The Society of American Florists has canceled SAF Palm Beach 2017, the association’s 133rd annual convention, which was set to begin today at 6 pm.
SAF made the decision Sept. 5 shortly before 1 pm EST after reviewing forecasts and conferring with The Breakers hotel staff about the likely path of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm expected to hit South Florida in the coming days.
“Based on the way the storm is tracking over the weekend, we’ve decided that it’s in everyone’s best interest that we cancel the convention,” explained SAF CEO Peter Moran in an email to all attendees. “Unfortunately, because the locale for an event of this size has to be booked far in advance, it’s not something that can be rescheduled.”
More than 460 industry members were expected to attend the convention. An estimated 70 had already arrived at The Breakers, taking advantage of some relaxation time prior to the event. SAF is refunding registration fees, and The Breakers will return security deposits.
SAF volunteer leaders and designers had been working at The Breakers for several days prior to the decision, decking the historic hotel with the stunning floral designs that are a hallmark of SAF conventions and tending to important association business, including leadership changes.
The SAF Palm Beach volunteer design team already had worked much of their magic with floral displays throughout the hotel. Fortunately, their hard work didn’t go to waste — it was the subject of admiration for hotel guests, and became a real source of delight during an anxious time, as the design team handed out arrangements and cut flowers to The Breakers visitors and staff once the convention had been called off.
“Unplanned Petal It Forward, put smiles on many faces today … flowers do that,” posted Lorraine Cooper, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, to SAF’s convention app, with a photo of hotel staff taking the convention fresh products.
And, while it was no substitute for the extensive networking and reconnecting time usually afforded by an SAF convention, design team members, SAF volunteer leaders and convention attendees who already had arrived for the event dined together Tuesday night.
Despite the cancellation, Bill LaFever of the Bill Doran Company in Rockford, Illinois, officially assumed the SAF presidency, taking over from his predecessor, Martin Meskers, of Oregon Flowers in Aurora, Oregon. Meskers moved into the role of SAF chairman, a position Shirley Lyons, AAF, of Dandelion’s Flowers & Gifts in Eugene, Oregon, held for three years. Chris Drummond, AAF, of Plaza Flowers in Philadelphia, will serve as the group’s president-elect, and Paul Fowle, of DV Flora in Miami and a former SAF board member, will take over Drummond’s role as SAF treasurer.
Meskers also noted another significant transition: Moran is retiring at the end of the year from his post after 33 years.
Meskers recalled for dinner attendees that, 20 years ago, Moran, SAF COO Drew Gruenburg, Jim Leider of Leider Greenhouses in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and Paul Ecke of the famed Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California, paid a visit to Oregon Flowers.
“I thought they were interested in a tour and eventually realized they were there to get me to join SAF,” he said with a laugh. “Well, when I was face-to-face with Jim Leider, Paul Ecke, Peter and Drew, what choice did I have? I joined and the rest is history.”
Meskers went on to detail Moran’s extensive contributions to SAF and the industry at large.
“Peter reinvented the SAF governance and volunteer structure two different times in his 26 years as CEO,” he said, before presenting Moran with a scrapbook of letters and memories from people in the industry. “He managed the industry’s involvement in four different presidential inaugurations. He led efforts to design and implement national marketing programs for the industry. And most recently he managed the sale and relocation of SAF headquarters. Peter, you have really done a phenomenal job for SAF over the years, and I am very pleased that I could witness your leadership skills from a front row seat.”
Kate Penn, currently chief content officer and editor-in-chief of Floral Management, will assume the role of CEO effective November 1. Moran will help work through the transition through the end of the year.
Some business from the event has necessarily been left unfinished. Voting members who were registered for SAF Palm Beach 2017 soon will receive ballots for the association’s board of directors election, and the group’s Awards Committee will decide soon whether to present 2017 awards remotely, or save them for the 2018 convention in Palm Springs, California.
Floral Management’s Marketer of the Year — traditionally announced at convention — will be unveiled in the September issue of Floral Management, on Friday, when the digital edition goes live.
Acknowledging disappointment about the cancellation, Meskers nonetheless praised volunteers and staff for coming together and he thanked the event’s sponsors for their continued support.
Feeling disappointed that you won’t get to soak in the education from SAF Palm Beach 2017? We are, too. Look for tips, advice and insight from some of our convention speakers in upcoming issues of Floral Management magazine.