According to market research company Ti, when it comes to the logistics industry, “[labour] shortages are occurring at all job levels within the industry.” This is a problem which is endemic to supply chain industries across Europe and one which sometimes preoccupies Teddy Dimitrova, a Talent Manager for the Digital Product at bloomon. The European online flower delivery scale-up is revolutionising what customers can expect from the flower industry by cutting the supply chain by 80%. But handling so many complex tasks in house means the ultimate challenge for HR: Teddy is in charge of both hiring and retaining employees as well as tending to the company culture — we spoke to her about the challenges posed by finding the right employees for highly specialised roles and her top tips for finding unicorns.
How did I start at bloomon? I studied hospitality management and worked for a couple of years in the industry. But at some point I realised I had more passion for the people working within the industry than the people we were meant to be serving, so I transitioned into people and talent management and recruitment. This ended up to be my true passion and this is also how I ended up as a talent manager within bloomon with a focus on the digital product. What really drove me to join bloomon back then was the culture and the combination of amazing physical product and lots of technology.
The short version of what I do is this: finding employees and keeping them happy, that’s it. The slightly longer version is that it involves everything from HR, employer branding, recruitment to marketing and employee happiness.
bloomon’s business model is radically different to most other flower companies, which creates challenges in terms of hiring. Normally if you buy a bouquet in a supermarket, those flowers have already had a journey of seven to eight days to get there. The average lifetime of a cut flower is approximately 14 days. So if it takes eight days to get the flowers to the florist, it’s not surprising that they would only last a couple of days. What we do at bloomon is that we cut the supply chain and everyone in between and we work directly with over 400 growers. In this way, we manage to deliver our flowers straight from growers to the kitchen table within 36 hours in six countries. Working together with the growers not only means a leaner supply chain, but also ensures the quality of the products. We always keep the growers in the loop for feedback and work together on longevity and quality of the flowers. Next to that we grow unique flowers, such as the bloomon tulip (Yellow Rebel) and the white sunflower (White Knight).
This unique supply chain means that over the past two years we’ve had to create roles that barely exist in the market. Often we had to combine two or even three roles in one. The requirements for our Product owner Supply Chain meant we needed previous experience in three roles – engineering, product ownership and supply chain experience. It took us seven months to find that person and we spoke to over 200 candidates. The Account manager for the growers was another “unicorn” – imagine combining strong flower knowledge, experience with or as a grower AND strong sales/ account management skills! Last but not least, the search for logistic improvement lead has been an entire journey as well — we figured it’s hard to find the right person not only because our product is very perishable and delicate and needs specific logistics, but also because we are fast innovators and we would need someone who will think outside the box, drive innovation and automation.
All of this is challenging. We often have to tweak our job profiles in order to make them recognisable to people working within the regular market. Besides which, we’re always on the lookout for unicorns and this affects the time spent on recruiting. For context, while you have an industry average of hiring 40-60 days per vacancy for us it could take up to six months to find the perfect person who was able to do what we need.
There’s no one formula for recruitment success: each different role requires a different approach. I think it’s important to use a combination of tactics. When we were looking for stylists who could work in the bloomon style, this type of person doesn’t tend to have a LinkedIn page, so I went on Instagram with my colleague and we started looking for stylists. The thing about Instagram is that you can really see the end product. We would select approximately 200 pictures and I would sit with the Style Director and he’d be like [scrolling through the profiles going] “yes, no, yes, no” and in the end, we came up with 20 people we could approach for the role and we knew that if any of them were interested they had a high chance of being hired because they already had feeling for our style.
So, thinking out of the box ways to recruit and source talent is my biggest passion — I’ve sourced people on Pinterest for creative roles. I’ve sourced people on all sorts of platforms because anything with profiles on it can be used to source candidates — I’ve sourced candidates using Airbnb, for example.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past one and a half years I’ve worked for bloomon is that it’s important to realise in what kind of stage your company is. If you’re working in a startup, it’s all about finding a cultural fit — you have to have like-minded people in order to succeed. But the minute your company starts scaling up, you have to stop hiring on cultural fit and have to open up for all types of people because this stage is crucial and if you continue hiring like-minded people, growth and innovation will stop. So analyse your people, go ahead and do personality/ colour tests, see what is missing in your teams and try and hire that. In the end, there are certain things you can teach and certain things you can’t. You can teach people in skills or knowledge – such as for example understanding logistics and mastering the supply chain, but you can’t teach people to be creative, to be open minded, to think out of the box or to fit your company culture. So I think the future of hiring is hiring not for skill-sets, but for potential and attitude.
In terms of keeping employees happy, bloomon has a lot of different initiatives. For a start, we have this great package of secondary benefits, so everyone gets flowers, we offer gym memberships and Dutch lessons. But beyond that, we also organise a lot of additional initiatives. We put together a lot of hackathons, not just for developers and the digital bloomies but also for our business people and creatives. In May we organised the healthy May initiative where we had bootcamps, had healthy lunches, everybody went to the gym together, one of our employees hosted a couple of yoga sessions. In July we organised workshops for flower arranging, so all of us would become masters in it and of course get a better feeling for the product. This month we’ve organised a painting workshop. We encourage our employees to share their hobbies and passions with their colleagues, so the Friday afternoon painting workshop was organised by one of our data analysts, which was funny, because nobody expected him to have this creative side. We have a weekly and monthly employee net promoter score where we evaluate employee happiness and take concrete actions based on that. We are very proud of our cultural values and our employees get a bi-yearly performance review based on them. Finally, every month we would give a “Cultural hero” award to someone nominated by our employees for outstanding behaviour.
Besides which, to optimise happiness I focus on a combination of workload and development. This wasn’t always the case. One year ago we weren’t so focused on people’s workload because a year ago we were still in startup phase, so everyone was working long hours and handling huge workloads. There was no room for development because everything had to be done yesterday. But a couple of months ago we launched our bloomon academy, an initiative from the HR team where we offer a whole year educational program for our employees. It focuses on professional skills but they can also learn to develop their personal domain skills. So this is a big pillar in our employee retainment strategy and it’s based on feedback we got about employee happiness.
We set up the bloomon academy with the idea that we wanted to help employees develop but also wanted to give them a present, a moment away from their desks. We wanted to give them a day where they’re going to enjoy themselves, get to know colleagues better and walk out of the training feeling like a better person. So once a month we have those sessions on a Friday where different groups go for offsite training at various locations. Aside from those, every now and then they have half a day or a couple of hours off-site trainings or panels on the mobile app we developed.
We also noticed from our employees’ feedback that their workload was huge and they needed space in order to be innovative. So we actually started making the teams a little bigger, hiring extra help here and there and putting improvement leads in the teams so there was more room for innovation. What we see happening more and more right now is that more of our employees are getting promoted which is a good sign of a happy and healthy company.
We also offer a company culture that’s somewhere between the startup world and a more established company. We’ve been covering the traditional stuff like offering our employees a pension, gym memberships etc from the beginning. But although we’re not in a startup environment anymore, we’re still very startup-esque, we have drinks every Friday, people see each other a lot outside of work, we have people who go to football together, go to festivals together, people really feel like it’s a family. I know this is a cliché thing that people always say, but when you see people interacting here, you notice the difference. One of our colleagues is getting married at the end of the month and half of the company is going to Spain for the wedding. This person said “I don’t know how I’m going to find a big enough venue, but I’m not getting married without you guys there.”
Teddy Dimitrova will be delivering a keynote titled “The tech behind the flowers -Digitizing the Supply chain in the centuries old flower industry” at Savant Supply Chain Congress. Get tickets here.