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Sweetheart Spending: Boston florists sell red but look to get back in black with Valentine’s rush

A display outside Boston Rose & Fern Florist reminds customers to pick up a bouquet for their sweeties. MIKE DESOCIO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
A display outside Boston Rose & Fern Florist reminds customers to pick up a bouquet for their sweeties. MIKE DESOCIO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Flower shops across the Boston area have been preparing for months for the rush of orders that are expected to arrive this upcoming week. Suitors and sweethearts will be looking for floral arrangements ranging from a traditional rose bouquet to exotic wonders.

While many will scramble for a last-minute bouquet, Valentine’s Day begins as early as December for some storeowners. In order to stay ahead of the holiday, florists must play a calculated game of supply and demand.

“The supply is about 10 times the supply that you would usually have,” Bruce Sabo, the owner of Boston Rose & Fern Florist. “You have to reserve way in advance.”

Of the 54 percent of Americans celebrating Valentine’s Day, just over a third give his or her significant other flowers for the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. With the U.S. population totaling over 300 million, that’s the potential for almost 60 million flower sales nationwide.

In terms of how each store handles the day-of rush, every business owner is different. John Adams, owner of The Flower Boutique on Huntington Avenue, said he doesn’t have too much trouble.

“I don’t have a hectic time at all,” Adams said. “I am in complete control of both shops, 365 days a year. Do I sell out of flowers? Of course I do. But I don’t run out.”

How does he stay ahead of the game? Well, after 40 years of experience in the flower industry, he said he’s learned a thing or two about matching his customer’s demands.

“I do the same thing every year,” he said. “I order the same amounts. If I meet my goal, I can always order more.”

Not selling out isn’t a problem for Adams either, because the flowers he buys last longer than some of his competitors.

“The other thing is that I buy my flowers directly from Colombia and Holland directly, and they’ve never been put to sleep in a refrigerator,” Adams said. “So my flowers last a long time, and if I don’t sell them for Valentine’s Day, they can still be used for regular orders.”

Still, as a holiday driven business with spikes at Christmas, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, Sabo said it can become stressful. Many sales come in bursts.

“The flower business is so stressful, though,” Sabo said. “It’s almost not worth it. If the industry were able to produce consistent sales, it would be much better. The holidays really screw you up when you’re in the flower business … You’re always working.”

Adams said that Valentine’s Day is a busy day for his store, but that it is comparable to other specialty holidays such as Mother’s Day. However, he said there is no denying the financial benefit of the cupid’s arrow, as the holiday provides a great financial push.

“Sales are up,” he said, “it’s a good boost; it gives us a good financial shot.”

And preparing can be a struggle because no one arrangement is most popular. While major retailers, like 1-800-FLOWERS or Flowers Direct spend money on advertising campaigns, Adams doesn’t have as large of an advertising budget.

“So it’s like if I put an arrangement together called Monkey Love and put it on TV, magazines, and newspapers, everyone is going to say ‘Oh! Let me get that Monkey Love arrangement or something similar, or somebody doesn’t like it.’ So there isn’t really one particular arrangement for Valentine’s Day as far as the mix. But everyone sticks to traditional reds, and some people flip the script and like a mix with red roses in it.”

While Adams said Valentine’s is just a boost, but nothing to get worked up over, for Sabo, V-Day is the day.

“[It is] by far the busiest holiday we have,” Sabo said. “Nothing even comes close to it.”

According to a Jan. 21 survey conducted by Credit Donkey, 60.3 percent of males surveyed plan to give flowers, but only 36.9 percent of women want flowers.

“On Valentine’s Day, generally speaking, it’s more expected that you get something for your girlfriend,” Sabo said. “It’s expected that you get flowers or something, or else you are in trouble.”

Flower shops have substantial overhead, and running a specialty retailer can be risky. Sabo said his smaller store makes about $30,000 the week of Valentine’s, but bigger establishments can hit seven digits.

“Flowers are more expensive now than they’ve ever been, especially in the last few years,” Sabo said. “So it’s really a lot of work. The quality fluctuates a lot each week. A little too much rain in Ecuador, your roses are going to be tiny.”

Because most commercial flowers are grown abroad, local shop owners getting coated in snow have to be watching the heat waves in South America to make sure they can get feasable prices. Factors such as exchange rates and competition can also price shop owners out of shipments.

Because flowers are highly parishable, demand and therefore price fluctuate. Farms, Sabo said, won’t release many flowers until just before the holiday, so they can make a larger profit off of the greater demand. They also often increase the price of the flowers by 100 percent.

“We don’t raise our price by double,” Sabo said of the increase, “we raise it by a third. So in return, we make less profit per unit.”

And though Sabo said he could survive without Valentine’s, especially with its markups he still prefers the holiday boost to other flower season.

“All of the other holidays, Christmas for example, you sales go up but when you average it out you lose money, because after the holiday it’s extremely dead,” Sabo said. “So if you average it, you’re doing less. Valentine’s Day depends on where it falls in the year, and it doesn’t slow down completely afterwards. So that’s a good thing.”

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