Interview with Carole
Interview with Carole, owner of Oulala Flower. An outstanding flower designer with an extraordinary story.
Tell us about yourself
That says a lot!
I just decided to set up my own business because I didn't want to work for any casinos or hotels. I wanted to keep my own design. I work in Macau, I work with events companies from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan. I can work anywhere. I also do flower design classes at the tourism university. Students can get a diploma and after that go to work in the hotel industry.
Oh interesting, flower design at the university?
Yes, it’s a tourism institute. They provide many kinds of courses, and one of them is on flower design. I started like that, and became also a little famous like that.
Because I also organize classes and my workshops I'm Macao. And voila! My job is working with flowers, teach flower design, and at the same time working with big companies like Dior, Chanel for their events.
And how did you find yourself in Macao, what’s the story?
Because of love. I am from “Paris” but I followed my lover. Now we are not together anymore, but I decided to keep my business and stay in Macao.
How was the idea born and what were your first steps?
I decided to create this business, because I didn't see anything in Macau. Nobody provided good flowers! It’s only flower baskets, you know, for shop openings, horrible. And when I saw that, I said “Come on! That’s not something to do!” And it’s my work, I have been flower designer for more than 20 years.
Back in Paris?
Not only Paris, but all over France. I worked for big events, with 5000 people in the South of France. Do you know Cannes movie festival?
Oh yes, of course! It’s very famous!
Yes, I was the one to design all the table settings, the cocktail area. Everything related to flowers was on me.
So flowers are my passion. I decided to open something in Macau. And it was difficult, because I didn't want to open just a shop. Also because when I arrived in Macau I didn't speak any English. My English was very very bad, it’s still bad, but back then it was worse. Because I couldn't speak any Chinese. I also learned a little bit of Chinese. And then people started to respect me, because I could understand a little Chinese.
So you saw an opportunity?
I was walking in the street, looking for tools like scissors. I pushed many many doors of different florists, and they were “ bra bra bra”, pushing me outside, because they couldn't understand. One women, Cantonese, she couldn’t speak any English, but she tried to help me. And in fact, she kind of asked me, “What do you want to do with it? You look like a tourist and you are searching for florist material.” And I tried to explain her in my terrible English and Chinese, that I am a flower designer and I want to open a business in Macau. And she was like “Wow”, and she decided to help me.
Incredible, but true! She had two shops. One with artificial flowers, a horrible shop. And there was another fresh flower shop. After many weeks of talking about flowers, with very simple words in English, she told me : “ You can take this shop.” I said, “What?”.
She said :”Yes”! I didn’t have any money, I didn't set up legal papers and registration. She said: “ You take this shop and you will pay me rent when you have the money”. So I had this huge opportunity. I took the shop, I removed everything. I managed everything inside by myself, because I didn't have any money to pay anyone, like a designer or a decorator. Not even a contractor. And I stayed there for many months, without paying any rent.
And I start to do my classes inside. Step by step. That’s how I started my business without money! Just friendship.
So for how long you did you stay in this shop?
I am still in this shop. (laughs), it’s been more than 6 years now.
This lady, must have predicted the future, that you will bring her lots of money!
I didn’t know. She is famous in Macau. Everybody knows her, she has lots of flowers and she does Chinese style arrangements out of them. I teach her different styles, European and especially French style. I taught her how to wrap bouquets in the French style instead of using horrible feathers and ribbons and whatever. So she taught me many things and I taughtt her many things. I also taught her French and she taught me Cantonese. It was and is incredible.
It is an incredible story.
Yes, in Paris, who will tell you: ”Take my shop and no need money to pay”.
It’s like in the movies.
Yes, it was an amazing opportunity. And she became my friend. She helps me to order flowers in China, like different leaves. Because I still don't speak much Mandarin. So she continues to help me.
Which are the services you provide now? You have a flower shop, right?
It’s not a flower shop. It’s more the workshop. I don’t sell any bouquets inside, maybe for friends only. My service is flower design, working with event companies. When they have a project, they invite me, they explain what they want, what the client wants etc. and we make their ideas come true. It’s not only flowers, it can be any type of decoration.
As I said, I also teach at University and at my workshop. And also sometimes people come for my help for different projects. Like last time they invited me to work with Van Cleef and Arpels in Taiwan. It was a huge project, in the middle of the mountain in Taiwan for their new collection of jewelry. People come to me because I do every time unique design. I don’t repeat my designs, every event is something new and special. I provide all the drawings, I draw by myself and I show them to clients. I explain to the clients how it would be, I do flower selection. Sometimes I can do some samples, though rarely. After all that they decide to go in this or that direction.
What was the most remarkable project you worked on? What was your favourite?
