When Karen Flanders put out a call for volunteers to help support her Petal It Forward event, she wasn’t exactly sure what she — or her volunteers — were signing up for. The owner of Lady Slipper Creations in Chester, New Hampshire, planned to give out about 600 roses to strangers, including patients and medical professionals at nearby medical facilities. And, while she expected the experience to be positive, she wasn’t prepared for just how emotional the day would become.
“The response was incredible,” Flanders said. Many of the recipients were cancer patients undergoing chemo and other forms of treatments. Flanders’ volunteers were allowed inside the facility to hand out flowers to family members and patients; one woman told the team that receiving the flower gave her a reason to smile — the first reason she’d had all day.
Hundreds of miles away in Scott, Louisiana, Annie Taylor of Leona Sue’s Florist had a similarly emotional moment during her Petal It Forward event, when a bouquet recipient was so overwhelmed, she sat in her car and cried. “We have no idea what she was going through, but she said, ‘Thank you,’” said Taylor.
And in Denton, Maryland, a senior citizen was so taken aback by flowers from Patti’s Petals Florist, Gardens and Gifts that she kept repeating, “For me? This is for me?”
These stories — among many, many others like them — help capture the experience of the nearly 50 floral industry members who participated at the local level last week in SAF’s Petal It Forward event.
In New York City on Oct. 7, SAF’s energetic “street team” — which included SAF member Nic Faitos, nine additional volunteers from his NYC shop, Starbright Floral, and DVFlora which handled the product and delivery logistics — capitalized on popular pay-it-forward initiatives by randomly giving two bouquets each to passersby in Times Square and Union Square. SAF members were encouraged to promote their own complementary events — and many who participated pulled out all the stops.
A small sample of the dozens of events we’ve heard and read about on social media include:
- Chester’s Flower Shop & Greenhouses in Utica, New York, gave out about 750 bunches of flowers – and landed on WKTV’s news line-up in the process. “I am glad we were part of this event,” said owner Bill Waszkiewicz.
- Tim and Michael Pugh of Pugh’s Flowers proved that the feel-good event didn’t require much time away from the shop: They distributed 100 bouquets in a lightning fast giveaway in a busy restaurant district in Memphis, Tennessee. For 15 minutes around lunchtime, the pair surprised diners, with the help of two employees and the shop’s mascot. They posted a short video of the effort to their Facebook page.
- Katrina Heimberger and two employees also used the lunchtime crowd to their advantage, passing out 400 carnations in downtown Wooster, Ohio. “The overall response was very positive with lots of smiles,” said Heimberger, the owner of Wooster Floral. “Even the local parking enforcement officer was carrying her flower in her back pocket as she worked.”
- Lorrie Anderson, of Country Florist in Waldorf, Maryland, took to civic groups to spread her message and share her flowers. She handed out 75 bouquets Tuesday morning to a weekly network meeting and then 50 additional bouquets later in the day at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. She extended the giveaway through Friday at her store — to the obvious delight of her customers. “People truly enjoyed getting the flowers,” she said. Grateful recipients, like the woman in this post who detailed how much the flowers from Chester’s Flower Shop & Greenhouses meant to her, were a common theme among participants in the Petal It Forward effort.
- In Lafayette, Colorado, Lori Wheat, AAF, and Brian Wheat of Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center turned a potential headache (construction in front of their main store) into a party, with a street giveaway. “It was a great opportunity to talk to people as they were stopped in their cars,” Lori said. The shop also gave away flowers at its satellite location at Good Samaritan Medical Center. The Wheats made sure to get the full bang for their PR buck by delivering bouquets, a poster and press releases before the event to city hall, a popular rec center and the Chamber of Commerce. During the event, they used social media to spread the word (including pictures of cyclists and flowers, literally pedaling forward). The shop’s wholesaler, DWF, donated product to help offset the cost.
- Palace Florists in Washington, D.C. handed out 1,000 roses and interacted with about 500 people in a two-hour window. “When my wife, Beth, was handing out roses there were these two women who were so shocked that they asked if they could hug her,” said owner Lee Herman. “Of course, she hugged them and took pictures.”
- Radebaugh Florist and Greenhouses in Towson, Maryland, handed out a total of 200 bouquets at a local coffee shop and, later in the day, the city center. “There were so many wonderful reactions,” said Kaitlin Radebaugh. “The best was watching someone walk away with the bouquets and, before they get to the end of the street, handing off the bouquet to someone else and seeing that person’s reaction to a pure act of kindness from a stranger.”
- Leona Sue’s Florist went all in for their Petal It Forward event, promoting the giveaway heavily on social media and alerting the press before taking over three sides of a popular intersection to hand out 300 wrapped roses. Team members carried signs with hash tags for Petal It Forward and the shop name. “People [have been] calling, stopping by and talking to me anywhere I go about the awesomeness of the event and how generous they felt we were,” said Taylor. “It was overwhelmingly a positive event.”
- Georgianne Vinicombe of Monday Morning Flower and Balloon Co. said her shop gave out 200 daisy bouquets along a busy street in downtown Princeton, New Jersey. They even surprised a bus filled with tourists from Japan who were eager to see Princeton University. Vinicombe and her staff made full use of social media to promote the event — tweeting, posting and even creating a Periscope video of the event.
