feature story


    Yikes!
Valentine's Day
                                 is on a Saturday

Weekend Valentine’s Days can mean lower sales for florists. Here, seven seasoned florists share their marketing strategies.

by Morgan Chilson


    The hearts-and-flowers celebration of Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday in 2009, challenging florists to make sure red roses and other floral gifts end up on desks in spite of that celebration falling on a weekend.
    When Valentine’s Day falls outside the Monday-through-Friday work week, flower sales typically drop as much as 15 percent, according to florists across the nation who shared their marketing tips with Florists’ Review. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the holiday falling on a weekend, particularly on a Saturday, provides consumers more time to shop at other types of retailers and to explore and take advantage of other gift options, including an evening on the town, romantic weekend getaways and so on.
    “When Valentine’s Day is on a weekend, we’re off about 10 percent to 15 percent in sales, and given the economy today, it could be as much as 20,” says Arthur Conforti Jr., owner of Beneva Flowers & Gifts in Sarasota, Fla.

not your only chance to make money

    Although there are many things you can do to stem the loss of sales on a weekend Valentine’s Day (see “Savvy Marketing Tips” below, several florists told us that decreased sales on this holiday are not necessarily a bad thing and don’t automatically mean lower net profit.
    For example, at Tiger Lily in Charleston, S.C., owner Manny Gonzales expects sales for Valentine’s Day 2009 to be off as much as 20 percent from the 2008 holiday; however, he cautions florists to worry less about those numbers and more about quality.
    “The first two years we were open, we were delivering flowers at 8:30 at night,” Mr. Gonzales recalls, “and although we were giving everything we had, all we were doing was disappointing people. The reality is that we can make as much on a good wedding weekend as we do on Valentine’s Day, so we focus on providing quality product and taking care of customers during this holiday rather than worrying about sales numbers.”
    Although not exactly what we expected to hear, that message, in fact, was echoed by several florists who have pulled back on their Valentine’s Day marketing to make sure their customers receive excellent service. And they encourage other florists to really think about what they want to achieve on the holidays.
    “A lot of florists call the holidays ‘amateur hour’ because ‘amateur’ buyers come out, and they need a lot of hand-holding,” says BJ Dyer, aifd, aaf, co-owner of Bouquets in Denver, Colo. “They’ll order from somebody one year, and the next year, they’ll have no idea who they ordered from the previous year.
    “I don’t want that one-shot, ‘amateur-hour’ customer to prevent me from taking care of my year-round customers,” he continues. “I’d rather take care of my regular customers really well than stress out and max out my staff and put out a product that might not be as good as my regular product.”

but you should take advantage of it
    That said, it still makes sense to many florists—especially those without lucrative wedding business like Tiger Lily—to at least give it the old college try and attempt to capitalize as much as possible on this ready-made money-making opportunity. Going into the holiday with an eye toward quality is crucial, but so, too, is creatively marketing your business to maximize profits when sales are likely to be down.
    Bridget Carlson, marketing manager for Ashland Addison Florist Co., with six locations throughout the Chicago area, says there was much discussion about how the economy will affect the floral holiday season at the Society of American Florists (SAF) Convention in September. “We need to take the extra steps to make people think a little out of the box for the holidays,” she says. “We need to take an aggressive step forward to make sure that people remember that flowers are an option for gifts, and that includes even our hottest holiday, Valentine’s Day. We can’t just sit back and keep our fingers crossed; we need to put our name out there and keep it out there.”
    Read on for ideas on how to face the battle of a Saturday Valentine’s Day and do what Ms. Carlson advises.

savvy marketing tips
    1 Spend a little extra on advertising. Because competition for Valentine’s dollars will be heightened in 2009 if history repeats itself, Ms. Carlson says that Ashland Addison Florist is making plans to advertise, something the business typically doesn’t do for this holiday.
    Harold Hoogasian, of Hoogasian Flowers in San Francisco, Calif., emphasizes making sure you can handle the capacity for what you do advertise—again, so that you don’t end up disappointing customers and actually doing more harm than good to your business and reputation.
    2 Get those early orders. Almost every florist with whom we spoke entices Valentine’s Day customers to order early, especially when the holiday falls on a weekend, thereby locking in their orders before they have the opportunity to explore other gift-giving options. The most popular plan involves offering incentives for early deliveries.
    Mr. Hoogasian offers a free box of candy and a balloon if the customer lets the store choose the delivery date sometime from Feb. 11 through 13. If the customer picks the day, he or she can choose one of those free items. Mr. Hoogasian makes up the expense of the freebies (the box of candy costs him just less than $4) by freeing up capacity on Valentine’s Day.
    “Each early delivery is one unit of capacity that we have salvaged for the 14th,” he says. “Our normal service charge for delivery is $20. We charge $40 for orders placed on the 14th, and people do it all day long. So many florists cease answering their phones on the 13th and 14th, so there’s increased demand focused at us. Every customer we satisfy in that oh-so-critical period of floral giving becomes attached to us in the future as a customer.”
    Every year, Hoogasian Flowers sends e-mails or postcards to people who ordered on the 14th the previous year, reminding them they can save on the delivery fee by opting for early delivery. Again, that opens up capacity on Valentine’s Day.
    Ashland Addison Florist, in Chicago, twists Mr. Hoogasian’s idea by offering three bonus gifts for delivery on the 11th, two for delivery on the 12th and one for delivery on the 13th. Customers can choose from a teddy bear, Mylar balloon, box of chocolates or $5 discount, Ms. Carlson explains.
    At Royer’s Flowers & Gifts in Lebanon, Pa., they offer free balloons or the addition of a few roses to arrangements to get those early orders.
    Arthur Conforti Jr. notes that “free delivery” is a buzz phrase today, and offering it prior to the big day is a sure way to get customers to place orders early and agree to early delivery of their orders.
    3 Play the “Make co-workers jealous” card. Remind customers that their significant others like to receive flowers at work, and offer them some phrases (“I couldn’t wait to say ‘I love you’” came up several times) to appeal to the romance in an early delivery.
    “Men love to be recognized for having done something romantic and special for Valentine’s Day,” says Pam March, owner of Every Blooming Thing in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Flowers delivered at work rather than at home are more likely to get men pats on the head for being thoughtful husbands or boyfriends.”
    4 Team up to offer Valentine’s Day packages. Beneva Flowers & Gifts works with a local restaurant to create packages that include dinner and flowers on the table, and maybe even chocolate, Mr. Conforti shares. And Ms. March has teamed with a spa in her area to put flowers in the rooms on the spa’s package deals.
    5 Work ahead. Greg Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, stresses the importance of producing arrangements ahead of time in order to serve as many customers as possible and as quickly as possible. If you look at numbers from previous years, you should be able to do that without a lot of waste, he says.
    “You have to have faith you’re going to sell everything, but if you’re not prepared, when the rush comes, you’ll be overwhelmed, and that can really shut things down,” he says.
    His staff design 25 to 30 arrangement styles and create multiples of each. The number produced of each arrangement is based on the popularity of each arrangement’s price point, information that is also available by reviewing previous years’ sales figures. Custom work is available at Royer’s Flowers, of course, but not for last-minute orders. But with that variety of ready-made arrangements, there’s almost always something to make people happy.

Morgan Chilson is a business writer residing in Topeka, Kan. Reach her at morgan@exactlywrite.net.


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