The most crazy one was Wynn Palace in Macau. They contacted me, one month and 2 weeks before the deadline and asked me to put Christmas decorations everywhere. Everywhere, and its huge. (laughs) It was really crazy. And in few weeks I had to design each of the bowls, I am not talking even about flowers, only about decorations. I had to design all the bowls and find 6 factories in Taiwan, who could produce that quantity. It had to be good quality glass bowls. It was 80 000 of bowls, nobody wanted to take the order, it was too short notice. My special design, high quality of glass, crazy amount and short notice made it impossible. It was crazy. Also a lot of money. We had to find a very special Christmas tree as well. I also had a crazy idea! Inside the Wynn Palace you have a very very long corridor, and inside this corridor there are columns every 2 meters. I decided to drape every column with Christmas decoration, different little designs, bowls, trees. It was 180 columns. I also had to find 80 people to help me and work night and day to put Christmas decorations on the Christmas tree. You spent like 3 hours on one Christmas tree.
I can imagine, your work is very hands on, you start with an idea all the way to putting it literally in place.
It’s very interesting, I love my work.
Do you work by yourself or do you have a team?
I have a team, and also because I teach many of my students want to work with me. So a lot of time they will take a day of and come and help me. I pay them of course, and it’s very good practice for them.
When you were starting, what was your biggest motivation and inspiration ?
My biggest motivation - to do what I want. To keep using my designs. It’s very good motivation, I must say. I can do whatever I want.
The inspiration question is very hard to answer. Many people ask me, where do you get inspiration from. I don't know, I go to museums. You can find inspiration everywhere. When I walk in the mountains I can see some ficus roots, touch them and suddenly create something with that. It’s really difficult to explain inspiration.
Have you ever had a creative block? When you need ideas, but they are just not coming up?
It's a sleepless toime then. Day and night you are thinking about it. It’s terrible. Sometimes I am here with my pen, I try to draw, but nothing happens. I try to go outside, get a glass of wine. Put some distance between me and the project. Sometimes you have to take some space, even to come to Hong Kong. Then I go back to Macao and I suddenly have ideas.
What was the most challenging part of starting your business?
Everything. All the papers. All in Cantonese and Portuguese. So language was the first problem for me. After the most important thing is to create your name, to be known. This part took a lot of time. In the beginning, nobody knows you. How can you work if nobody knows you? Maybe because I was famous in Paris, and when I came here, nobody knew me and it was hard. It was very difficult in the beginning to explain people that its more elegant to do a bouquet in monochrome colours, instead of mixing all colours together.
So you were creating the trend. Not only you were putting your name out there, you were creating a new trend in the place!
The thing is that in Macao it’s very Chinese. So people are conservative. It feels sometimes that there 20 years of difference between Macau and Hong Kong, So the most challenging part was to change the mentality, how the Macanese see flowers. Of course, if you do a white bouquet, for them it’s for dead people. For me the most challenging part was to change the mentality, the connection that they had in-between the flower and themselves. They only did opening baskets or horrible “hello kitty” bouquets ( laughs) and now I taught don’t know how many people who went and opened their shop, started working in casinos and now they start doing something with completely different designs. About how they feel about bouquets. I am very happy they do it, hallelujah!
That was the most challenging part. Doing business in Hong Kong and Macau is easier than in Europe, we even have very low taxes. The problem is only your product and the people. When you open a business, you really have to know if the product will be right for the people. If you are in the right city. Because you can have the best product, flower design, but if people are have a different type of mentality, other preferences and ideas, it’s not gonna work.
When you start a business, it’s good to do a search if the product will match with the mentality of the people, the city, the country.
But so far, since you’ve started, your product doesn't seem to be in a good demand. Monochrome bouquets?
It’s true, but my business is to work with events companies. I didn’t open a flower shop, so I didn’t care much. I just tried to explain them that monochrome bouquets are more elegant. But event companies are working with big European brands. Like for Chanel it’s not a big deal to use white colours. It would've been a big deal if you opened a flower shop in Macao. But anyway you really have to do something classical, or something contemporary and stay away from tacky things.
I am sure you remember who was your first client in Macao.
My first big contract was the Wynn. Steve Wynn, the owner of Wynn. He was coming to Macao and there was a big dinner. I received thousands of flowers to create decorations for the table. Just for a one hour dinner. I was working for 3 days, I had a huge ballroom full of flowers! I worked night and day for 3 days to decorate for a 1 hour dinner!
What do you do with all the flowers afterwards?
I give all the flowers to students who help me, I also offer the vase. I also do every time special vases for each event, because every time it’s a new creation. Since I am not going to use any vases again, we need to giveaway vases as well. Client accept that and also pay for the vase. Also one of the points is, that having a warehouse in Hong Kong is amazing.
So do you have a flower collection at home?
No, I only have couple. But I always have flowers at home. Everywhere, even in the kitchen. I can’t imagine my life without flowers.
Lovely! Going back to the practical side. Which marketing tools did you find to be the most successful? Which methods worked the best for you to acquire new clients?
It was always word of mouth. Macao is like a village. So when people start to talk. Frankly speaking, most of the time I don't manage correctly the marketing side. Maybe because I was and am in Macao. It’s a village, everybody talks, now everybody knows me. Most of the time, I had a lot of interviews. When people google flowers in Macau, I come up on the first page. Sometimes event companies are searching for flowers in Macau and they find me. They see that I can teach, that I do a lot of events, they see my FB page. In Macau everybody is on FB! It’s really important to be there. I also have Instagram. But I am not good at marketing. That is something I have to improve, I have to have a strategy for marketing, I need to communicate.
