On September 29 last year, Far East Flora opened an 11-storey floral-themed shopping mall at Clementi. The mall, called the Far East Flora Centre, sells over 1,000 types of flowers and more than 500 plants, alongside a suite of gardening products and home decor items.
Beyond your typical plant nursery, the one-of-a-kind centre boasts a wholesale fresh market where you can shop for fruits, groceries and pet food, among other products, an on-site florist for personalised bouquets and gifts, as well as a garden cafe, F’ east.
The launch of Far East Flora Centre marks a new milestone for the business, which has established its presence beyond Singapore in Malaysia and Hong Kong, offering over 1,000 products that can be shipped to over 140 countries worldwide.
Behind this successful florist chain is 43-year-old Peter Cheok, the second-generation owner and Assistant Group MD of Far East Flora Holdings, who shared the business’ 59-year-old journey in this interview.
Far East Flora was established in 1965
Far East Flora was founded by Peter’s father, Danny Cheok, and his two brothers whom initially started off by selling fresh flowers and eggs across Singapore from a small van, before formally establishing the business in 1965.
The company then rose to become a wholesaler of fresh-cut flowers, subsequently opening its first flowers and gifts retail store at Bukit Timah Plaza in 1978.
Since then, Far East Flora has seen rapid growth and has opened various retail locations across Singapore.
In addition to its brick and mortar expansion, the company has ventured into the digital realm with the launch of its e-commerce arm, FarEastFlora.com, which was spearheaded by Peter’s cousin, Ryan Chioh, in 2001.
In the B2B space, the company’s subsidiary, OneO2Plants, where Peter serves as its Managing Director, offers plant rentals, floral design and festive decor services, among others, for its corporate clients.
Peter first joined the family business in 2002, where he was put in charge of Far East Flora’s marketing portfolio. He designed posters and uniforms for staff, while also managing ad agencies and the media.
While he initially intended to start his career in consulting with an information systems and business degree from Indiana University, the “cool economic climate” and his affinity for plants drove him to join his family business instead.
Growing up surrounded by the business and having spent my teenage years caring for plants and assisting customers, it just felt like a natural progression for me.– Peter Cheok, Assistant Group MD, Far East Flora, and MD, OneO2Plants
Tech is at the core of Far East Flora’s business
To keep a competitive edge in the ever-evolving business landscape, Far East Flora realised early on that it should digitalise its business model.
“Keeping up with the digital and business landscape had us investing heavily in technology systems and equipment, while also training our team to upskill and embrace these digital changes at the same time,” Peter shared.
Even to this day, the company continues to adopt newer and more advanced technologies to enhance its operations, allowing it to achieve savings by as much as 80 per cent in labour.
For instance, Far East Flora pioneered the adoption of a self-irrigation system within the industry, reducing the need for manual labor in plant watering. The company also claims to be the first in the industry to implement self checkout systems to not only enhance the overall customer experience, but to also further cut back on the manpower required for its retail operations.
On the backend, Far East Flora has incorporated enterprise resource planning systems to centralise its data management and streamline internal processes.
This strategy also ensured Far East Flora’s survival during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, all of its retail stores were shut down for a two-month-long period, bringing its incoming revenue from these six stores to a standstill.
At the same time, the company also battled with manpower and supply chain disruptions, further exacerbating the already challenging situation.
However, by swiftly adapting and redirecting its focus solely to its online business, Far East Flora not only managed to weather the storm but also achieve remarkable results.
In 2020, the company achieved an impressive 300 per cent year-on-year growth in online sales for its garden and wholesale businesses, mitigating the revenue loss from the temporarily shuttered physical stores.
Providing a “one-stop integrated experience to garden and flower shopping”
But that’s not to say that the COVID-19 pandemic merely ushered in challenges to businesses like Far East Flora. Reflecting on the transformation of the floral industry since the lockdowns, Peter observed a renewed interest in gardening, as more people turned to cultivating plants and flowers at home.
“It’s a small industry, and the renewed interest caused by COVID-19 saw many small boutiques and hobbyists pop up in Singapore,” he shared. To maintain a competitive edge, the company constantly “innovates its offerings and plant range”, while staying on top of the latest gardening trends.
This was what led to the launch of the Far East Flora Centre at Clementi back in September. With this new venture, the business aims to provide a “one-stop integrated experience to garden and flower shopping” in Singapore.
As the brand continues to grow, Peter emphasised its commitment to cultivating a broader community of gardening enthusiasts in Singapore.
“We strive to get more people involved in this gardening passion through shared experiences at our stores and a community of workshops for them to get their hands dirty to learn through fun.”
Looking forward, the brand aspires to be the trusted, go-to home brand for all things floriculture related.
We aim to transform the way people view a traditional garden centre by creating pockets of spaces for our guests to engage with nature, find inspiration for their green spaces, and to discover the joys of gardening at Far East Flora.– Peter Cheok, Assistant Group MD, Far East Flora, and MD, OneO2Plants
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Featured Image Credit: Far East Flora/ Prestige