The tightest job market in recent memory. Continued consolidation of retail florists. An ongoing need for industry-specific education and hard data.
These are just some of the challenges and opportunities on the mind of Ben Powell, who stepped into the role of president of the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association in October during the group’s Floral Distribution Conference. Powell, the president of Mayesh Wholesale Florist in Los Angeles, recently shared his perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing WF&FSA and the wholesale segment at large. One thread? Change is constant.
“Every wholesale distributor must [now] fight for its place in the channel by offering unique value,” he said. “Some have done better than others and, of course, there are a range of strategies to deal with the competitive pressures. But it is clear that doing things the same old way they have been done in the past is not viable.”
Powell “stumbled into” the floral industry in the early 1990s after a business trip to Colombia exposed him to the global world of flower growing and selling.
“I grew up in Chicago but was living in Boston as a business strategy consultant mostly working with American companies developing new markets and pursuing acquisitions,” he said. Once he learned more about the floral industry, he was hooked — fast. “I was fascinated by it. One thing led to another and I ended up accepting a job managing a Miami flower importer.”
Powell has been with Mayesh since 2005 and is active with many industry groups; in September he moderated an expert panel on transportation challenges across segments during SAF Palm Springs, the Society of American Florists’ 134th annual convention in Palm Springs, California.
E-Brief: What are the big opportunities this year and in the near future for WF&FSA?
Ben Powell: The biggest opportunity is to offer unique and compelling industry-specific education unavailable elsewhere. The Floral Distribution Conference in Miami this year was a great example. We had a luncheon panel with four highly regarded experts on global floral production — featuring a discussion on flower growing trends in China, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Another opportunity we will explore, which many of us feel addresses an important need, is a flower industry on-boarding educational program for our member companies and their employees. We can leverage the vast expertise available in the flower industry to develop a library of online video content covering subjects such as care and handling, logistics and distribution, flower product knowledge, flower sales and service, etc. Many companies can really benefit from having this content available in a simple, easy and compelling format for training and development and eventually certification. It is a multi-year project but worth pursuing.
Additionally, WF&FSA can and should work with other associations to offer basic industry data and research. We have not done much of this historically, but I am convinced there is a need. Again, it is information and education that I see as an opportunity for enhanced member value.
Of course, this is in conjunction with the great commercial and professional networking afforded by our Conference and our Management Institute, which will continue to receive great emphasis.
EB: What about wholesalers in general? What are the big opportunities and challenges for the segment?
BP: There are plenty of both. Most of us know that we are in the tightest job market in memory. We are in a war for talent with other industries and each of us must find ways to attract people, especially younger people, to our companies. The floral industry does have a story to tell as far as career paths are concerned and it is up to us to tell it.
Industry specific challenges also include the continued consolidation among our historic customer base — retail florists. There are simply less of them than there once were and that presents a challenge for growth.
[As wholesalers], we all must justify our role in the industry supply chain. For those willing to innovate, whether it is with technology, specialty products, logistics, marketing, education or something else, there are plenty of opportunities to get closer with customers who need a partner. Those of us who do that will be just fine.
EB: What else is on your mind as we move into a new year?
BP: We have an industry which has certainly dealt with challenges and changes over the years. But the business remains dynamic, global, fast-moving and fun. The products we sell have become more diverse and consistent in quality and, needless to say, they are beautiful and put smiles on millions of faces every day. I think there is plenty of opportunity for wholesalers to add value in this business and plenty to be excited about in terms of the future.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management magazine.