What did you find to be the most difficult part of running your own business? Which challenges did you come across?
The accounting part. (laughs) I have 3 currencies - Macau, China, Hong Kong. When I order flowers in China, I have to pay in one currency, when I order in Hong Kong, I pay in their local currency and then I also order in Macau. Because you, know, I do accounting by myself. It’s not a big deal, because I have a diploma from the Commercial Chamber of Paris so I know how to manage accounting part. So it’s not a shop, it’s events, so it’s not that bad.
Yes, since you are doing big events!
Well, you know, sometimes I also do small events. I do weddings. Sometimes people come to me and ask, “Carol, can you do an event for us, but we don't have much of a budget”. And I will do it , will have some good ideas, will order cheaper flowers, and I can work within the budget. Some flowers can be very expensive from Japan, New Zealand, get them on the boat and taxes, but you can also get something cheap from China. But of course, I earn the most money with big events.
And did you ever ordered flowers that arrived in a bad condition?
Oh yes! That happens regularly, when I order from China. They come in a truck, they don’t wrap them properly and most of the time it’s very hot. So flowers arrive in terrible conditions sometimes. But the supplier I am working now, is the biggest in Asia, its price is crazy, but amazing quality. I always order a little more than we need, just in case. Also you have to know your products and the working conditions.
Recently I was doing an event for a Dior perfume. It was a workshop for all of their Asian Region perfumers and they wanted nice smelling flowers for it. They requested for garden roses. But I had to warn them, that they cost a lot, and often don’t travel well, so we can’t guarantee. And I had to come up with an alternative solution. I don't like taking risks, I prefer to be safe. Working in this city with 35 C with flowers is hard, I do my best. You have to know what and how to buy, you have to know your supplier. A good, strong relationship between you and supplier is crucial, otherwise you can’t promise to a client.
You have been doing it for a very long time, what is that you love the most about what you are doing?
The creation. When I start to think about an idea. When I spend time drawing and searching for an idea. I am also good at ordering good quality and the right amount of flowers. You need to count a lot before ordering flowers. And when I start to see everything coming together I think “Wooow, I did it!” I start from nothing, from pen and paper and in the end, this thing really happens. You work on it night and day, it’s always in your head and then you see its coming together and finally people are working around your creations. And you see the light. You know, light is very important. I always make a point with clients and events companies, that without proper light it would look terrible on the pictures. When the light is done, flowers are done, you are relieved. You are totally exhausted, but then the “I did it” feeling comes in, the guests are arriving and start enjoying it!
What I love the most, is to put my idea on paper, create it and then see the reaction of the people when they are coming in, when they go “wow”. I feel that I didn't work for nothing. It’s for few hours, with flowers it’s only for few hours, but feels good.
It must be really amazing! And what are the advantages and disadvantages of having your own business?
It’s not stable. That’s a big disadvantage. It’s not like you are on expat package and can win a lot of money, like all the chefs in Macau. So people have security, a big salary, social protection, many advantages. Me, I have nothing, tomorrow if I don't work, I am not going to receive any money. I guess that’s a key difference between people who work for someone and for yourself. And you have to fight with everything. I had to fight with my horrible English, with stupid products I couldn't find, because it doesn't exist in Macau.
But if you put some distance, you can tell, I created my own business, I am so proud of what I do. I realize it a lot, when I go back to France. When I speak with my friends back in Paris, and they tell me “oh, you did this and that, we saw on FB”, I feel very proud. When you have some distance, you can tell, I start from nothing and here I am. When you are here, in Asia, you work work work, you never take any distance to reflect.
What would you recommend someone who is debating whether to start their own business tomorrow?
If it’s the shop, the location is the most important. If you have the most wonderful shop, but location is not right, you are not going to succeed. I would also recommend having a business plan.
Did you have one? (laughs)
Nope (laughs). But I went to the Commercial Chamber of Paris, so I know how to do a business plan. I didn't do one myself, because I wasn't opening a shop. For the shop you have to do it.
For the shop you also have to see, if the product is suitable for people in Hong Kong. If you believe in your project, go. But after all, I didn't put all my money inside. I was creating step by step my business. If you put all your money inside, you really have to be competent.
What is your motto?
Life is short, do what you love. If you have a passion, go go go.
If you have some dream, go! Because life it’s easy.
It’s funny, because my students sometimes tell, oh its so difficult! I cannot do it. It looks so easy when you do it! And I tell them, “Yes, life is hard”. But when they finish, they are like, “Yes, i did it! I am so proud”. And I tell them, “You see, in the end life is easy”.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! It seems to be a fairy tale, but in the end it’s a story about persuasion, hard work, big dream, passion and talent.
You can visit Carole at her workshop in Macau:
Rua de Sacadura Cabral n.9-c
Or get to enjoy her creations at:
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