Posted August 31, 2004: Nearly every charming
rural town has a flower shop, and the bigger towns near you
will boast several florists. Here’s the surprise: If you
can offer them a quality product, it could be the beginning
of a beautiful friendship.
keys are quality and trust. You need to know the long-lasting
varieties well and their proper post-harvest handling. A little
research should yield information on the wholesale standards
florists are used to -- like 10 stems to a bunch for most
flowers. Throw in impeccable reliability, and they'll be hooked.
After hearing more and more from growers over the past couple
of years about selling to florists, my flower partner Linda
Essert-Kuchar and I added more florists to our list of customers
this year (in additon to the farmers' markets, of course).
We’ve found great rapport, and a nice business relationship,
with some. We stopped calling one because nothing short of
a $100 stem of silk reproduction would have pleased her --
and we didn’t need to deal with that.
While many larger chain stores are not permitted to buy from
local growers, independent shops often love to deal with their
neighbors. “One guy used to get me glads, two-tone,
they were beautiful!” remembers Michelle Fagan, flower
buyer for Phoebe Floral Shop in Allentown, a large, upscale
florist. “But he’s gone. Over the years, more
and more growers don’t come around. Kids don’t
seem to carry on the family business.”
So how do you start?
Beyond the obvious, don’t call on the Friday before
Mother’s Day. In fact, don’t call on a Friday
at all. Call at the beginning of the week when florists may
have a little more time.
Lori Klase, who has owned and operated the Posey Patch in
Macungie, PA for some 13 years, advises: Do call the
florist first, say this is what I have, would you
like to see a sample? And make an appointment. Samples are
It may take some persistence for growers to get their foot
in the door, but Lori says, “Don’t be
pushy. I don’t like pushy people.” Once
the foot is in the door, you’ll be an asset to the florist
and the one they call.
Michelle says she likes to see a sample. “Freshness,
quality, is the first thing I look for. And of course price
is important. But quality can outweigh that.
“If I could find roses, lilies, anything quality, really,
I would buy local first,” she says. “It’s
great to have local people who can supply certain things,”
she adds, acknowledging that some flowers, like zinnias, just
don’t ship well. Other flowers can be so much better
purchased fresh locally.
Lori agrees. “Quality is most important to me.”
While she says she doesn’t buy a lot from local growers
because much of what she needs just has not been available
locally, “there is no comparison for some flowers purchased
locally, like your lisianthus.”
If you are interested in selling to florists, Michelle has
advice, based upon experience with growers:
“Consistency is important. Some
problems I’ve seen -- growers have been unorganized.
They want the money up front.” This can be a problem
in dealing with larger businesses that prefer to send checks
once or twice a month.
Bunch properly (check wholesale guidelines).
Usually bunches are 10 stems. Bunches should be of consistent
quality. Growers who come in with a bucket full of stems
in different lengths and quality won’t make a good
Don’t just show up. A lot of local
people wait too long to contact the florist. “Someone
will just show up with a trunk full of pussy willows, and
I’ve already ordered them. Don't just show up. Call
and ask if we’re interested. Have a sample."
And let them know when a product is close to harvest.
Lori at the Posey Patch says in her smaller operation, she
needs local growers who can be more flexible. “I need
to be able to call you and say I need 30 sunflowers tomorrow.”
She says she also needs to deal with professionals who know
what they’re doing, and label correctly. As horror stories
go, Lori says, one time she ordered white tulips for a wedding.
As they opened, they weren’t white at all, but pink!
That was from a wholesaler, but it shows the importance of
knowing your product.
Growers need to develop a rapport with the florist, too, and
find out what their customers like.
At Phoebe, which averages 100 deliveries a day, and some
weekends does flowers for three to five weddings, Michelle
says, many customers like to see unusual things. Lisianthus,
hydrangea, peonies, cockscomb and phlox are big. And tastes
change with the seasons. “Customers call in orders.
They want bright colors in summer. In spring, they want pastels
and in fall they want earth tones, grasses, plumes, dried
Don’t mention white. “There are some beautiful
white flowers, and we have one designer who will use them,
but generally we try to stay away from white,” Michelle
Lori says her customers, on the other hand, “don’t
like change too much.” So she says to growers, “Stick
with common flowers known to people.” She says in spring
and summer, her customers seem to like flowers that smell
nice. “Fall is busy this year for weddings,” she
says. And her personal favorite flower is the daisy. “You
can’t go wrong with daisies.”
How do you price?
It’s important to know your local market, wholesale
prices and your cost of production! If you’re paying
$1 a bulb for a lily or calla lily, you can’t afford
to sell a bunch for $2. But wholesale prices often are fair
and the florist will be okay with that. We find that selling
a bunch of zinnias, 10 stems, for $6 to a florist is actually
easier than selling a zinnia bouquet that we make up and sell
for $8 at the farmers’ market. And when one florist
will take hundreds of zinnias a week, the business bottom
line is helped, too.
Don’t be unprofessional and say you’ll take whatever
they’ll give you for your beautiful flowers. But understand,
too, that florists have access to a whole array of wholesale
flowers at wholesale prices. Yours have to be special -- so
nice, so fresh that they’ll take notice and put price
second to quality.
We enjoy selling to florists because florists love flowers
as much as we do. They ooh and aah over our bucket of fresh
lisianthus bunches and make it a gratifying experience for
all of us.