McQueens is a brand that approaching its 27th birthday so it’s fair to say that we have learned a thing or two about the peaks and troughs of business down the decades. After all, it’s determination and tenacity that’s needed to maintain success and build upon a reputation year on year, and we respectfully tip our hat to any flower business that has thrived for over a decade. So when we were approached by Pearsons, a well-established flower brand for a teaching assignment in Sydney, Australia we were flattered and delighted. Pearsons was established over 80 years ago, and has been run by the Pollak family for nearly five decades, so respect is due! Ahead of our trip to Australia, we spoke with Barbara Pollak, director of Pearsons, to find out how it all began and their recipe for success.

When was Pearsons established?

My parents, Fred and Clare Pollak, purchased Pearsons from the Pearsons family in 1969, a week before Mother’s Day – the Pearsons had run the business for about 30 years. My father Fred was a tailor and had no experience of working with flowers, but my mum had been a florist before hand and they were determined to make it a success. The store was in Bondi Junction (near the famous Bondi Beach) and we lived above the shop. My brother Bernard and I continue the story, developing the growth of the business along with the third generation, Bernard’s children Avi and Ellen, who are committed and passionate about the opportunities for the business in the future. We still have a store in Bondi Junction, as well as four others beautiful stores around Sydney and of course the school, which has become a large part of the business.

What changes have you witnessed within the industry?

Flower fashions are continually changing; the variety of flowers available and where they are grown has changed – it is much more professional and international. Where customers buy flowers and how they buy flowers have changed dramatically, and it is still changing now (from the growth in supermarket sales to online to farmers markets), but the reasons why people buy flowers have stayed the same. And the skills and passion it takes to be a great florist – that’s the same, too.

What is your particular approach to flower design?

It all starts with understanding the client brief; what do we want the flowers to say? This could be a simple gift to bespoke function design. What are the different ways we can meet that brief? That’s when the creativity and skills come into it, that’s where innovation starts. And personally, I don’t want to mess with nature too much – flowers are beautiful and they always need to be the hero.

When was the school established and what type of students do you attract?

We established Pearsons School of Floristry school in 1998, initially offering creative workshops and then developing a 12-month career course. We are now accredited to offer full qualifications. Our main course is called SFL30115 Certificate III in Floristry, and our goal is to give students the tools to be successful in a wide variety of flower businesses. We build their underpinning knowledge of flowers and design techniques; from there the student needs to be a problem solver and adapt the skills as flower fashions change.

Pearsons remains a family business and continues to thrive. What is the secret to the success?

Bernard and I grew up with Pearsons being a member of the family – there is pollen in our blood! We have built a really strong brand and we work hard to maintain that. Bernard has two kids now in the business and they work really well together managing our flower business. I manage the school; we support and trust one another. I think that’s the secret. My parents were real innovators in floristry and they travelled each year to Europe or the US looking for new ideas. They were one of the first stores in Australia to sell terrariums in the 70’s; one of the first to import flowers from Holland in our winter when there was little variety locally. Bernie and I learned from them that you need to be innovators and all about investing in our future. We are always looking for new ideas: in design, our team, merchandising and technology.

Why did you approach McQueens for this collaboration?

Pearsons has had staff members that worked at McQueens and only heard amazing things about the store, your work and school. So when we were looking to collaborate with key floristry brands internationally, McQueens were top of the list. Our goal for running the workshop is to offer Australian florists and flower lovers the opportunity to learn the McQueen style – something quintessentially English. We hope to add some Australian flavour with beautiful native flowers and our Sydney sunshine (fingers crossed!) We also wanted to treat our Certificate III students with a floral demonstration by the McQueens team as part of our Enrichment Programme. It’s a ‘student’s only’ event where McQueens will demonstrate the construction of a large scale design. Our aim is to inspire and educate our students and broaden their perspective of their future career in floristry.


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Words and images by Duncan McCabe