Can shipping product via sea freight alleviate some of the industry’s transportation headaches? How can owners not only find employees, but also create meaningful programs to retain and develop them?
These are some of the most significant questions facing today’s wholesalers, according to Marla O’Dell, vice president of sales and marketing at CSS Industries Inc. and the immediate past president of the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supplier Association. O’Dell recently shared her take on the industry and WF&FSA during the group’s annual Floral Distribution Conference (FDC), and she also took time this week to reflect on what she learned during her one-year tenure as president.
Transportation: Looking for Solutions — and Alternatives
“The two biggest challenges [for wholesalers] most often discussed are freight and employees,” O’Dell said. “We believe it is important to make our membership aware of the pros — for example, reduced costs — and the cons — including lengthier shipment times — of this alternative.”
Transportation issues have long been a concern for industry members. Among the primary challenges for product coming out of South America: Imbalances in northbound/southbound air cargo, stiff competition with other higher-paying industries for cargo space, consolidation of airlines and a reduced number of flights — coupled with other issues, including an extreme truck driver shortage in the U.S., all of which can lead to delays, higher costs and confusion.
Raising awareness about these issues and creating a conversation about possible solutions, including how sea freight could help improve the flow of product, was a subject of an educational session at SAF Palm Springs 2018 last month, when new WF&FSA president Ben Powell of Mayesh Wholesale Florist moderated a four-person panel on the future of transportation, and it was also a priority last week at FDC.
Part of the goal? By prioritizing the discussion and partnering with other associations, we can “put a voice around the freight issue so retailers are aware of the problem,” and can plan accordingly, O’Dell said.
The Challenge of Finding and Keeping Employees
Labor is another ongoing challenge for floral industry members in every segment, and finding solutions remains a focus for WF&FSA, said O’Dell, adding that wholesalers typically face two sets of labor-related challenges.
“The first is finding employees and the second is engaging, retaining, and developing employees,” she said. “We are getting the word out on the AFE internship program. We are also working on an on-boarding and education program that our members can use with new hires that we plan to roll out in 2019.”
Year in Review
Nearly 750 people attended FDC last week in Miami, a number that’s in line with last year’s attendance and a testament to industry members’ desire for opportunities to learn and connect, said O’Dell. She said both the conference and the group’s Management Institute, or MI, held in Southern California in August, were highlights of her tenure as the group’s president.
“I heard from long time industry veterans that MI was some of the best education they received in and out of the floral industry — that is high praise,” she said, noting that the “road trip” portion of the event, when participants visit growers and local industry companies, has become an attendee favorite. “[It’s] a great way to get exposure to different facets of the supply chain, and [because] we spend all day together, a fabulous opportunity to network with industry associates.”
FDC included 107 exhibit booths, with more than 200 wholesalers in attendance. This year, the program included a panel of industry pros from around the globe talking about shifts and news in production and a trends session presented by Derek Woodruff, AIFD, CFD, CF, PFCI, of Floral Underground in Traverse City, Michigan. During the conference, the group also awarded former SAF CEO Peter Moran its LTK Award, WF&FSA’s highest honor. Read more about that honor.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management magazine.
Photos below from WF&FSA’s annual Floral Distribution Conference, including top left, former SAF CEO Peter Moran accepting the LTK Award. See additional photos from the event.