- Proving that a successful event didn’t require extensive lead time, Karen Fountain of Flowers ‘n’ Ferns in Burke, Virginia, had about 60 bouquets ready to hand out. “Folks… seemed delighted,” she said, adding that the shop got a dose of celebrity when a retired and much loved local journalist, John Harter, stopped in with his wife to order flowers. “I gave each one a set and he gave us a big hug and kiss,” she said. “That was our surprise moment and was completely spontaneous.”
Many industry members partnered with other businesses and groups to plan and promote their events. Some of those partnerships included:
- Kennicott Brothers worked with local retail customers Ashland Addison Florist Company, City Scents Floral & Home, and Bunches (A Flower Shop) to surprise random people in Chicagoland. The wholesaler’s vendor partners The Queens Flowers in Miami and The Sun Valley Group in Arcata, California, donated more than 1,400 mixed stem bouquets for Kennicott and its cus¬tomers for this event. (Kennicott provided marketing support and covered freight for the shipments.) Teams of staff members and volunteers handed out Cubs-logoed bouquets around Chicago, including throughout Wrigleyville during happy hour. “The good vibes may have hit their mark, as the Cubs won that evening’s historic wild-card game, clinching their inclusion in the World Series,” said Joe Barnes, Kennicott’s manager of new business. Read more or watch a video of the Wrigley Field fun.
- In partnership with California flower growers Dramm and Echter, the Sun Valley Group, Kitayama Brothers and Repetto Florist and Nursery, and local colleges and design students, the San Francisco Flower Mart distributed about 620 bouquets — an event a news crew from KTVU, the local Fox affiliate, captured live. (Read more about these California growers’ giveaways.)
- Rio Roses partnered with the IM Able Foundation for a giveaway at Zoo Miami. That effort, held on Oct. 3, also helped raise funds for the nonprofit, which supports individuals with disabilities.
The campaign itself was made for the digital, share-happy age. Participating SAF members and flower recipients were encouraged to share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #petalitforward. The response online was overwhelming—and overwhelmingly positive, said florist after florist. In addition, many participants also scored positive coverage in the traditional press, including:
- The Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor covered Cole Gardens’ giveaway, writing: “Fifty lucky passersby received free flower bouquets while walking along Main Street in Concord on Wednesday with one request – to ‘petal it forward.’” One of the recipients interviewed by the newspaper, an elderly woman in a wheelchair, said she planned to give one of her bouquets to her caregiver.
- KEZI News, the local ABC affiliate in Roseburg, Oregon, picked up the story of Dandelions’ outreach, running a story titled “Handing Out Flowers to Spread Joy.” One grateful commenter on that story wrote, “Thank you for such a poignant gesture. … We are all in need of joy and here it is.” An NBC affiliate also picked up on the shop’s promotion in Eugene, Oregon.
- ABC affiliate KATC in Arcadiana, Louisiana, sent a news crew out to interview Annie Taylor about Leona Sue’s Florist’s giveaway. “We’re just spreading good news and good feelings,” she told a delighted news crew. Check out the clip on the shop’s Facebook page under videos.
- The Star Democrat covered Patti’s Petals Florist, Gardens and Gifts giveaway in Denton, Maryland. Patti Wood, co-owner, and her three daughters, Kim Wood, Alison Wood and Ashley Wood, walked downtown Denton, passing out carnations and daisies on the street. “We got smiles from everybody,” said Patti.
- High-profile coverage on a local Fox affiliate involved a last-minute hustle at both Ashland Addison Florist and Kennicott Brothers in Chicago. Barnes, at Kennicott, and Bridget Carlson, of Ashland Addison, received a call about a live feed at Wrigley Field that morning and then rushed to get spokespeople on site (and with flowers) in time. Former SAF president Red Kennicott, AAF, and Jonas Zimmerman of Ashland Addison made it and the interview was a big success. “The whole dynamic was fun and exciting,” said Carlson. Watch the video.
Beyond the press, the effort led to an outpouring of support and appreciation from people on the receiving end of the flowers.
- A recipient of a bouquet handed out by Cole Gardens said it was “so nice to see so many people downtown with smiles on their face! I gave my extra bouquet to a coworker and she was grinning from ear to ear.”
- The effort through Chester’s Flower Shop & Greenhouses helped turn around one woman’s day. After receiving subpar service at a local coffee shop, she was given two bouquets from a Chester’s employee. The flowers symbolized “a smile and kindness,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
- After the event in Lafayette, a customer came in to Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center, placed an order and complimented Lori Wheat on Petal It Forward. “We are so lucky to have you in the community,” she said. And for Wheat, that was gold: “That was the best reward ever.”
- Powering through a busy month that includes her annual Bras for a Cure fundraiser, former SAF President Shirley Lyons, AAF, PFCI, coordinated giveaways in Eugene, Oregon — home of Dandelions Flowers & Gifts—and Roseburg, Oregon, site of the recent community college shooting. There, they visited with first responders, many of whom had seen press coverage of the giveaway. “It was astounding,” Lyons said. “Every single person in Roseburg said, “You are the flower ladies we saw on TV that were coming here. Thank you! We have never experienced anything like it.”