I was intrigued by something in this issue’s Back to Basics column: The growers interviewed by the SAF were more optimistic than the floral wholesalers and retailers. I conducted my own informal survey, and asked several ASCFG members to describe their place in the current economy. As usual with our growers, the responses were thoughtful, honest, and variable.
Ever the optimist, Vicki Stamback believes that “The economy is to each of us as we make it; it’s all about attitude.” She has good reason to be positive, since her sales are up over last year, which itself was a record year for her. This is in contrast to one of her florists, who predicted his own destiny when he told her “Well, we were down about 20% but that’s where we thought we would be.”
A grower in Wisconsin reports sales down 20-25% this entire year, and having to lay off people and dump “more product than I can ever remember.” He agreed with others that “A whole lot less speculative buying is going on. If it’s sold they buy, but they’re not getting extra to make their coolers look plentiful.” Carol Larsen, also in Wisconsin, says “Now that the initial thirst for something fragrant and blooming has been slaked I am seeing about a 20% drop in farmers’ market sales from last year.” She is, however, seeing an increased interest in wedding and event sales.
In Vermont, Ed Pincus says that most wholesale customers are down 20-40% compared to last year, and that many of his customers (florists and designers) are down over 50%. But his growing season has been great and flower quality is high. Ed is hopeful but worried.  For another Northeast grower, Maureen Charde’s farmers’ market sales have been down 10 percent. She attributes this to the economy as well as to six weeks of rainy markets. Wet weather has also pushed her field planting behind, and sunflowers and zinnias will be late this year. But florists sales are up from first year with two buyers telling her that their customers have a strong interest in local flowers. Maureen is optimistic, “otherwise, I wouldn’t be growing flowers.”
Across the country, Diane Szukovathy had “A glorious, sunny spring like none I can remember in the Pacific Northwest, and that has probably helped flower sales. We’re getting lots of availability inquiries for upcoming weddings through the summer. Overall, we feel fine about the rest of 2009, maybe  because we have no time to pay attention to the news.” Her business is in growth mode, so sales are up, though she can’t tell if that’s because she has more to sell, and more customers than last year, or because people are buying more flowers. The buyer at her grocery store says people have a renewed sense of nostalgia, which would explain good sales on old-fashioned flowers, and less interest in woody stems and unusual perennials.
The Northwest weather has given Kurt Mizée decent growing conditions and a quality crop. He is concerned that demand will be off enough that growers who come on earlier will not have enough stock moved and be selling out of the cooler well into his season.
Ray Gray sell chrysanthemums to gardeners, botanical gardens and a few cut flower growers (including several ASCFG members). Compared with last year, many orders from previous customers are up. About 30% of his customers are new, a result of them finding his web site, seeing his Buyers Guide ad, or receiving a catalog.
Also in Oregon, Tony Gaetz sells in two farmers’ markets as well as for weddings and events. He has been tracking sales figures and noticed that from 2006-2008 their annual sales growth rate was 15%, 20%, and 8% respectively, but much of this was taking share in their markets. In 2009, sales are off 35%. Tony notes that the mid-week market is no longer attracting the numbers of 25-45 year olds as in the past, and have been replaced by senior citizens, who are less likely to buy flowers “unless they’re for a reason”. Pricing competition has also intensified. “With more vendors dividing the same sales pie, vendors are panicking and dumping product just for cash flow. Last weekend we had a vendor selling high quality tulips that had been placed in cold storage earlier in the season, for $1.00 per growers bunch (10 stems).”
In Texas, Rita Anders’ market sales are “good”, and even though she’s now competing with another flower seller, she still sells out most Saturdays.
Pat Zweifel has found his wholesale sales are 30 to 50% behind, but in Indiana, Linda Chapman’s wholesale business is “rocking”. “It looks like our July sales of zinnia, buddleia, gooseneck and other products will be comparable, or even better (because I planted more) than previous years.”  Alice Vigliani, who specializes in peonies in Massachusetts, says her overall message is that sales are not so great, and her wholesalers blame the continually rainy weather.
In hindsight, it’s not so surprising that growers are more optimistic than others in the supply chain. As Maureen points out, optimism is part of a grower’s psychic makeup, a vital element in your job description. To grow flowers is an act of faith.
This October, bring your story to Hauppauge, New York and share your season at the National Conference. Tell us how your faith was—or wasn’t—rewarded this year.