The Society of American Florists’ 2018 Petal It Forward initiative brought out the best in people all over the country, reminding them of the powerful, positive effect of flowers on individuals’ lives, and giving florists an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with friends, neighbors and customers.
The simplicity of the idea — give recipients two bouquets, one to keep and one to share — struck Stacy Cofka, owner of A Blossom Shop in Bayville, New Jersey, as an opportunity to also help people in need. “We asked people in the community to bring nonperishable food items to donate to local food pantries in exchange for a flower bouquet,” said Cofka, who gave away 60 bouquets and received exponentially more donations in return.
“We asked people in the community to bring nonperishable food items to donate to local food pantries in exchange for a flower bouquet,” said Cofka, who gave away 60 bouquets and received exponentially more donations in return.
“I was blown away by their generosity,” she said. “We asked people to bring in a can of food, but many people brought in bags of cans. We filled one of our delivery fans with the donated food.”
Locals learned of the event through social media. “Our posts reached thousands of people,” Cofka said. The feel-good story also appeared in the Berkeley Patch.
During Petal It Forward on Oct. 24, such poignant stories of generosity happened in every state plus Washington, D.C., and Colombia, as floral industry members officially signed up to get on the nationwide list of 457 local Petal It Forward events in 410 cities. The day — made possible by cooperation among industry members in every segment, including support from wholesalers, importers, growers and suppliers — generated positive feelings among the public, over-the-moon-happy social media posts and led to glowing media nationwide.
“Petal It Forward is a key example of SAF’s efforts to connect the industry and spread the good news about flowers to consumers,” said Jennifer Sparks, SAF’s vice president of marketing. “This nationwide random act of kindness positions floral businesses as vital do-gooders in their communities, and that goes a long way toward building customer loyalty.”
This week, we’re sharing some of retailers’ favorite memories from the day. Be sure to visit safnow.org/pif to find links to media coverage, and live feeds to social media posts from around the country.
Oak Hills Florist in San Antonio, Texas, held its first Petal It Forward event this year.
“We’re are always looking for ways to give back to the community,” said owner Ryan Henarie. “This was right up our alley.”
The shop’s three ambassadors popped up at a variety of places around town, including restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops and shopping centers. Overall, they gave away 200 bouquets, which they chronicled in a Facebook album.
“It was a great experience,” Henarie said. In addition to joyful reactions during the giveaway, she’s seen an uptick in business after the fact.
“We’ve had several customers mention they called us because they received our flowers on Wednesday,” she said. “One customer has even ordered from us twice in the week!”
J. Miller Flowers and Gifts in Oakland, California, worked with 16 growers at the San Francisco Flower Market to hand out 400 bouquets to people down the street from the shop, as well as Children’s Hospital Oakland.
Co-owner Valerie Lee Ow first learned about Petal It Forward at the 2016 SAF Convention in Maui.
“I saw the video during the Marketing Breakfast and thought, ‘Wow, that looks fun!’” Ow said.
She crowdsourced tips from convention attendees who participated in the inaugural event and leaned on SAF online resources.
“My fellow SAF members really helped us develop our program,” Ow said. “From there, we’re tweaking it based on what we learn from experience.”
Organization, she’s found, is really key to Petal It Forward’s success. J. Miller Flower and Gifts had 14 happiness ambassadors, comprised largely of Ow’s personal friends who volunteered after seeing her posts last year. Not only did they hand out bouquets, but they helped make them too.
“They were enthusiastic, but most had never worked with flowers before,” Ow said.
To simplify the process, she came up with six different designs. Then she set up a room with seven tables (six design stations and one with supplies such as staples to fasten cellophane and attach labels).
“We fed them gourmet pizza and salad, gave quick demos, then let them work,” she said.
In Trumbull, Connecticut, nine happiness ambassadors (five employees of City Line Florist, two reps from DVFlora, one volunteer and a local radio personality) descended on a local corporate park, a Target and a Starbucks, giving away a total of 1,500 bouquets.
“All three locations were new to us this year,” said manager Nicole Palazzo. “We wanted to catch people in the hustle and bustle getting to work, going to lunch and shopping.”
City Line Florist has received countless “thank you” notes, posts and emails in the week since Petal It Forward, but one particular comment stood out. One woman reported that the person in line before her at Starbucks was so taken by the bouquets that he prepaid her coffee. Later that day, she gave one of her bouquets to a woman at a farmer’s market, who gave her two apples, telling her to keep one and give the other away.
“That’s what it’s all about, right?” Palazzo said.
Bank of Flowers in Menomonee Falls and Pewaukee, Wisconsin, gave away 400 bouquets. Owner Melissa Maas said the business tweaked its Petal It Forward by inviting community members to come to either location. (The shops aren’t located close to areas with heavy foot traffic.)
