful varieties across the world. In Kenya, some of our best varieties include Kiwi – a creamy pink, Red Paris – a Thybrid red and El Toro – a bright hardy red.

Currently, flower production is dominated by multinationals. Do you foresee a time when the small farmer will grow flowers for export?

There are both large and small flower growers in Kenya. The smallest growers grow for the local market and with low costs and low inputs and they end up with low quality, and that is how things will remain if the farmers don’t change. There is a lot of development to be done in the local market such as creating more demand and better quality.

Exporting flowers generally requires large volumes and consistent good quality roses. If smallholder farmers can produce good quality roses, they must then work together to market their roses to international buyers.

What challenges do you face in your job?

Getting to know each of all of our varieties. We have so many new names and codes that it is a challenge to keep up with how they all perform.

Aaah! I must add this, the roads and drivers in Kenya is another big challenge for me. I spend a lot of time driving to farms all over Kenya and how a majority of people drive astounds me every day.

I long for the day when every vehicle on the road will be fit for purpose, the driver understands and obeys the traffic rules, roads are repaired before they look like the surface of the moon, and the policemen . Well, let’s not get into that.

What don’t you like about your work?

Having to chase people to pay their bills; that’s never funny.

Any successes and lowest moment in your work?

Every show and open house (as long as they go well) signal a success for me. I get great satisfaction out of displaying our flowers and getting a good response.

What is your impression of the job market in this field? Is it too saturated?

There is always a need for personable, knowledgeable individuals. It’s just getting your foot in the door, that’s the problem.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION