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Industry Leaders Talk Gut Reactions to Valentine’s Day

by | Feb 17, 2016 | Floral Industry News, Public Relations | 0 comments

A local Girl Scouts troop selling cookies helped add to Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center’s festive feel on Valentine’s Day.

A local Girl Scouts troop selling cookies helped add to Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center’s festive feel on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day 2016 has come and gone and the good news may be cold comfort: At least, it’s over.

A Sunday holiday, long weekend and — along the East Coast and in the South — frigid temperatures, didn’t make for a favorable combination. Then again, few floral industry members seemed to be planning for record-breaking, or even flat, results.

This week, E-Brief editors reached out to members of the Society of American Florists Board of Directors and Retailers, Wholesalers and Growers councils to get an early read on the holiday. Most said business — across segments — was slow.

While many pointed to bright spots, including smoother deliveries and better staffing, since the holiday delivery period was so spread out, others pointed to real challenges: Unsold product. Orders that just didn’t come in. And a lingering sense of worry over the state of the current economy at large.

Retailers Report

This holiday was all about measured expectations, said a number of retailers.

“We expected it to be a slower Valentine’s Day since it was on a Sunday,” said Rachel Martin of Ballard Blossom Inc. in Seattle, and a member of the SAF Retailers Council. “It was slower, even more than we had thought.”

Martin estimated that her sales were down 20 percent from 2015, when Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday. Martin saw “lots of last-minute” orders, she said, and a decline in “traditional dozen red rose sales.”

In Ypsilanti, Retailers Council Member Tim Galea of Norton’s Flowers & Gifts found a slightly more nuanced picture in his initial reports, pointing out that his sales appeared to be up 18 percent compared to 2010, the last time the holiday fell on a Sunday, but down about 13 percent compared to 2015.

The day of the week was the “big story” of the holiday this year, he said.

floral customer and his new fiance using the companies marquee to propose

When a customer asked to rent the marquee at Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center for a marriage proposal, Brian Wheat’s first thought was “no way.” Then he realized what a nice story it could be—and shared the love on social media.

“ decent advance ordering for Friday and Saturday deliveries busy cash-and-carry on Sunday,” said Galea, who sent an email blast with a promo for early deliveries.

Knowing that the number of transactions was likely to fall, Galea worked with his staff to increase average transactions, which they did, by more than 8 percent.

Weather was not a problem in Lafayette, Colorado. Retailers Council member Brian Wheat, AAF, PFCI of Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Center said, there, it was sunny and warm, with temps in the 50s and 60s. Still, that darned Sunday effect. Deliveries were down, Wheat said, but walk-in sales appeared to be up, as were average transaction amounts. A local Girl Scouts troop added to the festive feel in-store, selling cookies outside the front door (at the Wheats’ invitation).

The shop also attracted plenty of attention on social media, thanks to a customer who rented Lafayette’s marquee for a marriage proposal. “My first reaction is, ‘We are too busy to do that,” Wheat admitted. “But after more thought, I said, ‘Heck yes, we can do that! That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.”

The customer paid $100 to rent the sign for two hours on Sunday. His sweetie said yes, the customer bought her a huge arrangement and Wheat posted the story to social media. “Good feelings all around,” he said.

“It pays to send a press release, and florists should always do so,” said SAF Chairman Shirley Lyons, AAF, PFCI, of Dandelions Flowers & Gifts in Eugene, Oregon. Three news crews visited her shop this year.

“It pays to send a press release, and florists should always do so,” said SAF Chairman Shirley Lyons, AAF, PFCI, of Dandelions Flowers & Gifts in Eugene, Oregon. Three news crews visited her shop this year.

SAF Chairman Shirley Lyons, AAF, PFCI, of Dandelions Flowers & Gifts classified her returns as “a bit better than expected” in Eugene, Oregon, where the weather was also favorable.

“We were prepared for a 30 percent decline over a Friday holiday based on historical records, and it was only off by 20 percent,” she said. “If our ‘buy’ was right and staffing , which we will have firm numbers on soon, it looks great.”

Lyons said she and her team focused on reaching customers throughout the 10-day period before the holiday, with email reminders and special offers. She even suggested the weekend event had perks, in terms of workflow.

