The war of the roses

Sean Ammerman

Kent stores get ready to battle over the No. 1 holiday for florists

Red is the traditional color of Valentine’s Day, but for the floral business, green is the color it wants to see.

According to a 2003 National Retail Federation study, 65.3 percent of American men plan to send flowers to their spouse or significant other on Valentine’s Day. The same study says more flowers are cut and sold on Valentine’s Day than any other holiday.

Located on North Mantua Street in Kent, Richards Flower Shop has been combating this demand in the area for more than 80 years.

No single day of business is bigger for its owner, Dick Richards, but with the added amount of preparation and work involved, he says it hardly seems worth it afterward.

“You really don’t make a killing on it,” Richards said. “I’d rather have someone come in and buy one rose a month for a year than buy a dozen once a year.”

Day of the week, weather and economy can all play a role in how successful the holiday is, Richards said. And with Valentine’s Day falling on a Tuesday this year, he said he expects more business than usual.

“Valentine’s Day is bigger for us because we’re a college town,” he said.

Richards said he plans to have at least 1,000 roses pre-ordered, with the option of ordering more if he runs out. He will also have an extra two trucks on the road for deliveries, he says.

On the other end of Kent, Mark Trimble, co-owner of Kent Floral on South Water Street is making many of the same kinds of preparations. Much of the business is last-minute, he said, so they must hire extra staffing to cut and acclimate the flowers in advance.

“Ordering a couple thousand roses wouldn’t be unusual over the week,” Trimble said.

Ipsos Floral Trends estimated 180 million roses were produced across the United States for the Valentine’s Day last year, accounting for about half of all flower transactions for the holiday.

Like Richards Flower Shop, the family-owned Kent Floral has been a constant in the area, selling flowers since 1938.

“We’re competition, and we talk to each other, but we’re friends,” Trimble said. “I know that his business is just as tough as most floral shops.”

According to the Organic Trade Association, the U.S. floral market as a whole has seen an increase in sales in recent years. The same study expects this increase to continue by 13 percent annually through 2008.

Despite this increase, Richards and Trimble say their companies have experienced a decline in sales over the past decade.

“The biggest challenge to florists would be supermarkets and online sites selling flowers,” Trimble said. “That’s why we have to offer something better in service and quality.”

One of the several Internet flower retailers gaining in popularity is Proflowers.com, which has been in operation since 1998.

Its company headquarters is based in San Diego, but with several distribution centers placed throughout the nation, Erin Christensen, marketing coordinator for Proflowers.com, said customers can usually receive their flowers in a day.

The growth in online flower purchasing has come from its ease and reliability, she said.

“I think a lot of people have location challenges,” Christensen says.

The company revenue has increased roughly 30 percent every year since it started, she said.

At the Giant Eagle on South Water Street, Kristen Harriman is preparing for her first Valentine’s Day as floral manager.

In a recent store meeting, she says the store managers discussed the trend of people buying their flowers in supermarkets opposed to flower shops.

“A lot of people that are coming to grocery stores buy more out of impulse,” Harriman says. “I think it also depends on the community – like in a university area, students come here because it’s cheaper than your standard flower shop.”

Both Richards Flower Shop and Kent Floral have gotten into the game by setting up Web sites offering online purchases.

“It’s something we had to do,” Trimble said. “In order to make it in the future, you have to get it together online because that’s the way people are shopping.”

Contact features correspondent Sean Ammerman at [email protected]