The Business of Love

Lower cost flower arrangements at big box supermarkets like Price Chopper or convenience stores like Stewarts Shops are putting price pressure on independent florists.

Stacia Conyne, a floral designer at Peck’s Flowers and a 15-year veteran of the florist business, said the large scale retailers have eliminated a lot of the walk-in traffic at her store, even though overall sales are up about 15 percent from last year during the Valentine’s Day season.

We don’t have that walk-by clientele anymore that comes in and says ‘I want a rose’ or ‘I want this or that’, that’s gone down a lot. Where as you can go into Price Chopper and grab an arrangement because it’s there; it’s in your face,” she said. “Our business is great, it’s never been better. We’ve been here for 103 years, so we’re not going anywhere, but when push comes to shove it’s hard to compete with pricing. If somebody comes in and says they can get [a type of flower arrangement] at Price Chopper for $25 – we try to do the same thing.”

Valentine’s Day can be big business. According to the National Retail Federation’s annual Valentine’s Day Consumer Spending Survey, total spending on the holiday is expected to reach a record $18.9 billion this year, of which $2.1 billion will be spent on flowers.

Conyne said about 90 percent of the sales at Peck’s Flowers now come through the Internet, via her store’s two websites or Facebook page. The other popular method of ordering flowers is by phone call. She said one of the keys to competing with the larger flower retailers is providing higher quality arrangements and providing delivery to a wide range of locations.

“We deliver to surrounding areas and our delivery is pretty cheap compared to some,” she said. “We’ll do anything to make the design perfect and we offer a 24-hour guarantee.”

Patricia Payne, Lohse Florist, located at 93 E. State St., Gloversville, said she doesn’t consider the big box retail flower stores her competition.

“I don’t feel like they affect us at all because they don’t do a very good job,” she said. “I don’t want to bash them, but I think I do a better job than they can, more personalized.”

Payne said Valentine’s Day is usually the single biggest sales day for her business, which she’s owned for 33 years, provided Valentine’s Day is a weekday. This year the holiday falls on a Sunday. Payne said she’s decided to open up on Valentine’s Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to try to accommodate any procrastinating shoppers. She said the timing of Valentine’s Day has affected how customers make orders.

“People are ordering early because they know if they want it delivered to a workplace or a school they have to have it delivered on a Thursday or a Friday,” she said. “We will deliver on Sundays if the person is going to be there.”

James Dempsey, owner of Studio Herbage, located at 13 W. Main St., Johnstown, said its difficult for small florists to compete with big retailers, particularly under the $45 price point, because even though a small shop like his can provide fresher flowers, customers often don’t know the difference until after the plants have died. He said his business has to leverage his status as a certified floral designer and his knowledge from having worked in the wholesale flower industry to provide services for customers at price points that provide greater quality.

“Price Chopper is trying to be like we are, in the sense that they sell everything from small bouquets all the way up to trying to sell funeral work and weddings,” he said. “The difference goes as far as the age of the product in the cooler. I can order product that will be here in two days, where as with the grocery stores it could be a week old, but the customer doesn’t know that. They will find out when they bring it home and it dies two days later.”

Dempsey said about 65 percent of his sales around the Valentine’s Day holiday come through online sales, many of them orders through which Studio Herbage is affiliated with. He said his higher-end more unique floral arrangements are usually customers who walk into his store.

“It’s very hard for traditional floral shops like us, to compete with bigger stores that have economies of scale. They can get the product at even a significant discount from what we can get at our local wholesalers. So, how do you compete with that when they can sell it for x-amount-of-dollars and you have to sell it for maybe 20 percent more to make your margin,” Dempsey said. “So, the only thing you can do is you have to be able to offer something else, and that’s what we do in letting people know we can use our creativity, we can use our ingenuity, we can use our credentials to make something no one else can compete with.”

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