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Florists prepare for uncertainties of Valentine’s Day rush


Just one week away from the flower industry’s “Super Bowl,” Ed Boesen is making the same Valentine’s Day preparations he and his family have made for decades at Boesen the Florist – taking and processing orders, taking inventory, expanding the telephone system and preparing to double the size of his staff for a single day.

And because the holiday falls on a Monday this year, florists such as Boesen expect to be faced with an onslaught of last-minute orders, coupled with the challenge of handling a constant increase of online orders.

“If it was a ladies’ holiday, we’d start our day Monday with a lot more orders,” Boesen said, laughing. “We can beat them over the head with the Valentine’s stick on Wednesday, and they still won’t get their orders in early.”

Though he still anticipates a number of orders on Monday morning, he is still attempting to get the word out: order early.

“We have a few good customers that have their orders in, and that’s wonderful,” said Sandy Taylor, owner of Plaza Florists & Gifts in Urbandale. “But it is a last-minute holiday.”

The National Retail Federation’s 2005 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey estimates that more than 61 percent of Americans will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, and more than 57 percent of the men surveyed say they will spend money on flowers.

On an average day, Boesen’s 11 Greater Des Moines locations process and deliver 300 to 350 orders. On Valentine’s Day, however, the owners expect to make more than 4,000 deliveries.

Bobbi Liker, owner of Blooming Creations Flowers & Gifts in Urbandale, said she expects her store will make an average of 25 to 30 deliveries each day during the week surrounding Valentine’s Day, compared with five or six deliveries on an average day.

Taylor expects Plaza Florists will make 400 to 500 Valentine’s deliveries, compared with the 25 to 30 on a typical day. She has recruited firefighters and police officers, who know the city well, to make deliveries on Valentine’s Day. A group of women from a nearby church will make deliveries to the northern suburbs as a fund-raiser.

But preparations began months ago and gained momentum after Christmas. Liker said she placed her order for flowers in late November and has received all of her vases, but still says she isn’t prepared.

“Now you kind of sit and anticipate what’s going to happen and hope that the phone rings,” she said. “And I know it will, but it’s just really difficult to know what it’s going to be like.”

Florists all seem to share that same uncertainty, whether it’s the number of last-minute orders or bad weather. Two years ago, an ice storm hit in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day. Many of the delivery drivers who had agreed to help Boesen on the holiday bailed out at the last minute.

“They’re not going to rear-end somebody over flowers,” he said. “So I’m sitting there with 3,000 packages and nobody to deliver them.”

So he pulled out the telephone book and called every limousine driver, taxicab company and delivery service he could find.

Taylor, who along with her husband has owned Plaza Florists for 22 years, begins to worry when meteorologists forecast bad weather for Valentine’s Day, in which case many people decide to stay home from work and deliveries can’t be made.

Though Boesen usually worries the most about weather problems, deliveries and employees becoming ill, he has been faced with unexpected disasters in the past that cost the business financially.

One year, the floral shop installed a new computer system beginning around Jan. 1. Six weeks later, it still wasn’t fully functional. Employees mistakenly re-entered several orders, which created some duplicates. Some customers ended up with two or three arrangements. One woman received seven.

“That was the happiest Valentine’s Day for some people,” Boesen said, “but we didn’t make a nickel.”

Another year, a cooler containing about 800 dozen roses froze. Though the roses looked beautiful when they were loaded into delivery trucks, they soon thawed out and wilted. Boesen and several employees spent the following day on the telephone, offering apologies and replacement bouquets.

But florists say Valentine’s Day is not necessarily the make-or-break event in their year. Other holidays – Mother’s Day, Christmas and even Thanksgiving – as well as seasonal sales such as in Boesen’s greenhouse, also are important in securing a profit.

“People buy flowers more often, so it kind of evens out our peaks and valleys and our income,” Taylor said. “It helps our cash flow. But we’re paying premium, probably three or four times more, for many of our products, but we do not pass that along to our customers. Our margin is a lot less than during the rest of the year. Nobody would buy flowers if we kept the same margin.”

Boesen’s expects to see a surge in online orders for the holiday, as it did prior to Christmas. Forrester Research, in an August 2004 report, predicted that online retail sales of flowers will experience an above-average spike in the next five years as consumers continue to shift away from ordering by phone.

In the past, Boesen employees would work late into the night to answer the telephone and complete orders, then return in the morning and start again. But now, hundreds of online orders can come through during the night, leaving employees uncertain as to what they should expect the morning of Feb. 14.

The fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday this year could throw another wrench into operations. Internet-based floral businesses could have problems shipping orders that are placed Friday or later, which Boesen said will shift that business to traditional full-service florists.

The rush will continue Feb. 15 and 16, at which point florists can reflect on the holiday and analyze what went right, but more importantly, what went wrong.

“Through the years, we’ve been able to close a lot of those gaps,” Boesen said. “But there’s always something.”

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