Air cargo capacity, increasing floral consumption among consumers — and getting more wholesalers, of all sizes, to join the ranks of the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association.
These are just some of the items on the to-do list of Marla O’Dell, vice president of sales and marketing of Berwick Offray, who took over as president of WF&FSA last fall.
“The biggest concern I hear about [from wholesalers] is the uncertainty with South American air cargo capacity and subsequent rates,” she said. “This challenge will cause a ripple effect through the industry in both product availability and pricing.”
O’Dell steps into the WF&FSA presidency at a unique time. The group’s 2017 Floral Distribution Conference last fall was one of its largest gatherings to date, but the wholesale segment and floral industry at large face plenty of challenges in the New Year, including those slowdowns out of South America.
Challenges and opportunities, insists O’Dell, who recently shared with EBrief editors her thoughts on what the New Year holds — and her determination to convince potential members that WF&FSA isn’t just for “the big guys.”
EBrief: What are you most excited about for wholesalers in 2018?
Marla O’Dell: There is a lot of optimism in the market going into 2018. Part of that is fueled by the overall economy which provides a lift to sales but part of it is also wholesalers really capitalizing on their value-add to the industry. I see wholesalers embracing technology like never before. They are using it to manage inventory and inventory turns, communicate and conduct business transactions with suppliers and customers, and stay engaged and relevant with their customer base. It’s exciting!
EB: What about the overall floral industry? From your perspective, what are the top challenges and big opportunities in the short-term?
MO: Beyond the air cargo issue, the biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity and it is not a new one. Consumers have a lot of choices available when it comes to their discretionary income. Our challenge and opportunity as an industry is making flowers top of mind and desire for those dollars.
EB: What about the longer term – looking ahead 3, 5 or even 10 years?
MO: My husband and I always joke that you could be dropped into any suburb of America and not know where you are because all the stores and restaurants are the same. The floral industry is uniquely positioned to differentiate from the mass market with both their fresh and their hard goods offering. Consumers are hungry for that uniqueness. While the industry currently possesses that advantage, we have to recognize it takes work to execute and stay ahead by constantly offering the consumer new and different so they have a reason to shop our establishments. At the same time we have to keep one eye on the “Amazon ball.” We all know Amazon’s distribution capabilities are phenomenal and pockets are deep. We can’t become complacent in our uniqueness. Continuous improvement is required.
EB: What’s an issue you deal with regularly in your role that you wish you could better explain to the industry at large?
MO: I am baffled at the number of wholesalers that are not involved in WF&FSA. It is such an opportunity to learn from your peers. I am constantly amazed at the willingness of all wholesalers to share information with their peers for the greater good. I hear some smaller wholesalers comment “WF&FSA is just for the big guys” but that isn’t true. The “big guys” are right there sharing information as well. There is common belief that a rising tide lifts all ships. I encourage any wholesaler that is not involved to give it a try even for just one year!
EB: Why is this particular issue hard to communicate?
MO: We all get caught up in our day-to-day and it is admittedly hard to get away from the office. It’s known what won’t get done when you aren’t in the office but sometimes it is hard to see the potential or future benefits of spending the time away at something like a WF&FSA convention.
EB: Tell me about a project or initiative you’ve completed recently that you’re really proud of.
MO: I am super excited about the new [WF&FSA] website we implemented this year. It is so fresh, intuitive and relevant to our audience today. The Marketing Committee and the WF&FSA staff put a lot of thought, time and effort into making sure it was done right.
Look for more insight from additional industry leaders on the challenges and opportunities of 2018, by segment and for the entire industry, in the January issue of Floral Management —arriving in your inbox and mailbox soon.