In Conversation With… Steph Douglas

Steph Douglas is CEO and Founder of thoughtful gift company Don’t buy Her Flowers. Prior to starting the business 2014, Steph worked in brand and marketing on Government campaigns and on London 2012. Steph lives in Richmond with her husband Doug and three kids. 

Can you tell us a bit more about your decision to launch Don’t Buy Her Flowers?  Was it a slow burning idea that you’d pondered over for a while or a Eureka moment? 

I had two small kids and had returned to work part time after both maternity leaves before I launched. But I had the idea when I had my first baby four years earlier – I was sat on the sofa feeling overwhelmed and leaky and exhausted and these beautiful bouquets kept arriving. They were obviously well meant, but it struck me as bonkers that the go-to gift for a new mum was another thing to care for, when she’s doing more caring than she’s ever done in her life. So it was kind of a eureka moment that solidified over a period – after that as friends had babies, I would send them some chocolate and a magazine and a message to say it’s going to be ok, and they were so grateful. It felt like their gratitude far outweighed the gesture – one couple bought me a massage to say thank you for leaving a couple of lasagnas on their doorstep – and I realised it was because I was thinking about them and what they needed. We launched as gifts for new mums and then very quickly customers were asking to send packages for birthdays and get well and lots of other occasions. So the market and our offer is much broader now, but the core is the same – thoughtful gift packages that encourage the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves. 

“People don’t like talking about money, but it’s absolutely critical.”

And what were the biggest considerations you had to take into account before launching?

Losing my salary was a big one. When I returned to work after my second child, I knew I was going to start the business but I went back to work while I developed plans, researched suppliers and started a blog to grow a network and community. There’s a lot you can do while still working, which means (hopefully) you’re not using up all your savings while still thinking around the idea. It’s important to acknowledge that we had my husband’s salary as security so although it was a gamble, we could still pay the bills for a while if I bought in nothing. People don’t like talking about money, but it’s absolutely critical.  

Steph with her brother Chas who is also Head of Operations for DBHF

“..the feedback we started getting straight away, that people sometimes cried when they received their package – I had underestimated that human connection..”

When did you realize you had a gem on your hands with DBHF?

The first Mother’s Day was five months after we launched and orders were crazy – people got it and I’d added a package with G&Ts in it and that was so well received. I also think the feedback we started getting straight away, that people sometimes cried when they received their package – I had underestimated that human connection, that in sending a package that is encouraging someone to take some time for themselves, they’re saying ‘I’m really thinking about you’, and in turn the recipient feels loved, like someone understands. That emotion is the thing that keeps customers coming back and advocating us to others. 

Six years later, Mother’s Day is one our busiest times of the year and we’ve created a Mother’s Day Gift Guide to help customers find the perfect gift or to create something bespoke.

Mother’s Day gift suggestion

We are also launching our Bestsellers Package – where the customer creates their own gift from our 16 most popular products selected by customers, making it a little simpler to choose and The Sleep Package – which, as the name suggests offers customers a selection of products all focussed around encouraging sleep. 

The Sleep Package

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about yourself during the process of running your own business?

I never considered myself entrepreneurial and had no desire to run a business until this idea came along. A part that I absolutely love is connecting with people – the team as well as our customers. The blog and Instagram are also part of that, and I suppose I hadn’t considered myself particularly creative before. I’m also good at staying focused. I always worked hard – I had three jobs when I was at school (cleaning, stacking shelves in Boots, and waitressing) – so I knew I had that in me but throw a purpose in the mix (other than having enough money to go out at the weekend!) and I’m pretty focused.  

“When you’re 70% sure of something, go for it. Don’t wait for it to be perfect or you’ll never do anything.” 

What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis?

To keep that focus! To know what to do first – there is so much opportunity with Don’t Buy Her Flowers, and we keep uncovering more. We haven’t taken investment so we have to stop and work out what we do first, that will keep us growing and allow us to do the rest. 

Steph at the DBHF warehouse in Gloucestershire

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

When you’re 70% sure of something, go for it. Don’t wait for it to be perfect or you’ll never do anything. 

What advice would you give to your children?

To be kind to people – build relationships whatever you’re doing. 

“There’s time for everything but not all at once.”

Any top tips for managing the ‘overwhelm’ – juggling kids, husband, career, your own needs?!
It’s a constant learning curve, but one I’m getting slightly better at with age I think, mainly because I’ve realised that if I don’t look after myself it all goes to shit! Getting enough sleep, eating well, not trying to pack in too many plans. We’ve got better at prioritising our relationship too, accepting that if we want to spend time together we need to sort a babysitter and get out. That’s probably because we don’t have a newborn anymore – it’s hard to do when you’re exhausted and small kids are all consuming. If work is busy, I need to pull back on anything social. There’s time for everything but not all at once. Otherwise I don’t enjoy any of it, and it all feels like chores to get through, even the fun stuff.

Do you ever suffer from ‘mum guilt’?  How do you manage to keep it all in check?
I do but I try and squash it pretty quickly as it’s a total waste of energy and none of us has spare energy to waste. For me it has got a bit easier as the kids have got older – my eldest is nine and he’s lovely and smart and kind so I haven’t screwed him up yet! also started to take an interest in business and it helps a lot when you can sit down and talk to them about running a team and what you do with your day and they understand. 

What are your simple pleasures?
Being with my little family with no plans. Weekends that are clear of birthday parties and football training, we take the kids and their bikes to the park, get lunch (probably in a café because it’s less stressful) and then go home for naps and TV. And then seeing my oldest girlfriends. There are six of us, they were my bridesmaids and life is busy so it’s not often enough, but they know every single thing about me and time with them makes me feel calm.

Right Now I’m…

Watching: Succession. The characters are horrific humans but brilliant

Reading: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Listening to: Secret Leaders podcast

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

Laura @themodernnursery

Emma @homemilk on instagram (interiors – I knew her at school and she’s brilliant)

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