By Vasilis Vasilas
After the recent Local Business Awards highlighted is just how many Greek businesses which are being recognized for their impressive product and great service; what makes such shop-owners so successful is that extra effort and detail they place in their business. What is also amazing about them is how they go about their business quietly and naturally…
Sydney is full of great Greek businesses; whether it is their longevity of operating in the local area or them perfecting their business model, they develop into important centres in the local community. One of the best-kept secrets of Sydney’s Greek shops is found in Padstow, where Maria Voudouris and her family run the award- winning Maria’s Fresh Flowers.
Maria migrated to Australia in 1977 where she married Tony and, like so many thousands of migrants, found Australia such a huge adjustment, “At the time, Andoni was running a take-away shop in Harbourt, Sydney, where I started to work. It was like so many young migrants before me; in Greece, I was a student and, in Australia, I found myself working seven days a week. Harbourt did not have any Greeks living there; this bothered me too. I just felt very isolated! No family, no compatriots… Australia was an incredible adjustment for me! It took me about five years to become used to living here. I felt very sad. “
Maria’s story is an incredible journey; what is amazing about Maria’s story is her motivation and determination to succeed as a florist. It should be emphasised Maria and her husband, Tony, had bought the Oriona Milk Bar in Padstow; at the time, the local area had so many milk bars and takeaway shops and, Tony and Maria’s milk bar was at the end of the shopping strip.
As Maria always loved flowers, she introduced a small flower section in the milk bar, “I came up with the idea to start making bouquets and selling them at the front of the shop. I was always interested in flowers; I had begun buying flower magazines/books, and even videos, from the USA and UK, out of interest. I was to-ing and fro-ing between the milk bar and flower section; if there were more orders in the milk bar, I would help out there.
Little by little, the demand for flowers grew. It came to the point where I put aside a small area in the shop as a flower section. I also enrolled at Padstow TAFE and successfully finished my Certificate in Floristry.”
When the milk bar part of the business slowed down (so much), Maria- with the support of Tony- showed enormous courage to shut the milk bar and re-open their shop as a florist. Out went the counter and grill, in came all the flower arrangements! It was such a huge risk, but it was Tony and Maria’s opportunity of new beginning…
The major turning point was when one customer asked Maria to do all the flower arrangements for her wedding, “I had never made the flowers for weddings before! I tried to refuse her request but she was encouragingly adamant. While I was saying I was not confident enough to take up her offer, she fully trusted me to do this. Then, she just walked out of the shop and that was that…
Once I did the flower arrangements for this wedding and everyone was happy with what I had done, my confidence grew- I knew I could do it. So, I asked my husband to arrange for a removalist truck to come to our shop and we stripped the shop of the counter and everything else, and transformed the shop into a florist. This is how we started… with Maria’s Fresh Flowers.”
And the rest is history for this award-winning business which has won many Markets Floristry Awards and Local Business Awards and for their category- including this year- and in 2012 achieved Business of the Year!
Maria’s Fresh Flowers is truly a family business; while Maria makes up the flower arrangements and Tony does the deliveries, their daughter, Marianna, works at the shop looking after all the paperwork and on-line business. During busy days of the year, their children, Alana and Athanasios, help out too.
With the Voudouris family operating Maria’s Fresh Flowers in Padstow over four decades, they have developed a very strong relationship with the local community, “I love my shop. I am blessed that I work with something (i.e. flowers) that I love. I just want to keep working; I do not want to retire! So many of our customers have now become our friends. We sponsor sporting teams, church groups and schools. What was so encouraging was how little children who used to buy lollies off us when we had the milk bar come to us years later to order flower arrangements for their weddings. After all these years, we feel part of the local community.”