“This year, people arrived and formed a line in front of the store before we opened at 8 a.m.,” Maas said. “Everyone was in a great mood and couldn’t wait to share who they were giving their bouquets.”
When Rosa Marsal and the team at Sunnywoods Florist in Chatham, New Jersey, set off to hand out flowers, they had no idea what the day would bring.
“Throughout the day we were hugged, and people cried and laughed,” said Marsal. “We were emotionally drained by the time the day was over.” Then, she and her employees received a thank you note they won’t ever forget.
A woman named Anne wrote to say she’d given her second bouquet to a colleague — a man “whose job makes him invisible to all of us.”
“He reminded me his mother was terminally ill and was grateful for the flowers which would cheer her up,” Anne wrote. “He was leaving work early to go visit her. She passed away in her sleep last night. Your flowers enabled her son to create some cheer in the hours before then, and to feel good about doing so. I am not sure whether it was coincidence or divine intervention that you came up to me yesterday. It’s proof of your goodness and the intrinsic value and importance of flowers.”
For many Petal It Forward participants such as Cofka, the day provided an ideal opportunity to partner with local community groups.
About 40 happiness ambassadors representing Eastern Floral, which has branches in Grand Rapids, Holland and Grand Haven, Michigan, distributed a total of 1,600 bouquets at a variety of downtown locations and at local universities.
The shop partnered with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, which was a perfect fit in light of the new research on the positive effects of flowers on stress.
“When we decided we wanted to be part of Petal It Forward in 2017, we felt like we should work with a community partner to extend our reach,” said Kiersten Schulte, director of marketing and corporate relations. “The Mental Health Foundation created a ‘Be Nice campaign a few years ago, and the idea of simply being nice to a stranger is really what PIF is all about. The distribution of flowers lines up with their mission because you are taking the time to notice other people, inviting yourself to reach out and start a conversation, challenging yourself to talk to strangers, and empowering yourself and others with the happiness a smile and flowers can bring.”
One of the most moving reactions came from a university student.
“She said she had just left a therapy session and was feeling like there were no good people left in the world,” Schulte said. “We made her realize that there are good people with true intentions.” The event appeared on the local news, in local newspapers and on the radio.
In Texas, McShan Florist teamed up with the Dallas Police Department for its Petal It Forward event. D’Et Dixon said the pairing elevated the day, giving officers the chance to experience the joy of giving flowers to grateful recipients.
“They officers turned each and every gift of flowers into a special event with hugs, kind words, photos and social media postings,” Dixon sai.d “And during each presentation we all took pride in sharing the story of Petal It Forward and the goodness it brings … We were met with tears of joy and even prayers of thanks for the kindness we all shared. It was simply amazing.”
While Petal It Forward was designed to spread goodwill in communities, many participants noted the day provided a morale boost internally too.
In Greenville, South Carolina, the team at Expressions Unlimited handed out 1,000 bouquets. The hardest part: “Figuring out how to ration the bouquets around the city,” admitted, Staci Bryant, the operations manager.
The easiest part: Getting staff on board.
“Now that we’ve done Petal It Forward a few years, our staff really looks forward to the day,” Bryant said. “Right after we finished last year, they were already brainstorming costumes to wear, new places to go. That’s been a big part of the event for us — team morale. You forget sometimes that not everyone on your staff gets to see people’s reactions to flowers every day, and this is a way to remind everyone how big an impact flowers can make in someone’s life.”
In Kokomo, Indiana, Banner Flower House also found a staff-related benefit behind Petal It Forward: employee recruitment.
Leading up to the day owner Michelle Herr had been faced with a tough staffing shortage — so much so that she considered sitting out the day this year. Instead, she and her staff went ahead with their efforts, which paid off in unexpected ways.
“A few days after we handed out flowers, I posted another ‘we’re hiring’ ad on Facebook and got a quick response from a woman named Savannah,” she said. “It turns out that we gave her flowers. She was new to town and she and her friend were having a rough day. The flowers cheered them up. Savannah started following our Facebook page, saw our ad and applied immediately. She’s fitting in nicely and knows firsthand that a bad day can be turned around with a random act of kindness.”
Wishing Well Floral in West Linn, Oregon, was one of many retail shops encouraged to participate again this year by Frank Adams Wholesale Florist. The experience proved especially meaningful for the shop’s newest employee, Adam Burr, and his mentor at the business, Lori Cech Spugeon. In fact, the pair bonded during the shared, emotional experience after surprising a home health nurse with a bouquet.
Participants also used Petal It Forward as a way to generate positive PR for their businesses — and a way to introduce positive headlines into their community.
