The Flowers Group
A legacy of Cayman excellence
Business View Caribbean interviews Frank and Dara Flowers, Directors of The Flowers Group, for our series on Best Construction Practices in the Cayman Islands.
The Flowers Group is one of the oldest Caymanian owned and operated businesses. Founded in 1946 by Clarence “CL” Flowers, this beloved company has evolved over almost 75 years into a collection of diverse businesses primarily run by Clarence’s three sons, Frank, Richard, and Clarence Bradley. Today, the Flowers Group encompasses everything from concrete block manufacture to polystyrene products, bulk and bottled water, aviation security and baggage handling, and outstanding real estate developments such as Cricket Square. A proud legacy has been forged from CL’s strong work ethic and simple philosophy: to be successful you have to foresee a need and supply it before anyone else; and you have to be the best.
While CL Flowers is no longer with us, his spirit lives on in this remarkable business. Sharing the family passion and drive is Dara Flowers – Clarence’s granddaughter and a third generation Director of the company. Mentored by her father (and company President), Frank, Dara is well versed in all aspects of the Group’s corporate divisions: Flowers Properties, Air Agencies, Flowers Bottled Water, Orchid Development, Flowers Air Dispatch Services (FADS), Flowers Aviation Security Services, and Flowers Block & Foam.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses everywhere have learned to adapt and the Flowers Group is no exception. As Dara reports, “It’s a very challenging time in terms of construction and renovations, but we’re certainly making it work. We’ve been very lucky here in Grand Cayman. After three months where everything was shut down, we reopened internally and business is picking up. Backlogged projects are coming down the pipeline and it’s surprisingly busy, right now. Construction is full speed ahead locally and we’re excited to be a major player in that.”
Many big residential projects on the island were put on hold when COVID hit, and now progress has resumed on houses, condos, apartments, with some high-rise buildings possibly coming online in the near-term future. Dara admits, “Everyone is understandably concerned about the future but Cayman and the region has fared well over the pandemic and I think that will bode well for us in the years ahead. We’re hoping we’ll continue to see strong outside investment as a place that’s stable and safe.”
Being a manufacturer of building materials, The Flowers Group has encountered some supply chain disruptions in terms of raw materials. But over years of preparing for major hurricanes, they’ve developed a contingency plan for inventory that has served them well. In that regard, the pandemic shutdown can be likened to weathering another storm because they had reserves in place, and when the time came, they were able to open back up quickly to meet customers’ demands. According to Frank, “We always try to keep a three-month cushion of stock, in case everything were to shut down. After Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, everything was shut down for 16 weeks, and we continued building and did not run out of blocks because we had that supply in stock. That’s how we operate. Since the business was started in 1946, we are probably one of the few operations in the world that have never run out of blocks. We’ve always had enough to supply our customers.”
The aviation side of the business has obviously taken a huge economic hit during COVID, but The Flowers Group has been creative with staffing – taking workers from that division and applying them to other areas to keep people employed and keep the business sustainable. That being said, the Air Dispatch division has been doing government-sanctioned cargo flights with military aircraft bringing in COVID test kits and relief supplies. Dara notes, “It’s not a big piece of our business right now, but we’re doing our share to be of service the country.”
While the tourism industry has all but disappeared for the time being, Flowers Properties is still very active and they are feeling blessed to have all properties currently rented. As for Flowers Bottled Water, understandably, it is a core product for the company and a necessity for people. So that business has been less affected than others. Dara acknowledges, “Every business is encountering different levels of challenges. I think the next 18 months will be critical for many small to medium sized businesses but we’ve weathered a lot of storms. We’re going to be 75 years old next year, so we’ve certainly seen hurricanes and lots of things that have impacted the business, sometimes negatively. But we have to ride them out and stay future thinking and make the business as sustainable as possible.”
On the good news front, The Flowers Group is working on a full-scale renovation of their office space and showroom, slated for completion in November this year. The original building was constructed in 1989 and has survived a hurricane, with minor renovations afterwards, but is now quite outdated. “We felt that coming into our 75th year, we wanted to reimagine what the business was going to be like,” says Dana. “We’re obviously well-rooted in the history of our business but, more importantly, we’re future thinking and we really wanted to create a user-friendly space for our customers. We’re going to have an interactive showroom with lots of touchscreens. Each product will have its own QR code that you can scan and pull up on your smart device. And we’re having a beautiful state-of-the-art client meeting room that allows us to use a lot more video technology, because we believe the way we meet and interact with people is going to change, as well.”
Whether dealing with a local or an international supplier, connectivity with clients and customers is key. So, the revitalized space will be molded around that ethos. Even the back of house has a state-of-the-art room where the Flowers staff can conduct training courses for clients, showing them how new technology works. With a growing staffing pool, more real estate space is also needed for administration. The building footprint will remain the same, but certain areas are being repurposed to improve day-to-day functionality of the business.
This is primarily for the manufacturing arm. The property is about eight acres with a front of the house office building that’s a few thousand square feet with the factory, the manufacturing area, and the service garage at the back. And the company just bought another three acres of adjacent land which will eventually be developed with more factories to accommodate the new building technologies. Dara explains, “We have a five-year plan to expand, even though we’re renovating our existing office, we will be building a new office and expanding in terms of product availability. Currently we’re producing blocks, paving stones, and (ICF) insulated concrete foam. We partner with a company called Fox Blocks that supplies all our plastic and then we do all the manufacturing locally. We also do hotwire foam cutting; we can do any shape or molding or decorative element out of foam for a building project, which is great. And we’re looking at add-on products which complement our existing lines.”
With her signature sunny outlook, Dara shares, “Even though the future seems a little gray right now, in the medium-to-long-term it’s very bright down here. So, we want to be ahead of the curve and look at new technologies and industry trends that we’re hoping to incorporate into our manufacturing practices. We’d also like to give a shout-out to all our customers. We trade in loyalty and we’re very customer focused – whether that’s accolades or constructive feedback we’re always ready to listen. Without good customers, you don’t have a good business, and those relationships are cultivated over time. This is a very small country and your reputation is very important here. You have to be reliable, be personable, and get it right every single time. And if you don’t, your service recovery has to be even better to continue that loyalty.
“Over 75 years, we’re not perfect, but we strive to achieve that. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying one block or tens of thousands, we want to make sure your experience is great. We love what we do. We’re passionate about the business and really enjoy serving the customers and doing something good for the island. We’re so thankful and excited for the 75th anniversary of The Flowers Group next year and we’re very optimistic for the future!”
AT A GLANCE
The Flowers Group
What: A legacy of family-owned construction businesses
Where: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands