Sticking to your core specialties will help you ride out the current
by AMY BAUER
Mom-and-pop flower shops face more challenges than ever, with increased
competition from mass-market and Internet retailers and ever-rising
costs of doing business. But listen to some of the nation’s top retail
florists and a picture of hope and opportunity emerges. Though some
shops won’t survive this period of consolidation, these owners agree
there will always be a place for the traditional retail florist. They
say they too are struggling for the answers in a changing marketplace,
but they offer their perspectives on what will distinguish the
“The ma-and-pa and small family flower business will survive and thrive,
but probably only those that excel at the service end of our business,
and particularly those who focus on a few niches that they are
particularly good at,” says Baxter Phillip, executive vice president of
Phillip’s Flowers & Gifts in Chicago, Ill. He is among five members of
the family’s third generation who are actively involved in its 10 shops.
A firm number for the remaining retail florists in the United States is
difficult to pinpoint, but no matter what the source, the decline is
clear. The number of larger shops, those with payroll, peaked between
26,000 and 28,000 in the mid-1970s, says Edd Buckley, vice president of
service for The Floral Index, Inc., a Chicago, Ill., marketing and
consulting service. The latest figures, estimated for last year, put the
number of the larger shops at between 20,000 and 22,000, he says.
As florist numbers have fallen, competing floral outlets have multiplied
exponentially and are fighting for the same customers. The most recent
Ipsos/American Floral Endowment Consumer Tracking Study showed that
while consumers spent 2.3 percent more on flowers and plants in 2004
compared with 2003, the number of purchases decreased 1.4 percent.
Despite the challenging atmosphere, many florists report their sales are
stable or increasing. According to the 2005 U.S. Florist Tracking
by Columbus, Ohio-based floral research firm Prince & Prince, Inc.:
• 42 percent of florists characterized their sales as stable, which is
defined as shrinking or growing five percentage points or fewer
• 27 percent said their business was declining
• 31 percent said their business was growing
The pace of growth appears to have slowed from 1998, however, when 48
percent of respondents said their business was increasing.
Mr. Phillip confirms those findings. “Our company had double-digit sales
increases throughout the ’70s and most or all of the ’80s. That’s not
here anymore,” he says. “If we have a year with a 2 or 3 percent
increase, we feel pretty good.”
FINDING A NICHE
Cactus Flower, a florist with seven shops in Arizona, has boosted its
event business to gain a steadier source of revenue. Two additional
Accent with Flowers event-planning stores operate separately but are
able to draw on some of Cactus Flower’s talent because peak event season
falls during the slower times for the flower shops, and vice versa. “It
has tended to smooth out the peaks and valleys, and we have a much more
stable business model,” says owner Eric Luoma. Cactus Flower was founded
in 1972 by Mr. Luoma’s parents and today also includes his sister,
The company provided hundreds of arrangements for the 2005 Super Bowl
activities in Jacksonville, Fla., and has serviced events in Hawaii and
the Bahamas. Gaining a reputation with corporate event planners has been
the key to landing such contracts.
Ramsey Kraft, who owns the 156-year-old Nanz & Kraft Florists in
Louisville, Ky., along with his three sons, says occasion-based
arrangements are still the heart of their four stores. He was heartened
by a study one of his sons commissioned with an advertising agency to
gauge Nanz & Kraft’s standing versus the big-box retailers. The study
showed customers were making impulse buys of $8 or $10 grab-and-go
flowers at those retailers, but “they did not feel that that hurt our
business,” Mr. Kraft explains, “and, if anything, they felt it helped
because it made people more conscious of flowers for occasions.”
Mark Knox, AAF, TMF, the first-generation owner of Mark Knox Flowers in
Odessa, Texas, spent some time going head-to-head with mass-market
floral outlets, running flower shops for a local discount department
store. “You’re never going to be able to compete with grocery stores on
price, so you have to be unique in whatever it is you do,” he says.
Today, his focus is on more traditional sympathy, wedding and party
arranging at his three locations in Odessa and Midland, Texas.
Still other florists have supplemented arrangement sales with individual
stems. Ken Royer, AAF, chairman of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts in Lebanon,
Pa., says many florists missed an opportunity when they shunned the sale
of loose flowers. Royer’s shops—there are 15 in Pennsylvania and four in
Columbus, Ohio—started selling loose flowers in the 1960s. Today the
shops offer rose specials on a continuing basis for $8.95 a dozen and
limited specials such as 25 tulips for $8.95. “I think we kept a lot of
that market and still do,” he says. “Our strategy has always been to try
to convince people that there is no reason to go anywhere else for
Charles Kremp, AAF, owner of Kremp Florist in Willow Grove, Pa., which
has a second location in Philadelphia and is in its third generation
with Mr. Kremp’s children, says convincing customers of the value
florists provide is key. “There’s a really good opportunity for the
mom-and-pop shops when they concentrate on what it is that is the
backbone of our business, and that is creatively combining things that
pass along people’s feelings,” he says.
