The 2019 Christmas season seems to have turned out well for many floral pros. A “gut check” survey of Society of American Florists volunteer leaders found that 47 percent of respondents saw sales increase compared to 2018 — a strong season itself. Another 37 percent reported steady sales.
Major challenges and trends the floral community faced included a short holiday season, ongoing labor and staffing woes and price-sensitive customers who put off floral orders until the last minute.
Reasons for Increases, Decreases
Among the respondents who experienced a sales increase, many credited the strong economy and good availability of product, along with new product lines and effective promotions.
“Fall sales seemed to be better, and I think it was because Thanksgiving was late this year,” one retailer noted. “Once Thanksgiving is over, it moves right to Christmas flowers.”
A retailer commented that do-it-yourself events and weddings helped bolster their holiday returns. A respondent, also a retailer, credited the shop’s new website, along with an uptick in Google AdWords spending.
Still, competition was steep. “Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for flowers, Costco for greens and wreaths,” lamented one retailer.
In addition, “consumers seem very price sensitive,” a retailer noted. “Big online retailers have conditioned consumers to look for discounts.”
“Customers are always looking for a deal,” a retailer wrote. “[It] seems like they are… [trained] to not buy unless there is some sort of discount associated with it, even if it really isn’t that great of a deal.
Several retailers noted the late Thanksgiving (on Nov. 28) cut into the Christmas shopping season. “Plus,” added another respondent. “Last year was really good,” which makes comparing year-over-year more nuanced. (A point supported by SAF reporting.)
Surprises: Product Choice and Procrastination
Despite the competition, one retailer said their shop had a “record year for pre-made evergreen wreaths and poinsettias. [The kind of] items you can buy at most department stores.” (Other respondents noted a decline in poinsettia sales — a trend about which SAF also has reported.)
In terms of holiday color preference, responses were varied.
“[We trended] pink with traditional holiday red/green/gold/silver,” a retailer wrote.
“[We saw] more natural looks for Christmas, not a lot of silver, gold,” explained another retailer.
“[Sales] remained very traditional, aka red and white,” wrote a grower.
Some respondents noted that a little creativity helped satisfy both their customers and their bottom line.
“A top seller for the holiday was one of our everyday designs,” wrote a retailer, who promoted the everyday item as a Christmas pick. “Lime green, orange, hot pink, and purple bubble bowl.”
At least one respondent called out experience-based events as a winner for the holiday, writing, “Wreaths and requests for classes are hot.” A retailer also noted that plants, especially popular among younger shoppers, were a hit this season: “People spent money this year. We sold a lot of plants.”
Challenges: Timing and Labor
Several respondents commented on the last-minute rush. “The holiday didn’t turn on for us until the week of,” wrote one retailer. “Our website performed best when geared to everyday business… until the week of the holiday.”
“Usually Christmas sales are spread out more over the month of December, but it seemed like we had a pretty good rush right at the end,” a retailer explained. “[We] had to call in our part-time employees to work extra to get all the bouquet and deliveries done. Luckily, we had enough flowers ordered already.”
“The holiday business came in later than anticipated this year,” wrote one respondent. “[Customers in] our market weren’t ready for red and white until later [in the season]. We tested the waters everyday with our web content and sales team, but we would flip away from the holiday if it wasn’t working.”
Another wrinkle? Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday, which led to longer than usual school breaks in much of the country — and longer vacations, as much as two weeks, among many customers. A wholesaler respondent said the midweek holiday also created some issues in lining up transportation effectively.
“We had a very long school break,” a retailer wrote, adding that they made changes to adjust to the new reality. “We ordered less fresh flowers and upgraded designs with hard goods like ornaments, branches, pine cones, ribbon, etc.”
Many respondents chimed in on the challenge of labor — finding, keeping and training team members.
“[We faced] continued staffing issues with entry level labor,” a wholesaler wrote. “[We’re] working on long-term solution with better selection [during interviewing/hiring], on-boarding and leadership to increase retention.”
A retailer explained that their shop was “understaffed and [we] had to really buckle down with our design staff and keep them off the phones. We had to consistently keep two people in the front just to answer phones and help walk in customers.”
A retailer said they tried to utilize the staff they had effectively, “but we paid out a lot of overtime.”
The gut check survey, emailed to 65 SAF volunteer leaders on Jan. 3 with a response rate of 29 percent, is intended as a quick pulse check on holiday results. SAF volunteer leaders represent all segments of the industry and a variety of geographic areas. Most of the respondents to the gut check survey were retailers.
SAF members should be on the lookout for a more comprehensive survey, distributed via email this week, that will provide a more detailed report on the holiday, along with sales and trend predictions for Valentine’s Day 2020. (Fill it out for the chance to win a $50 Visa gift card.) SAF will report out the results of that survey in upcoming publications.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management magazine.