The current business climate has created concerns and challenges for retail florists, their suppliers, and their customers. Rising prices and decreasing disposable income has created a sense of caution in buying habits. Restraint in spending is not an attitude that retailers like to hear

While the current economic situation is not welcome, the reaction of retail florists seems to vary greatly. Some have chosen to focus on the bottom line, raising prices, increasing delivery charges, and cutting back on product lines and services. Others have approached the challenge by seeking new accounts, trying harder to get customers into their shop, and expressing an upbeat and positive approach to the beautiful and emotional product they sell ! flowers.

In reality, many florists who continue to be successful are doing both. It is evident that traditional florists who cater to the middle level customer cannot afford to do nothing. Funeral work has declined and spending on flowers for everyday occasions has been modest. Florists are continually seeking ways to bring more people into their shop. Beautiful floral product and artistic displays along with friendly and helpful staff are powerful selling tools. But the reality of today’s buying habits finds fewer people coming to the shop just to look.

There is no simple formula to overcome these barriers, but it is important that each florist assess their individual situation and implement a plan of action. In most cases, doing business as they have in the past will not work. Changes in buying habits, technology, and the nature of the competition have forced retail florists to make the necessary adjustments in order to remain profitable. Below are some areas of consideration that have been talked about by florists.

Charge a Fair Price to Cover Costs

Prices must change to reflect the cost of doing business. Nobody likes to increase prices but it is necessary to make money. The timing of the increase is important. With the widespread publicity on rising prices in all areas of the economy, customers are primed to accept that flower prices will also increase. Likewise with rising fuel prices, it is logical that delivery charges will go up or be assessed where they previously were not. That does not mean that these hikes will go unnoticed or be commented upon. It is necessary to respond in a positive way, pointing out the special services that florists provide, including careful handling, a quick response time, and travel to distant locations to satisfy the customer.

Refocus Your Business to Include Profitable Components

Florists cannot afford to offer the same product lines and services they have in past. It is necessary to decide what change is most effective for the individual situation. The size of the business, its geographic location, and the nature of the competition are all factors that will impact the decision. In many ways it seems that the traditional small town florist has been unfairly affected by all the change. The decrease in funeral business, reduced numbers of incoming wire service orders, and reduction of walk-in trade has all worked to change the complexion of the traditional florist business.

For some florists it may mean specializing in event planning or custom home décor service with a high emphasis on individual quality service. For others it may mean becoming more like the box stores with a high volume of economical and readily available product. Yet others may focus on corporate accounts, holiday decorations, and interior plantscaping. Another area of consideration is rental of containers, accessories, and live plants. Focus on product and services not available from other businesses in your area and scale back on areas where there is stiff competition.

All areas of merchandise should be considered for their contribution to the bottom line. Product that is no longer popular and moves slowly does not make money. Perhaps it is a matter of updating or changing lines so that the customers are seeing the things that they now desire. If they don’t, they will go elsewhere to buy their gifts and expressions of emotion.

Increase Awareness of Your Business

Now is the time to put even more emphasis on generating awareness and excitement about your business. Traditional advertising costs are also rising. Decisions have to be made as to which are cost effective and worth keeping. Those that are not should be eliminated. Just because they were always done is not a good reason for continuing that expense. It is also necessary to be aware that many buyers are using the Internet to check out florists before they make a decision to buy. Others are using it to place orders. In either case it is important that businesses not miss this opportunity to portray themselves in a positive and personalized way. Cookie cutter web sites are not impressive. Those with an attractive picture of the shop, some representative design work, and perhaps weekly specials will likely be more effective in attracting customers. Those buying online prefer a very simple-to-use, straight-forward system that will allow them to complete the order rapidly and with assurance that they are getting what they want.