Mr. Royer says florists have erred over the years in implying to
consumers that the flowers constituted the most expensive part of any
transaction while the labor was essentially free. Royer’s Flowers &
Gifts uses a formula for pricing in which each design function has a
time value, which is then multiplied by an hourly rate. “People are
comfortable with that realization in just about every other avenue of
the world,” he says, comparing it to an auto shop’s charges for its
THE WORD OUT
Mick Gainan, manager of Gainan’s Flowers and Garden Center’s Heights
Garden Center, one of three locations in Billings, Mont., says marketing
efforts can be simple and hands-on. “Go out there on the street and hand
out a fresh flower with your business card on it and just say, ‘Have a
great day.’” Mr. Gainan and his brother, Chuck, have been joined by
their children, the third generation, at their stores.
Gainan’s partners with various local gardening societies and opens its
greenhouse each September for a fair, helping the clubs’ recruitment and
Gainan’s sales; an online contribution request form helps the family
weigh charity tie-ins at their weekly meetings; and the stores have
found ways to contribute in less costly ways, such as providing
centerpieces for a local nonprofit theater for half price in exchange
for publicity in programs and announcements.
Similarly, Mr. Kremp gives bouquets to those who visit him at his shop,
such as his banker or lawyer or the local chamber of commerce president.
He measures his success by the response—from a sparkle of the eye to a
thank-you note from a spouse. “Then you know you’ve touched that magic
button that got them to be a flower buyer,” he says. Extending that
experience to nonfloral buyers is the industry’s challenge, he says.
Connecticut Florists Association Executive Director Bob Heffernan, who
owned a flower shop for 19 years, says marketing to youths has been
largely ignored over the past generation but is an area in which local
florists can quickly make up ground. He suggests helping high schools
with flower sales, participating in prom fashion shows or considering
yearly direct-mail fliers highlighting kid-friendly arrangements. The
association partnered with the Flower Promotion Organization to teach
Girl Scouts flower arranging. Florists can set up similar events with
local troops. “Even a 10-year-old today is a flower consumer in six
years,” Mr. Heffernan says.
Mr. Phillip likens the Internet today to 800 numbers. A few retailers
made a significant national presence for themselves when the new
technology was in its infancy, but it eventually grew to be just a
standard cost of doing business for the average retailer.
“If you opened a flower shop today and bought an 800 number, your goal
would not be to spend $10 million advertising it nationally and compete
with the top 800-number florists. It’s just too late, and the same is
true of the Internet now,” he says.
While several of the retailers have a share of nationwide business
because of their longevity and the mobility of their customers, most
characterized their Web sites as a way to better serve their core local
customers. Penny Coley, owner of Flowers by Coley in San Diego, Calif.,
compared it to Yellow Pages advertising, of which she is doing less
these days. As more time-pressed consumers turn online, the Internet is,
for some retailers, a way to recapture that lost foot traffic.
Mr. Royer says his Internet sales continue to increase. He attributes
part of that to an increased marketing focus and promotion of online
specials, but he acknowledges some of those sales are tradeoffs from his
walk-in or phone customers. “But you can’t worry about that,” he says.
“You’ve just got to get them accustomed to doing business with you in
One exception to the local focus is Cactus Flower, whose online arm
includes Flowershop.com. For Valentine’s Day, a nationwide advertising
blitz on 14 XM satellite radio stations generated a good response, Mr.
Luoma says. He expects sales from Flowershop.com, which was purchased in
late 2002, to surpass Cactus Flower sales this year.
Like so many in the industry, these retailers say they are just trying
to stay ahead of the changes. And a spirit of optimism was common among
“We definitely do not have it figured out,” says Mr. Phillip. “We just
see the trends, and we’re mindful that these changes aren’t right or
wrong, they’re just happening. Our job is to find the best way to
respond to them and find opportunities in them rather than looking at
them as hopeless disasters.”
Mr. Luoma observes, “There certainly will always be a need for flower
shops. You’ll see the numbers change, and you’ll see concentration
change, but it’s an industry that no other can duplicate.”
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