Seventeen-year-old Nick Sammut arrived in Australia from Malta with 20 pounds in his pocket, unceasing drive, remarkable foresight and a willingness to work hard. Within two decades, Nick had grown a humble local nursery into Australia’s largest retail garden centre group.
To celebrate Flower Power’s 50th anniversary, Nick takes a trip down memory lane, to when it all began.
Planting the seed
I was born and grew up in Malta, one of 12 children. My parents were very poor, but after I finished primary school, my second eldest brother - who had a well-paying job - paid for me to go to secondary school in Malta’s capital, Valletta. In those days, only the wealthy enjoyed secondary education.
That was a turning point for me. It was then I decided I wanted to be in business. I had no idea what. I just knew I wanted to make enough money to send my children to university.
In 1955, I set sail for Sydney, with my wife who was pregnant with our first child and 20 pounds from my father. I was 17 years old and determined to make a better life for myself and my family. The decision to come to Australia changed my life completely.
An opportunity ripe for the picking
My first job in Sydney was working at a chicken feed factory. I then started a small business making flower pots, supplying nurseries and hardware stores. It was a successful but unhealthy business, involving lots of paint, cement and dust.
One of my best customers was Mr Lusty of Lusty’s Nursery in Moorebank, in Sydney’s southwest. In me, Mr Lusty saw a respectful, hardworking young man and would always tell me he would sell me his nursery one day. A business where I could work in fresh air everyday was just what I was looking for.
A business where I could work in fresh air everyday was just what I was looking for.
In 1968, while doing my usual delivery of pots to Lusty’s Nursery, I asked Mr Lusty, ‘do you still want to sell the business?’ He said ‘yes’. I said ‘Okay, hop in my ute!’ and drove him straight to my solicitor and we did the deal on the spot.
A flourishing business
From the moment I bought the nursery, I never stopped improving it. I worked tirelessly for seven days, week in week out, year on year, until late at night and often until the early morning. I knew nothing about the nursery business, but I enjoyed what I did and did my best.
When Mr Lusty ran the nursery, it was open just a few days a week. When I took over, I opened seven days a week. In Australia in those days, you wouldn’t find anything open on a Saturday afternoon, let alone a Sunday. But I knew that was what Flower Power customers wanted. From the very beginning and to this day, the Flower Power customer has guided everything I have done and what we continue to do.
From the very beginning and to this day, the Flower Power customer has guided everything I have done and what we continue to do.
I eventually changed the name to Flower Power and over the years I introduced many firsts, like seedling carry bags, self-service, potted plants - plants used to be potted up in old tins - instore cafes where people could enjoy a good coffee and meal, and a drive-through landscape section to help customers load up.
I even welded together our first set of trolleys using milk crates I found at a local scrapyard. Flower Power is still creating firsts. The new Flower Power Milperra, opening late 2018, will be the first garden centre in Australia to be completely weather proof.
The fruits of labour
There were many long-term, dedicated staff who helped me along the way. Many of them became my good friends. They worked alongside me every minute of the day, following my dream and wanting to see Flower Power succeed.
With no family in Australia, one the hardest things for me was making business decisions. Most of the time, I had no idea what I was doing and I had not a soul to bounce ideas off. I used to spend hours awake in bed, thinking. I had to work everything out myself. Luckily my seven children have each other to bounce ideas off and if they have a problem, they always find a way - just like I did - because their heart is in it.
I’m proud of the business I started and proud of my family.
I’m proud of the business I started and proud of my family. My sons John, Mark and Collin, together with Michael Spiteri, have been running Flower Power for the last 30 years. They’re helped by hundreds of dedicated staff, some of whom have been with the business for almost 50 years. Without their help, Flower Power would not be where it is today.
Pictured: Nick Sammut (right) and sons (from left) Mark, Collin, John and Paul in front of Flower Power Moorebank.