Salvatore “Sam” Viviano, AAF, a lifelong florist famous for his insightful business ideas, no-nonsense attitude and eagerness to help his peers, died Monday, Sept. 2. He was 85.
After working at his family’s eponymous shop in St. Clair Shoes, Michigan, Viviano moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1964 and purchased Bartz Florist Shop, which he rebranded as Bartz Viviano Flowers & Gifts, a business that once had six locations and is currently run by his grandson, Frank Viviano, Jr. He also established Maumee Valley Wholesale Florist Supply.
Throughout his career, Viviano volunteered extensively with several industry groups. In addition to serving on the Society of American Florists’ board of directors, he belonged to the Ten Group (a coalition of forward-thinking floral business owners), founded FIBS (a group that gathers annually to golf and chat industry issues), and was active with FTD, Teleflora, the American Floral Marketing Council and American Floral Endowment. Upon retiring, he started SV Floral Consulting.
“The flower business was the focal point of his life,” said his son, Frank, who owned Bartz Viviano from 1996 to 2017. “He was fully invested in it. He was always out and about at industry events, and he loved trading ideas with others.”
For more than 25 years, Ken Young, AAF, owner of Phoenix Flower Shops in Arizona, got to know Viviano through the Ten Group, FIBS and SAF. “Sam was an absolute innovator who was generous in sharing his tips on marketing, personnel and operating issues,” Young said. “He was also very passionate — about everything, from flowers to politics.”
Bill Schodowski, owner of Budzi.com, an online wholesale company, met Viviano in the early 1980s at a conference for top FTD members. “After the head marketing honcho did his presentation, Sam got up and announced that the company’s execs ought to listen rather than talk when they had this quality of florists gathered in one room,” Schodowski said. “I immediately fell in love with his candor.”
His “high energy” and “staccato-like” recitation of information made a memorable impression, said Kyra Kelley, former owner of Comal on the Plaza in New Braunfels, Texas, who heard Viviano speak at SAF’s annual convention. “He was a confident man who knew what he was doing, what he wanted and where he was going with his business,” she said.
Former SAF CEO Peter Moran praised Viviano’s natural ease when talking about his favorite subject. “I had just become director of the AFMC when he got a last-minute opportunity to do a TV show on plants and flowers. I asked Sam if he would go on the air,” he recalled. “He was amazing! He spoke for close to 30 minutes. You would have thought he did it all the time. He so believed in the marketing of flowers.”
Viviano leaves behind a legacy even larger than a multi-location, third-generation business, said Philadelphia florist and former SAF President Charles Kremp, AAF.
“In 1992, Sam invited me, Tom Butler and a few others to play golf in Michigan. That evolved into an annual event that has continued ever since and has involved more than 85 industry members over the years,” he said. “We all enjoyed his assertive conversations about politics or any other controversial matter. He was a joy to be around and we all miss him dearly.”
Katie Hendrick Vincent is SAF’s senior contributing editor.