There is a strong misunderstanding from the supply side of our industry as to what retail florists are. Producers and distributors want to see more product sold, so they contend that all retailers should do whatever they can to sell more volume – lower prices, offer cash-and-carry bouquets and extend store hours, “like a European flower market,” are often the top suggestions.  
    
U.S. retailers are commodity based, service based, or a combination of the two. Some florists set up their businesses to handle the requests they get each day from customers for gift or event flowers. They do not have locations that draw the necessary volume of people to be successful and compete with cash-and-carry bouquets. Other shops are primarily high-volume bucket and plant shops with extended hours.  Some businesses do both. In all cases, the business owner does what he or she wants to do to earn a living.
   
Plant and flower producers and distributors need to realize that the main product we sell is the conveyance of feelings, and we work hard to combine materials in a way that makes that happen. Compare us with the food industry. Farmers don’t criticize restaurants because they don’t sell produce, milk, bread, groceries, etc. Distributors don’t complain that the restaurants that are only open for breakfast and lunch could sell more food if they would open for dinner. And what about gourmet restaurants – they are not criticized because they charge so much, limit the number of people they serve and do not offer specials. They really are very much like upscale florists.
    
Two very successful florist businesses that we purchased served their customers well but operated in a way that could draw a lot of criticism.  One shop had a private, unpublished phone number that was given out to their best customers. During holidays, only that phone was answered.  Another shop closed the week of Mother’s Day because they had a very large event.  Neither of these cases is the way we would do business, but in each case, the owner operated in a way that was best for their businesses and customers. Sure, a different strategy would sell more flowers. But the prime motivation was to be certain that they served their customers.
    
“Wouldn’t it be great if we had the market Europe does?” is a common refrain from all segments in the industry. Fact is, the largest florists in Europe – of which there are only a few – are grossing about $1 million. And, because of the market and auction system, there is a steady supply that has put heavy pressure on margins.  Consequently, although more flowers are sold, they are not really making money. Talk to a Dutch floral marketer and you’ll find many that are envious of the value that flowers have in the United States since they are so closely associated with emotion here. U.S. florists are doing a great service for the industry by enabling people to experience the joy flowers bring. Once people have flowers in their lives, there is a much better chance they will buy them themselves and take them home.
    
We are fortunate that we have such a diverse industry. We now have marketers that can handle the wishes of any type of consumer. Sure, there are some in the retail community that might not be doing it right; but who defines what is right? Let’s focus on providing the quality service and products our customers want, not on the hours we choose to be open or whether we should promote low-price flower bunches. There are plenty of other marketers that do that. 

Reprinted with permission from the November 2004 issue of SAF's Floral Management magazine.