“Our biggest delight was that it was a much easier holiday to ‘work out the flow’ than some of the weekday holidays,” she explained. “The flow of orders, staffing and delivery was smooth, Delivery over three to four days was great, and we were able to get staff home to reduce overtime. Also the split over two work weeks, as Sunday begins a new work week in our store, was helpful in overtime. We also found the fresh product sourced was great quality.”

In a bid to drum up business, Lyons sent press releases about the holiday to three local TV stations on the morning of Feb. 12. Her outreach paid off: All three stations came to the store (two on Friday; one on Saturday) and ran segments on-air during the news.

“It pays to send a press release, and florists should always do so,” said Lyons, by now a PR veteran. “Our busiest days of the year, are also the most impactful for the news teams and have the best chance to garner a story.  They also run the news stories on their online portals and extend the reach. It is great.”

Tiger Lily in Charleston, South Carolina, was featured in a video called “5 Tips for Ordering Valentine’s Day Flowers.” The holiday can be summed up in three words, according to Manny Gonzales: “Good not great.”

Tiger Lily in Charleston, South Carolina, was featured in a video called “5 Tips for Ordering Valentine’s Day Flowers.” The holiday can be summed up in three words, according to Manny Gonzales: “Good not great.”

Other insights from Lyons: While roses were still a strong seller, there was decent interest in mixed flower vases. (Red was still the most popular color, by far.) She also saw growth in internet orders and phone sales that tracked with a slightly lower average transaction. (Lyons showed her team the statistics during the holiday and they started working harder on inching that number up immediately)

And while Valentine’s Day is “always a last-minute ordering” event at Dandelions for many customers, “we felt that less so than usual,” this year, Lyons noted. “Consumers had a three-day window to get it right. I think that helped.”

In Philadelphia, SAF Treasurer Chris Drummond, AAF, of Plaza Flowers, agreed. “ much less last-minute, probably because of the Sunday Valentine’s Day and weather,” he said, noting that sales were flat — a “slightly disappointing” result.

“Sales were very strong Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Drummond said. “We knew Saturday and Sunday would be down, but not this drastic. The frigid temps kept many away Walk-in was down 40 percent.”

In Charleston, South Carolina, SAF Board of Directors member Manny Gonzales said the product was great and staff planning was well done.

“We just didn’t get enough orders,” he lamented.

Lizzie Dunnet with Dr. Delphinium shows Good Morning Texas some alternatives to roses for Valentine's Day.

Lizzie Dunnet with Dr. Delphinium shows Good Morning Texas some alternative flower choices for Valentine’s Day.

“We had an aggressive goal of 10 percent over last year, which was our record Valentine’s Day sale,” he said. “But we finished 8 percent below last year.”

This year’s holiday can be “summed up in three words: Good not great,” he said, noting that the shop benefited from excellent exposure from The Southern Weekend and a video the website produced called “5 Tips on Ordering Flowers.

Kristen Gainan of Gainan’s Floral & Greenhouses in Billings, Montana, a member of the Retailers Council, said sales dropped 18.5 percent compared to last year, placing them “about even” with 2011 levels (when the holiday fell on a Monday).

“Our weather was unseasonably warm, and all of our public schools had a four-day weekend, so a lot of people head to the slopes or elsewhere for the weekend,” she said. Despite coverage on the radio and in the local paper, the sales just didn’t materialize, she said.

“Although we anticipated a slower holiday than last year, we were disappointed to see how slow it actually turned out to be,” she said.

One push that did turn out? Early delivery, Gainan said. “Our business was spread out throughout the week,” she explained. “We advertised for early delivery, so Friday was a strongest day.  Add-ons (e.g. candy, plush) were big, as always.”

Charles Ingrum of Dr. Delphinium Designs & Events, also on SAF’s board of directors, said the holiday met his real-world expectations, with a sales drop of about 9.5 percent.

The Sunday holiday was likely behind that drop, but it made for a “very smooth,” holiday, with deliveries stretched out, noted Ingrum, who received good media coverage when a local team came out to the business on Wednesday.

Popular at his store? Mixed arrangements, along with “a large increase in Valentine gift basket sales this year,” he said.

One thing that Ingrum didn’t do? Offer many discounts. “We instead give our employees incentives,” he said.
In Rogers, Arkansas, Jo Buttram, AAF, of Shirley’s Flowers & Gifts, a member of SAF’s board of directors, said planning paid off.