This is also a time to be active in the community and get your floral product out where potential customers can see it and be inspired to buy from you. It is not a new concept, but many florists have recently stepped up their efforts to place arrangements in local restaurants, beauty shops, and dry cleaners along with a business card indicating where the flowers came from. The country club is another venue for displaying an artistic presentation of flowers before potential customers. The conversations that these displays generate are valuable to the florist and will be passed along to many other people.

Another source for community outreach is the high school prom. Welcome this new generation of customers by showing them the stylish products you have to offer and help them feel comfortable ordering from a florist. They are seeking unique creations to enhance their special attire, and florists have the tools to respond. As floral artists, you have the talent to turn the colored wire and jeweled accessories into creations that suit the present generation. They are willing to spend a considerable sum for this special night and many will return for wedding flowers in the not too distant future, if they had a good experience.

Focus on Customer Service

The biggest edge that florists have on their competition is their quality customer service. Make sure that you do not compromise this valuable asset that causes people to do business with you. A satisfied customer is worth their weight in gold and will become that all-important repeat customer that is essential in building a solid and profitable customer base. Customers who are pleased with the way you do business will tell many other people. A satisfied customer is the result of many positive experiences, including the consistent supply of a quality product and reliable, and professional help from shop personnel. Occasionally complaints will arise but they should be dealt with in a positive manner that will result in making the situation right.

Buy Wisely

Careful buying of product and avoiding waste are high on the list of actions that can make an immediate difference in the bottom line. Look for specials and quantity discounts that will save money. Don’t overbuy, especially on expensive product that may have limited use. Once you have the product, figure out a way to turn it into saleable product. Don’t add it as extra stems just to get rid of it. Small hand-tied bouquets and novelty arrangements are great ways to use left-over flowers and offer customers a unique Aspecial.

Judicious buying also applies to containers and other hard goods. Look for items that have multiple uses as opposed to being suited for a certain project. Containers that are sitting in the back room are not making money. Pull these out of inventory and think of ways they can be used. There are so many opportunities to alter the surface color or texture. This will allow them to be turned into money instead of gathering dust on the shelves.

Educate and Appreciate Employees

Select and develop the best employee group possible. Good people are the face of a business and are what make it successful. They wish to be valued, and opportunities for development can bring benefits in knowledge and moral. It was heartening to see groups of shop employees attending the 2008 OFA Short Course where there were ample opportunities to learn from great designers and business people. Their experience will surely stimulate conversation and motivate them to see the bigger picture of the florist industry.

There are many other opportunities for professional development including quality programs at wholesale houses and fine industry publications.
Those ready to take the step of becoming an Ohio Certified Florist (you don’t have to be from Ohio to attain accreditation) will find a rewarding course of study in preparation for the written exam. Details can be had by contacting Michelle Gaston at the OFA office.

Keep Busy

We are well aware that time is money. There are many times when we are overwhelmed by the amount of work and the rapidly approaching deadline, but there are also the slow periods. Use the time wisely to work ahead for upcoming events and holiday needs. Create exciting props for shop and window displays, refurbish containers, and organize inventory. Tara Baeire of Tara’s Floral Expressions in Mansfield, Ohio suggested the importance of catering to the summer wedding business to keep the summer season profitable. Being energetic and enterprising is certainly more rewarding than sitting on a stool waiting for the phone to ring.

Stay Positive

As I have listened to many florists talk about the challenges that they face, I am left with the distinct feeling that those who are positive and willing to change are the ones that are will survive and thrive. It is the ones that are out there gathering new ideas and analyzing them in terms of their individual situation that express optimism for the future. It is those who are encouraging their employees to learn and grow who have the greatest hope for improving their customer service and overall quality and reputation. There is no simple answer, but people will continue to be moved by the emotions that our floral products evoke, and they will continue to buy flowers.

Reprinted from the OFA Bulletin, (phone: 614-487-1117) January/February 2009, Number 913.

Gary Anderson


Gary Anderson is a horticulturist with The Ohio State’s OARDC in Wooster, Ohio. Contact him at [email protected]