One moment, Richard McClure was wrking in Melbourne’s corporate sector, the next, he was the owner of a flower farm in his hometown Ballarat.
This story begins with one of those “back in the olden days” tales because, quite simply, you wouldn’t possibly get away with it today.
“I started growing plants when I was 13”, said Richard McClure, owner of Ballarat’s Stems Flower Market. “My grandmother was always interested in a lot of gardening and I suppose I just got an interest from there.”
“I sold pot plants from my dad’s van at Ballarat’s local trash and treasure market on a Sunday when I was 14 years of age.
That’s how it started. Dad said, ‘well if you’re that mad keen on it, you can take the van. Drive carefully’.”
This first foray into business planted a seed in Richard which again blossomed (pardon the pun!) while he was working in Melbourne’s corporate sector.
“Myself and a mate were very happy with the paths we were taking and then there was this opportunity to purchase a flower farm (in Brown Hill, a suburb of Ballarat),” Richard said.
“So, we rolled the dice and went and had a chat to Fred and Albert Reus, brothers who had founded the farm and were retiring. We struck up a relationship with those guys and we ended up purchasing their farm and taking over from there.”
That was in 2005, the start of a huge learning curve for Richard.
“Fred and Albert made sure we knew what we were in for,” Richard said. “They certainly didn’t leave us under any illusion that it was going to be easy or anything like that.”
“Growing flowers is a bit like cows — they have got to be attended to all the time. You can’t just walk away for a week. You’ve got to pick the flowers every second day… even on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day.”Richard McClure
Richard and his wife Colleen opened Stems Flower Market in Mair Street on Monday, November 28, 2005 — the same day their second daughter Kate was born.
“Kate was in a hurry,” Richard laughed. “Colleen had worked setting up the shop on the Sunday and then, on the Monday morning, she told me ‘I’m going to stay home today’. Sure enough, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I got the hurry up to get home.”
The decision by Richard and Colleen to own and operate both a flower farm and retail outlet was based on an opportunity to fill a gap in the market.
“We felt the local community was missing out on being able to come and buy three or four bunches of beautiful flowers and put them together themselves or have our team put it together into an arrangement for them,” Richard said.
“So, we’re a flower wholesaler, if you like. We’ve got a unique cool room where you can walk in and we’ll have 200 bunches of roses on display, 200 bunches of lilies, 100 bunches of carnations. The whole range of what’s beautiful and premium available from all the growers around Victoria.”
In special hot houses, he now grows 20 different types of flowers, including gypsophila (baby’s breath), lisianthus, alstroemeria and 18 varieties of carnations.
“Ballarat is famous in Australia for our carnations because of our cooler climate,” Richard said. “They’re a very big, big part of the flower growing industry. But we’ve seen a huge decline in local production over the years. And that’s one of our advantages, that we still grow locally. So, our products are fresher, and we pick it more advanced, so it’s got a bigger flower head than what’s getting imported out of Asia and South America.”
There are now two Stems Flower Markets in Ballarat, with the second store in Coltman Drive, Lucas.
Approximately half of the flowers grown on Richard’s farm are sold in these two stores to the general public, other florists and a range of supermarkets. The remaining half are sold wholesale and are transported as far afield as Sydney.
Stems’ most unusual request to date has been to fill a ute with flowers.
“That was for a husband that had bought a ute for himself but wanted to treat his wife to some flowers so he probably wouldn’t get into as much trouble for buying the ute,” Richard laughed.
When asked the secret to keeping flowers fresh and alive for longer, the father of three used the analogy “it’s like putting a fresh pair of socks on every morning.”
“Flower care is simple — keep them fresh,” Richard said. “The biggest problem people have with flowers is they don’t re-cut the stems enough. This should be done at least every second day. And change the water every three to four days.”