“Roses are boring.” Photo essay on a flower business in a village of Baku
“When you have money, you can’t sleep. You want to put it back into circulation. Otherwise, it will simply disappear. And each day you should earn a little more than the day before. And if you don’t, then maybe you shouldn’t be in business.”
Haji Shahbala has been in the flower business since the seventies. This was a popular industry in Mashtag, a village near Baku. At the time, Haji sold fertilizer and carnations.
The business was going well, but with the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, he had to retire. Times were uncertain, and, as the entrepreneur says, the authorities “were not too happy about his high income.” And so he began to plant something more modest – tomatoes.
Once the situation in the country became stable, Haji Shahbala again returned to growing flowers and expanded his business. Now he has several greenhouses on a large plot.
His business model
Haji sells mainly flowers for summer cottages and potted plants. He says that those who sell flowers for the holidays can earn much more.
“But here’s the thing – they only earn money twice a year, and I’m busy year round! I need to feed my family and my employees. People who sell flowers for the holidays also have other businesses that help them survive.”
But Haji does grow something special for the holidays – gillyflower. “Roses alone are boring, and people want something bigger, especially foreigners.”
This pot contains peonies. They bloom once a year, but Haji has a way of tricking them – once they show signs of wilting, he pulls out the bulbs and puts them in a special refrigerator. The peonies “think” that winter is coming. And then he plants them again. This way, he can harvest them twice a year.
“You need 6-7 people to help plant flowers, but after that, one person can do the job. And our watering system is automated.”
“People from the regions buy my plants. Yes, the land is good there. But there is no technology, experience. And their gas supply problems are even worse than ours.”
Dangers and difficulties of the flower business
“The main problem here is gas. They can always turn off the gas, then the plants will frost over and everything will die. This is a village, it sometimes happens here. And that means a lot of money for me, if I’m growing 60,000 begonias in one greenhouse.”
“I once had a bad year, when I ordered flowers from Turkey and the truck broke down on the way. Five days of delay is a lot. They all wilted and rotted in the stuffy air. As a result, I ended up losing the several thousand I spent both on flowers and customs.”
2020 also turned out to be a bad year, since the coronavirus pandemic hit during the holidays. Flower shops, which usually have huge sales on March 8, Women’s Day, when they sell a large amount of imported roses to schoolchildren, have lost a lot of money. Haji Shahbala also faced hard times during the quarantine.
Haji Shahbala’s dreams for the business
There are two main things that would make Haji happy: if taxes were lowered, and if he was able to upscale his business and become a large company.
“In 2019, for example, I ordered gillyflower seeds from Holland in different colors. I ordered five different flowers, but only four came. Then it turned out that two of the colors were good, and the other two were not so good. They looked one way in the photo, but another way in real life. But if I had a company, we would have signed a contract, I would have taken them to task!”