When ex Kew Gardens plant buyer Tara Maloney rocked up to Limerick Milk Market with just 5 buckets of foliage and Christmas wreaths in 2013, the City was in for a treat! A true horticultural expert, Tara has grafted in top jobs at major Garden centres, Nurseries and a Michelin star restaurant. She is passionate about Limerick and its people and is always thinking of exciting ways to engage her loyal customers (and believe us, there are many!)
What town do you work in?
Tell us something that makes your town special.
With Limerick, it’s 100% the people — fiercely loyal, rightly proud, creative, tough, resilient and soft and everything in between. Limerick people are especially supportive of small businesses and the Milk Market is a hub on Saturday mornings with locals and regulars meeting, eating and enjoying the towns’ best as well as tourists, who often make the market their first stop on a weekend. As traders, we are ambassadors of all the best Limerick has to offer and a fountain of knowledge on the city’s interesting history through Georgian times into modern days with a world class film studio now open here. Limerick has a vibrancy and a sense of opportunity. Limerick has so much to offer in terms of a city destination including breathtaking countryside retreats.
How long have you been in business? Is it something you started yourself, inherited or ‘fell into’?
I have been in business in Limerick since November 2013 when I started with just five buckets of bunches of foliage for Christmas flower arrangements and hand made wreaths. Before moving to Ireland, I worked in London as a Horticultural Retail Consultant for Petersham Nurseries and a world renowned Michelin star restaurant and garden shop (probably the only garden shop in the world with antique lead crystal chandeliers!) I also worked for The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew as the Plant buyer sourcing plants for the Garden displays and the retail shop — during the orchid festival we might sell 450,000 orchids which all had to specially sourced.
I also worked as a buyer, visual merchandiser and regional manager for a couple of the larger chains of UK Garden Centres, so I figured I knew a thing or two about sourcing plants, as well as filling a gap in the market here for houseplants and flower bunches that people wanted. Floristry was never a part of my plan, but when we got here the gap in the market presented itself and I am entirely self taught. I use elements of gardening and garden flowers not normally associated with flower bunches and I think that’s what gives my flowers their individuality and during May — October the main bulk of my stock comes from our own garden and flower farm which is still in the process of being built…
What’s special about your business? What sets you apart from the competition?
I never think about the competition, I only consider my customer and what they want — I can’t compete with supermarkets with their price advantage and high street florists with their equipment and storage so I don’t do what do they do. My speciality is taking my customers on a journey of discovery with flowers, stocking things rarely seen in florists or even in botanic gardens — some of my regulars travel from as far as Wexford and Dublin for our flowers and plants because they know we know what they are looking for. I know 70% of my customers by name and I know they know I have what they want, even if they didn’t know they wanted it! That’s what I love about markets, it’s the personal touch, the knowing your customers and what is going to excite them each weekend at the market and essentially keep them coming back for more.
Every week my stall is different and that’s what keeps people coming to me and markets in general — it’s not the same old things in the same old spot, it’s new vibrant fresh products each week, changing with the seasons and style, the biggest opportunity we have as traders is our flexibility, shops can only turn like big ships, while we can set about crossing the waves and responding quicker to changing styles and trends. Obviously you have to be able to spot the changes and trends and that’s what makes the bones of a great trader. Plus a fair bit of courage! As shoppers seek out an ‘experience’ from their shopping trips these days, the market is where it is, I always say market stalls were pop up shops before pop up shops were invented — I got a job working on the film set that has just come to Limerick purely on the strength of how good my stall looked and the strange and unusual plants! My biggest seller is my Botany ball, a round plastic terrarium ball that you hang from a hook with rope — Limerick is a University City and the students were always asking for something ready to go, that doesn’t need to much looking after but brings in the green, so as much as we like to lead our customers on a journey, we like to find products to suit their needs too.
Anything else you want to tell us about your business? Have you got famous customers, do you do anything special for the local community, do you run workshops?
With a plant based business you can’t have anything but a social conscience around what you do. We do gardening workshops, flower arranging days and our Christmas workshops are our most popular — wreaths, garlands and candle arrangements with 100% Irish grown foliage. We recycle plastic pots from our gardening customers and use them on our plant nursery. We help run the Limerick Garden Festival and run a fringe event alongside it, last year we ran a guerrilla project called Blooming Bins where local flower arrangers and florist shops and businesses decorated their nearest street side bin with flowers for the weekend of the festival. We would love to do more. We were a part of BloomFringe in Dublin and sponsored the event by giving away free seeds and baby vegetable plants at Dublin Castle, we also headed up the Plant Emergency Room where people brought their plants that weren’t looking too healthy for a check up — we installed green spaces for the day and had an awful lot of laughs!
Do you employ other people? Are they friends, relatives or ‘just employees? What do they bring to the business?
My husband Mark helps with the heavy stuff and the driving — I don’t drive, so this is one of my limitations! On the occasion that I do a wedding I have several friends who work full time but would love to be florists, so they get drafted in when needed. Plus my mum minds my stall for half an hour on a Saturday so I get a bit of a break.
Tell us ONE thing you love about being a market trader.
It’s the challenge of course — what else makes you stay up late the night before prepping and packing and get up at 4am in the wind rain sun or snow to make it to market…;-)
Tell us ONE thing you could do without.
Wind. I can take rain snow or beating sun. But wind….no.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Apart from the joy of putting out my stall, a little differently each week, with a bit of humour and a lot of style — Strong coffee, my dogs and knowing how lucky I am to have the pleasure of working for myself and with my best friend, my husband!
Are you doing anything to celebrate International Women’s Day #downthemarket?
We are making floral head crowns and giving them away to all the other amazing women working and shopping at the market — All Queens of their own lives!