“I figured we would be down 15 percent because of the Sunday Valentine,” she said. As it ended up, her overall sales were down 7 percent but her sales in eight big box stores (where the shop has a presence) were up 18 percent. “So were were a winner.”

Friday, Buttram noted, “was our big delivery day,” but the shop was open for business all day Sunday. (“It was worth it,” she said.) The business saw larger arrangements this year, with mixed flowers, not just roses, and lots of add-ons — not a surprise when you consider that Buttram, like Ingrum, offered incentives to her sales teams. In her case, to push those larger orders and the add-ons.

Meanwhile, Freytag’s Florist in Austin experienced something truly unusual: A sales increase, according to Retailers Council member Chad Freytag. “Compared to last year, our sales were up 11 percent,” he said. “ exceeded my expectations.”

How’d he swing that? Freytag said — beyond the usual hard work — he’s not sure. But he noted that when he looks at holiday sales, he considers the entire week — and he offered a caveat to any holiday reporting.

“Some people calculate by the date of the sale, some calculate by the date of delivery and people use all different kinds of date ranges,” he said. “I look at sales by the sale date and the entire holiday week, so Monday through Sunday.” (In our post-holiday survey, which goes to all SAF members, we’ll be sure to clarify the reporting process. Look for that survey in your inbox soon.)

Growers and Wholesalers Weigh In

Beyond retailers, we also heard from some growers, wholesalers and suppliers on the SAF volunteer councils.

Growers Council member Robert Kitayama of Greenleaf Brighton, in Colorado, said his company’s “wholesale division was flat,” while the “production side was down.”

“The market was never ‘tight,’” he said, meaning “product seemed very available.” (That’s good for retailers in a last-minute scramble; not-so-good for wholesalers and growers with product left over.)

In terms of demand, Kitayama said, “Roses were moving, but we were glad not to over speculate.”

Growers Council member Steve Register of Flores Ixtapan S De RL de CV in Mexico told a similar story — lots of product available.

“Due to warmer weather, there were more rose stems imported into the U.S. from South America,” he said.

That weather plus the Sunday holiday “created lower prices and in general did not have a positive effect on the overall industry,” Register explained. “Product did not sell out even at lower prices.”

Overall Register saw flat sales, but a 10 percent decrease from many customers (new customers helped make up for those drops.) The company also saw more sales going through one-hour delivery service start-ups.

Ken Wilkins of Delaware Valley Floral Group in Sewell, New Jersey, and a member of the SAF Wholesalers Council said the holiday was “better than we expected,” with sales up 5.5 percent.

The big challenge (in addition to the day of the week): “Very cold weather toward the end of the holiday,” he said.

Likewise, in Boston, Wholesalers Council member Nick Fronduto of Jacobson Floral Supply Inc., said the cold presented plenty of headaches. “The region’s high on Sunday was only 12 degrees while the low registered for the day was a frosty 9 below zero,” he explained.

Nonetheless, “despite the apprehension of Valentine’s Day being on a Sunday, the feedback that we received from our customers was that it was better than expected,” he said. “Sales for the Valentine’s Day period were up slightly, with a surge the week just prior, as it appeared that many of our customers were waiting for confirmed orders prior to investing in product.

On the supply side, Fronduto said, “there were no perceptible shifts in product demand with the exception of the incremental sales of plastic sheeting, sleeves etc., which were used to cope with the cold.”

Ben Powell of Mayesh Wholesale, headquartered in Los Angeles, was less optimistic.

“After seeing steady growth in our business since the recession year of 2009, our core wholesale business experienced a revenue decline for Valentines Day 2016,” said Powell, a member of the Wholesalers Council. “Our customers were generally cautious in their buying, likely reflecting the lower expectations stemming from a Sunday holiday on a three-day weekend.”

Complicating matters, “the rose production came very early this year and the market was sloppy from a price standpoint,” he said. “We did see variations across our 17 branches, but very few of them saw any meaningful growth at all.”

Powell said he worries the bad news extends beyond the holiday.

“We have been talking internally about the potential that we are entering a recession,” he said. “We have no crystal ball here at Mayesh, but we certainly feel that the momentum from recent years has slowed — hopefully only a temporary pause.”

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