I tried to think of something clever with the “It’s not easy bein’ green,” Kermit the frog thing, but I couldn’t. This is it, people. It’s Friday. Friday night. Bear with me. This long week is coming to an end and here I am getting time to sit. Being a florist is not actually a “sit there” job.
It’s not easy being a florist, period. It’s a physically tough job. It’s even more challenging to own a small town flower shop. Even big city florists are tossing in the roses and calling it quits. Locally we are down 50% in brick and mortar florist’s from when I started almost nine years ago. We’ve lost one shop in Weiser and two in Ontario. Three flower shops remain in the valley.
I can remember when I bought the store, in 2007. Joyce, the former owner and my mentor, said that the business took a big hit after floral departments were added to the local grocery store (was this in the 90’s?). I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. Things you wish you would have gotten back then! Anyhow, until this point, flower shops were the only places with flowers. This new level of grocery and department store competition shook the industry. First it was just flowers, but then all of the plants and balloons, too. And at prices that flower shops can’t even buy at!
My store is competing locally with two northwest grocery and department store chains – Ridley’s and Bi-Mart. There are major franchises like Albertson’s and Walmart just twenty minutes away on the highway. This is a regular commute and destination area for a lot of folks.
We were recently asked if it were possible for us to make a “consumer bunch” of flowers for a local business. This is a grouping of flowers sold in cellophane, you’ve all seen them at the grocery store check-out line before. This customer purchased their flowers from Walmart and Ridley’s, regularly, and was interested in “buying local.” We were upfront with the concept that these retailers have huge buying power and it would be very difficult for us to compete. The customer insisted. Repeated calls insisted. Even though we were super busy, we made trips to the grocers, obtained pictures, stem counts, prices, and dimensions. Even though we knew it was a long shot, we made a comparable bouquet. Instead of the $9.87 price at Walmart, twenty minutes away, ours would be $15.00. We did not triple the value of the flowers, the normal industry standard, and it wouldn’t include the cost of labor or the wrap.
The customer had anticipated that they would need this bouquet refilled two times per month. There was anticipation that this initial agreement, could lead to more business. We were hopeful when we called them that we had satisfied their requirements and the purchase price would be considered a good deal-paying more, but staying local. We thought we nailed it.
When the customer arrived, she looked at the flowers and said she could get the same thing at Walmart for $6.00.
I was so sad.
My helpers and I discussed later that we had all reminded her in one of our several phone calls and visits, that Walmart has contracts, if not their own fields, for flowers that we don’t have. Making money on one rose is not important to them. I can attest to the fact that I can also buy flowers cheaper at Walmart!
I guess the insult on my effort and the realization that the customer, who has never purchased anything from me before to my knowledge, somehow thought they had buying power with their $6.00, twice a month bouquet offer. They didn’t really want local flowers, they wanted more flowers for less money. I was eager to earn the business. And lost it. I would have lost money selling the flowers to them at $6.00.
That is why, flower shops are less and less. We can get it cheaper somewhere else. I’m totally guilty of this myself. I am on such a budget that flowers are luxury items we normally wouldn’t afford. I get it. I just don’t like the feeling of unworthiness the customer suggested. I would have liked her to be upfront that she would have preferred to have more flowers than Walmart, for less than she was paying them, and we could have saved everyone their time and pride. I don’t know how to tell ya’ll this, but our flowers aren’t more because we are jerkfaces trying to price gouge you.
Our flowers are more because we can’t just order 2,000 of one item like Walmart. They die in ten days!!! We have to order one or two of 40 items, a couple times a week. In order to maintain this inventory, to get Aunt Cindy her one yellow rose in a vase and Mary Kate her red and white carnation’s for making varsity cheer leading, and Dave’s pink and peach corsage for his wife for their 40th anniversary… I hope you can see why it gets tricky to manage a perishable product, that you only need minimal flowers for, but have to buy full bundles of. Try as we might to maintain a large inventory, we will never be able purchase in bulk and quantity like these super stores. The things that we can control are design, value, and quality.
Design may be in the eye of the beholder, but I always take the time to make sure the bouquet looks like pride and effort were taken in the final product. It’s the small details that make the arrangement complete, unique, hopefully personal, and memorable. Part of making a bouquet memorable is making a bouquet that will transform with time. Understanding the graceful waves of the lily. Where does it align now and as it will open? Is the blossom overlapping a longer lasting bloom so that when it fades, another will remain? There is the art and science of nature’s perfect beauty placed at my fingertips and it’s like a symphony in my mind, much like words. Stem placement isn’t mechanical, but fluid. Music. The two things I’m graced with ability: designing flowers and words.
I’m learning to edit both. In my anxiety, I can rarely ‘save it for later’ when I write because, I will simply never post it later. If I didn’t just get it out there, I would second guess myself and the doubt would keep my writing private. I’m learning to write with quality and confidence, almost as I am adamant about providing stellar flowers.
I take great care in cleaning my cooler, buckets, utensils, and I’m a stickler for fresh water and flower food. And, of course, the flowers! We keep our product hydrated, fed, cleaned and re-cut as necessary. I know why we have such an awesome product that gets rave reviews- because we take the time to take care of it. And, the people who we get these products from, they took time to take care of them too. And all of this time to take care of, to grow, to cut, to bundle, to transfer, and to ship just one bundle to me, and one hundred to Walmart, will change the price those bundles cost.
One bundle just doesn’t demand the price guarantees that grocers have. I don’t know that the floral industry will ever be the same in a rural setting such as ours. It is my hope that the value of flowers will expand to include the thoughtfulness in the arrangements and the uniqueness of the product, and that the sheer availability of having a local florist who cares will prevail as a luxury in and of itself.