Small Business Profile: Nik Southern, Owner of Grace & Thorn
Hi Nik! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Nik, founder and director of Grace & Thorn, a florist, plant and lifestyle shop in East London. Originally from North London but with strong Italian roots! Owner of 3 needy dogs.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I’ve always had a strong interest in fashion, art and gardening and since starting my own business, have really had a chance to express my creativity through my own floral designs. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, and was always looking to start something that would incorporate something I love.
After spending 13 years in IT recruitment I decided enough was enough and bit the bullet!
What led you to begin Grace & Thorn?
After my floristry course I found it very hard to get work, everyone wanted someone with experience and I did lots of work experience and found myself sweeping floors and clearing up a lot and thought "sod this. I'm going to set up on my own!" and so I did.
How do you source the plants and florals that you have in your shop and in your designs?
I just buy what I like! I spend hours scouring for new and interesting things. I love when I discover a new plant I haven't seen before.
You wrote a book! Was this something you always anticipated doing? How did it come to life?
We get sooo many people asking us questions and I started looking at house plant books and found them really quite complicated and in depth! I wanted to write a book that was straight talking and with a commonsensical approach to plants. I didn't want it to be a coffee table book I wanted it to be full of lots of different bits and pieces as well as being practical, also beautiful and fun. and I think we achieved that! My lovely publisher and agent actually approached me separately about writing a book around about the same time... so I introduced them and the rest is history!
How do you connect with your customers and community?
I am very much the voice of the brand, I am very no nonsense, down to earth and don't take life too seriously, I’m a bit of a piss taker. I enjoy meeting our customers and making people feel at ease, connecting with them and having a laugh with them. I love seeing how they react when in our shop, at an event or workshop, it gives me a real buzz. I wanted the brand to be accessible and not stuffy at all. I still manage the instagram account so connect across all different platforms.
I’ve always had a base in East London and we’re all small businesses that support each other round here. I've swapped flowers for all manner of things! It's really quite overwhelming how supportive the local businesses all are of each other and of course our lovely customers.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Working with so many wonderful people (both staff and customers) and I get so excited about having so many amazing foliages and flowers to work with so that we can create wonderful unique creations. It's my art.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Grace & Thorn?
Running your own business is always a challenge. I’m constantly learning and finding out things on the job - no-one tells you how to do it! and I never ever switch off.
You've grown quite a large social media following around the business. What is your relationship with social media (do you love it? hate it? feel like you need to have it?)
At the time I started, no other florist was using social media to document their floristry and it was invaluable to people finding out about what I was doing. It’s a great way of finding inspiration and also showcasing what we are doing.
I have had people give me advice about streamlining my posts etc, not being so personal.. but I haven’t really listened to them at all... my instagram definitely reflects who I am. I will never give instagram up, thats my baby!
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I wouldn't be here today without certain women supporting me and in return I do the same always. I come from a female dominated family and attended a covent school run by Nuns and was also one of the top billers in a male dominated recruitment agency for many years, so women have always been my main role models. Women to me have always represented strength, hard work, camaraderie and wit. We just get on with it even when we are feeling shit. I just love the grit, gumption and ambition in so many women I know.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Frieda Kahlo, my sister Laura (House of Lady Muck), Helen Mirren, Vivienne Westwood.
What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Find your passion. Keep a positive mental attitude, I am a a big believer in PMA and the law of attraction, I hate words like "try" ...just DO! Also always be a shepherd never a sheep! Do things differently but do them well. Don't settle for sub-standard.
If you believe and want something hard enough trust me it will happen. But you have to work hard for it.
How do you manage your time?
Ha! What time?! Owning your own business means you never switch off, but I always try to have one day at the weekend of relaxing, taking the dogs for a long walk and having some downtime.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
Always keeping a positive mental attitude.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
The internet as a whole.
What are some of your favourite places in London?
Camden Passage, Hackney, Islington, Vicky Park, Campania - amazing Italian restaurant just off Columbia Road, Epping Forest, The Scolts Head pub.