My name is Mariam Kobalia. I’m from Georgia and I am 25 years old. I always wanted to have something of my own, to create something by myself.
Recently I opened a flower shop, “Mari’s Flowers”. I also have two greenhouses where I grow flowers and I’m taking online university courses in public administration.
I was 22 when I started all this. I was married with a small child. We lived at my parent’s house. I had an ordinary life.
Then, quite by chance a friend of mine told me about a training course for women in Anaklia. This is how I ended up at the training organized by USAID, the Women’s Empowerment Foundation and the TASO Foundation.
We were asked to come up with projects in agriculture. I opted for flowers because I was young and I thought I could make something out of it. When you write a project proposal you have to calculate everything and really think everything through. I already had a metal structure for a greenhouse at home, which would mean I would need less money to make it operational, and this worked to my advantage. With this first project proposal I received a small grant and bought the plastic sheeting to cover the greenhouse.
After the first training I wanted to participate in others. I got into a school for young entrepreneurs and got some more funding which helped me to buy seedlings, a drip irrigation system and other supplies. That was in 2019.
I remember I planted my first flowers at the end of March and already I had roses in July.
At first it was very difficult and troublesome because I didn’t have any experience working in such a big greenhouse and caring for roses, which have a lot of diseases that need to be treated. Also I didn’t know how to price them. Gradually I met people who had greenhouses. Then I started going to flower shops and gained some knowledge through practice.
I started selling roses from home and supplying the market and shops in Zugdidi, a nearby town.
At the same time I attended trainings organized by different organizations and developed my entrepreneurial skills. Being goal-oriented was the key, and it helped me to build contacts with people.
I did an ILO training, “Start and Improve Your Business”. Before these trainings I had no knowledge at all about the marketing side of business. It was the most important thing for me to learn. They taught us the basics of marketing and advertising. They also trained us on accounting and pricing, how to manage our finances and how to produce.
I was always alert and tried to keep an eye on grant announcements. The last project grant I received was the result of exceptionally hard work. I went through a lot of stages. It was also very difficult to come up with project proposals and, most importantly, there was so much competition.
The project was about a Gypsophila greenhouse. It was supposed to be innovative – the Gypsophila flower is really rare in Georgia, it is imported from Turkey and the Netherlands, and I wrote in the project that I would make a Gypsophila greenhouse. Everything had to be calculated, how much profit it would generate, what kind of care it would need, etc.
And when there were only four projects selected out of 27 very strong participants, and I found myself among those four, it was a great feeling. I will never forget this day.
Having two greenhouses created many more opportunities. I could see that it was becoming profitable. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. The market was closed and it was very hard for us.
As there were no shops people came to my house to buy flowers. They needed flowers for funerals, you see, or for birthdays. I had to learn how to wrap a flower bouquet. I asked a woman who has a flower shop in Zugdidi for some hands-on experience. When I started wrapping I started thinking about having my own shop.
When I decided to open the flower shop a big challenge I had to overcome was the fear of failure. I didn’t have a bank loan and I did everything with the funding I had left, but it still made me nervous. You worry about making it a success. First of all, you don’t want to let yourself down, and then you want to live up to the expectations of your family and other people who have supported you.
It has been a family business so far. Mostly, it is my father who helps me. In the morning I cut the flowers in the greenhouse and when I’m in the shop my father looks after the greenhouses. My mother also helps us with the cutting and my husband helps with deliveries.
Any free time I have, I spend with my child who is now four years old. Now, for example, in the summer, my husband and I take our daughter to the sea after 8pm and watch the sunset together.
On a good day our sales revenue is USD 160 to 200. I’m selling my roses as well as flowers from other local greenhouses. I have many online orders. Now, for example, I have to get 300 roses ready for an engagement party.
It is very difficult for a woman to start a business in Georgia. I never expected to have my own shop and two greenhouses at the age of 25, but I managed with hard work, purposefulness and family support. My family were encouraging me: – "You failed? Don’t give up, be patient".
Now that I have my own business, I am the boss of myself. Yes, there is more work but I enjoy it. My business generates a good income, my family can see this and they are happy.
I’m thinking of setting up two more greenhouses in the near future. In five years time I want to employ a salesperson in the shop and have some other shops in Zugdidi. And I want to have branded shops. I want “Mari’s Flowers” to become a famous brand!