Life has been a bed of roses for him since the time he met the girl of his dreams
A love-struck boy from a Bihar village turned his pavement flower shopinto the best known and largest flower and gift retail chain in India and a global brand with a current turnover of rupees 200 crore.
With 240 franchised stores spread across 93 cities, including Chennai, Bengalaru, Delhi, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Agra, Allahabad and others, Vikaas Gutgutia, 48, Founder and Managing Director of Ferns N Petals – which he established in 1994 – is sitting at the top of the flower chain.
In 1994, Gutgutia opened a pavement store on 200 sq ft in South Extension Part II and started supplying flowers to retailers in Delhi (Photos: Navnita)
Recalling his labour of love, he says, “Right from childhood I didn’t want to end up just another commoner.”
Being the great-grandson of K.N. Gutgutia, the noted chartered accountant of India, Vikaas Gutgutia wanted to resurrect his family legacy by creating his own empire.
But the royal heydays were long gone, and this son of a middle-rung government employee had to come to terms with his modest middle-class Marwari family in Vidyasagar villagein eastern Bihar.
His was an ordinary life where family and household pressures would often prevent a life of fun and ease. “I was never happy with this life,” he says. “I knew my ancestry and I somehow wanted to resurrect that by rising above the usual struggles.
After passing Class X the daydreaming teenager moved to Kolkata for further studies, staying with his uncle’s family. After school and, later after college hours, he would help his uncle at his corner flower shop, to pick up trade skills.
That sales stint was his first training school. It was the early 90s and “honestly,” he says, “the daily sale of around rupees 7,000 didn’t give me a kick. I wanted to make it big.”
After his graduation in Commerce from Kolkata, he moved to Mumbai to look for opportunities to support his family financially.
It was 1994, and one day, he travelled to Delhi to wish his girlfriend Meeta, whom he had met during his college days, on her birthday. He sent her flowers through a local florist.
But at her birthday party, he saw that the bouquet was a shoddily put-together one of poor-quality flowers. The shrewd business brain in him instantly saw an opportunity and quietly began to study the Delhi flower market.
A Ferns N Petals outlet in Delhi
The six florists mainly operational in Delhi had below-par quality and services; these outlets were neither air-conditioned nor had an inviting ambience.Kolkata’s meticulous professionalism was missing in Delhi’s florists.
Gutgutia was up to the opportunity to start his floral venture, but he had only rupees 5,000 in his pocket. He went to see one of his friends from Kolkata working in Delhi.
“I told him about my plans and insufficient funds,” Gutgutia recalls. The friend invested rupees 2.5 lakh in his venture. And with that, Gutgutia opened a pavement store on 200 sq ft in South Extension Part II. Within months of Meeta’s birthday, Ferns N Petals was born.
"I started my venture from a pavement," he says. "From that single outlet, I would supply flowers to around dozen retailers in Delhi."
Carrying a big vision, he and his friend (with whom he amicably parted ways about five years later), started a chain of around a dozen retailers supplied them flowers.
He got busy with seed selection, cultivation, vendors, storage, outlets and delivery. He tied up with farmers on the outskirts of Delhi and elsewhere, and provided them the best seeds.
Meanwhile, Meeta’s parents were reluctant to accept him as their son-in-law, but Gutgutia managed to change their perception with his hard work and finally married Meeta.
On the professional front, however, he kept facing odds. Rentals were soaring. He often struggled for funds. But he says, “There was no question of quitting.”
He became a one-man army: from seed supply to marketing his flowers, or even taking a vanload of flowers to his franchisees.
Some heart-warming moments egged him on. Once a client walked into his store and bought all the flowers for his girlfriend for rupees two lakh. “Such moments reaffirmed my belief in my labour of love,” he says, smiling. But earning up to 10 lakh a month was not enough to outline his dream.
In 2003 Gutgutia joined hands with fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani and set up luxury floral boutiques
His big break came in 1997 when he bagged a contract to decorate Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel for a wedding. That break fetched him big bucks (around half a crore) besides earning him word of mouth publicity and top-notch clients, who began to flock to his stores.
It changed his business model. Gutgutia’s masterstroke was to replace the traditional ‘garland-based’ decoration and pioneer the concept of cut flowers to decorate. He became a thought revolutionary in the business and his firm soon became a private limited company.
By end-nineties, bulk orders began pouring in. To meet the demand, he hired traditional flower artisans from West Bengal’s Midnapore. He also set up Ferns N Petal’s Floral Design School in Delhi to train youth in the hospitality sector (including in floral design) and hire them after graduation.
The next big moment came in 2002 when Gutgutia started his online gifting portal that exclusively offered flowers from India and overseas to customers around the world at their doorstep.
He had adopted several forms of home delivery – express, superfast, midnight and international. Thefollowing year was a watershed.
Gutgutia joined hands with fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani in 2003 to set up luxury floral boutiques under FNP Tahiliani. He also tied with another designer-friend, JJ Valaya, to do décor at luxury weddings under FNP Weddings.
In 2006, he ventured into street food under the Chatak Chaat brand, which ran into losses soon.
“I learned an important lesson of my life and today advise entrepreneurs that one must find a driver, a CEO, before starting any venture,” he says. He binned the venture in 2009, having lost rupees 25 crore.
Back to flowers, he went forward from having created an exceptional brand that gave a new edge to flower gifting and wedding décor in India.
Ferns N Petals is one of the largest flower retailers in the world with services in 155 countries
Regaining focus also improved his numbers. “The zeal to be the first mover in an unknown category definitely makes you a leader,” he says. “I believe we should follow our passion but never lose the right path.”
From rupees 30 crore in 2009, FNP’s revenue by 2012 reached rupees 145 crore, with rupees 13 crore as profit. By 2016, FNP’s turnover touched rupees 200 crore.
His stores are all franchisees and expansion is based in the metros. His expansion strategy: “To explore and venture into new markets while maintaining a stronghold on the existing market.”
FNP offers six different verticals: Ferns N Petals Retail and E-Commerce, FNP Weddings, FNP Floral Touch - India & Dubai, FNP Gardens (venues for weddings and events), The Flagship Store, Wedding Design Hub and Gifts By Meeta.
According to Vikaas, FNP has already served over four million customers both online and offline
His brand, he says, has already served over four million customers both online and offline, with flowers including those imported from Holland and Russia. It is also one of the largest flower retailers in the world with services in 155 countries.
Meeta is actively involved in his venture as director and creative head. The couple has two teenaged school-going children, Udyat and Mannat.
An array of prestigious awards have only helped him reaffirm FNP as the top brand, including – most recently in 2016 – the Designer of the Year Award presented by EEMA and the Business Leadership Award at the International Franchise & Retail Show.
“It isn’t just retailing flowers and gifts we take pride in,” Gutgutia says, “but equally on making moments special for loved ones.”
That’s what he was started off doing in the first place, after all.