Botanica International Design Studio paired with Rio Roses for the third year to distribute 4,000 loose stems and 800 bouquets to unsuspecting people in Tampa, Florida. The company started off downtown to catch commuters on their way to work. At noon, they trekked to Armature Works, a sprawling food hall with dozens of vendor booths, which has a bustling lunch business.
This year, Sean Daly, a reporter with ABC Action News, tagged along with Botanica employees.
“We really tried to get ahead of pitching the press and following up with stations,” explained marketing coordinator Madelyn Greybar. She emailed a press release, customized from the SAF materials provided to members, to news stations on Wednesday, Oct. 17, called later that afternoon to personally explain the concept of Petal It Forward. On Monday, Oct. 22, she sent a media advisory. In addition to the prominent ABC coverage, Botanica’s efforts appeared in local newspapers.
Although some passersby — clearly skeptical of a free gift — skirted away from the group, most people showed immense gratitude.
“One woman teared up, saying her brother had just passed away, and she really appreciated the pick-me-up,” Greybar said. Several happy recipients hugged the happiness ambassadors. And one little girl told owner Ian Prosser, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, that she planned to give her extra bouquet to “the hurricane people”— line crew and good Samaritans heading to hard-hit areas of Florida to help restore power losses from Hurricane Michael.
Across the country in San Diego, California, Allen’s Flowers and Plants also appeared on its local ABC affiliate station, coverage which general manager Sam Bowles attributes to sending a press release and marketing the event heavily on social media. The shop posted two Facebook Live videos — one of Allen’s employees prepping flowers, donated by Dramm & Echter, for the event; another, of delighted flower recipients clutching their bouquets.
“Scientific research shows it’s beneficial to your mental health to both give and receive flowers so the whole concept of PIF is that every person is given two bouquets — one to keep and one to give away,” Bowles said in the Facebook Live video. He rehearsed those same SAF-suggested talking points with his team before setting up on a busy corner downtown, where they interacted with tons of people coming or going to lunch.
After the event, Bowles posted the news coverage on Facebook and Instagram and paid to boost it to further engage the shop’s fans. The following day, he noticed that a woman, Kathy D., had posted about Petal It Forward on Yelp: “Yesterday I was walking downtown and saw a ton of people smiling with flowers in their hands. (When is the last time we saw a bunch of people looking totally happy in work clothes?) Allen’s was giving away not one, but two, bouquets of flowers. […] This literally was one of the kindest gestures I have seen. We need more smiling these days and Allen’s delivered.”
In the weeks leading up to Petal It Forward, City Line Florist emailed customers and news stations about the event, created a Facebook event and participated in a Q&A with the local radio station.
The event appeared on News 12, which reaches seven regions of the New York tri-state area and included a line about City Line Florist’s longevity. (The shop was among the Century Award recipients earlier this year at SAF Palm Springs 2018.)
In Tilamook, Oregon, Sunflower Flats combined its Petal It Forward push with some exciting shop news — on Nov. 1, new owners Maddie McRae and Paige Robertson will take over the 17-year-old shop.
“The past few years we have given out 100 bouquets, but this year, in celebration of our new ownership and how much we love the event, we decided to pass out 150,” said Natalie Rieger, who started the business with her mother. “We get awesome engagement via our social media when our followers know we are ramping up for this event. We get hundreds and hundreds of comments with suggestions on who should get the flowers and why.”
The shop leveraged the attention into media coverage, with a radio interview on “Tilamook Today with Lisa Greiner” that covered the change in ownership and Petal It Forward.
In Phoenix, Arizona Family Florist also scored high-profile news coverage for its efforts, with a visit from Fox 10’S “Phoenix Morning Show.” Co-owner Cheryl Denham explained the concept behind Petal It Forward live, giving context to the broader national effort and talking about the shop’s effort to give out 600 bunches of daisies.
“We definitely can use some kindness in these days,” Denham said. “We have a lot of customers who look forward to this day every year.”
For Denham and team, the goodwill generated by the day has also meant increased sales: This year Arizona Family saw a 42 percent increase in total sales on Petal It Forward day, compared to returns last year on the day of the event.
In addition to participants taking SAF’s advice to reach out to local media, SAF enhanced those efforts through public relations tactics to capture media attention and drive reporters to local events.
SAF’s PR efforts included the strategically timed distribution of a media advisory and press release to broadcast and print media nationwide, as well as targeted pitching and follow-up to markets where events were happening. SAF also partnered with key bloggers and influencers with large social media followings to spread the news about the floral industry’s large-scale random act of kindness. Initial consumer impressions being measured from all of the local activities nationwide are at 50 million and counting, as news coverage and social media continues to be measured.
“It’s amazing to see all of the positive coverage from just one day in the middle of the week,” said Sparks. “The greatest part is how many people were touched by the message of flower power, far beyond the flower recipients.”
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing writer for the Society of American Florists and Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management magazine.