Sharon McGukin

Sharon McGukin

Smithers-Oasis North America Design Director Sharon McGukin, AIFD, AAF, PFCI enjoys sharing floral tips and techniques for celebrating life with flowers.

Sending fresh flowers and plants as gifts grew in popularity during the pandemic. Why?

Consumers rediscovered that for life celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, and holidays, flowers could be there when they couldn’t. Flowers offered a beautiful, socially-distanced way for your customer to deliver sentiments, feelings and emotions during challenging times. 

How can we encourage this sales trend to continue? By meeting challenge with change.

Photo: Sharon McGukin

Challenge introduces change

“The only thing consistent this year is inconsistency.” Says Chris Norwood AIFD of Tipton & Hurst in Little Rock, Arkansas. Many small business had saved and prepared for a rainy day. But, this wet monsoon lasted a year. It changed everything. 

The pandemic reminded consumers that flowers and plants make great gifts, but the increased demand was met with difficulty. Covid challenges. High demand for flowers. Limited farm production. Stem shortages. Staffing issues. Delivery delays.

What’s a florist to do? Create a rebuilding strategy that can adapt. What have you learned that you can take forward? How can you prepare in advance for Mother’s Day 2021?

Photo: Sharon McGukin

Five professional florists share their holiday planning tips.

Photo: Patience Pickner

1. “Streamline everything!” 

As a floral retailer, Patience Pickner AIFD, PFCI, SDCF of The Picket Fence, Chamberlain South Dakota learned valuable lessons from Mother’s Day 2020. Sales were up 35% from 2019, but Covid restrictions made the increase a challenge. 

There was an uptick of orders due to social distancing, but no available staff to help fill them. It was “pretty eye-opening,” says Patience. With the help of her daughter handling sales and her husband managing no-contact delivery, Patience was able to fill all the orders without a single complaint. In the process, she learned to:
• Plan ahead in detail to be prepared for challenges
• Feature non-specific bouquets, described vaguely - Low & Lush, Spring Mix
• Design six arrangements at a time of one style or color
• Establish three featured arrangement price points like $45, $75, & $125
• Offer rose arrangements by dozens and half-dozen only

“Even though I have lots of help this year, I plan on streamlining the featured bouquets and descriptions again. Especially with the questionable availability of flowers. Selling mixed spring bouquets leaves lots of wiggle room,” Patience suggests.

2. "Sell what you make, don't make what you sell."

Todd Bussey AIFD of Bussey’s Florist & Gifts, Inc recommends a focus on “selling what you make,” early planning, and offering a limited core product mix. “We have a core product mix of twelve items that we will build our inventory around,” he says of Bussey’s holiday plans for two locations in North Georgia.

Make premium products a part of your mix. “Higher price points sell, but also help to raise the perceived value of other products to increase your average order,” Todd adds. His rebuilding strategy?

• Market to customers who bought last year
• Call Mother's Day customers to secure their orders
• Create flower and gift collections to increase average orders
• Target emails to this group with special offers or promo codes
• Pair a popular arrangement with a gift item at a slight discount

Unlike Valentine’s Day shoppers who are predominately men, Mother's Day customers are primarily female. “Men and women shop differently, so offer items that target the female mindset,” offers Todd.

Photo: Bussey’s Florist & Gifts

Photo: Sharon McGukin

3. “Go heavy with seasonal flowers.”

Chris Norwood AIFD reports that “50% of our product stays on standing order and we’re not even getting those stems.” 

“Even domestics are going through the roof, and we are struggling to get the basics – carnations, mums, pom-poms, etc.” Chris continues. His best advice? Feature seasonal flowers. 

4. “Think beyond the basics, with plants”

Plant sales grew exponentially with this year’s emphasis on sustainable gifts. Due to flower shortages, plants remain a good option if you diversify. 

“Think beyond the basics,” says Rhoda Paurus of St. Cloud Floral in St. Cloud, Minneapolis. “Lately, traditional plants are more difficult to source, higher in price, and smaller in size.” Popular options?

• European Plant Gardens
• Herb collections
• Orchid plants
• Green foliage plants
• Blooming plants.

Schedule in-store or online plant care or planting classes for adults and children to increase walk-in traffic. Promote class gift certificates for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts.

Photo: Sharon McGukin

Photo: Loann Burke

5. “Merchandise your website and promote it well.”  

Todd Bussey AIFD recommends that you “invest in your online presence. This is a great way to stand out from the competition and get recognition from search engines.” In doing so, Bussey’s web sales increased 80% in the past two years, with online sales now being 30% of Bussey’s revenue.

Todd offers these online marketing tips:
• Post photographs of your own work. Update according to flower availability
• Create a Mother’s Day themed Pinterest Board with links to your site
• Set up a searchable page dedicated to Mother’s Day shopping
• Advertise both pages on your site with pop-ups. Offer incentives

“We’ve taken the time to identify trends, requests, and items that did well last year and built our Mother’s Day specials around those items,” Todd confides.

6. “Rethink design and delivery”

During the pandemic, Patti Fowler AIFD of Flowerama in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania experienced her best Valentine’s Day sales ever. She did so by rethinking business basics such as design and delivery. 

With internet sales up 139%, Patti had to make changes quickly. “I found a great pre-made bouquet producer for cash-and-carry bouquet sales and did a lot of in-store chop-and-drop designs,” explains Patti. Her survival tactics?

• Avoid advertised holiday color and flower preferences
• Reach out to potential clients when local flower shops close
• Eliminate costly delivery zip codes and raise minimum prices
• Buy generic holiday containers that can be used for summer designs
• Network with nursing homes; email special offers to resident’s families

Patti’s biggest breakthrough was using Door Dash for deliveries. On Valentine’s Day, Door Dash drivers delivered 300 Flowerama orders in two hours. To prepare orders for delivery, Patti follows these steps:
• Box and package the order securely
• Alphabetize the orders for pickup
• Add request to the Door Dash system
• Double and triple check delivery details

“Some drivers found joy in being a surprise for the recipients,” shares Patti. “Many have returned to fill everyday orders as well.”

Photo: Patience Pickner

Photo: Loann Burke

7. “Add a line for tips.” 

Smithers-Oasis Design Director, Sandy Schroeck AIFD, PFCI, of Trend On Design in Eden Prairie, Minnesota suggests adding a line for tips.

St. Cloud Floral in St. Cloud, Minneapolis added a line for tips on their order forms. “Floral design is a creative service so I feel the tips are justified,” says Sandy who often freelances there. “This creates a year-round bonus for all employees – designers, drivers, and support staff.”

“At Valentine’s Day, 75% of the orders came through with a tip added, so customers are receptive,” adds shop owner, Rhoda Paurus. Taxes are subtracted, then tips are divided by the number of hours each person worked.

Meet challenge with change

Flowers are expected to be in short supply this Mother’s Day, making early planning essential for florists. The challenge is to make changes that streamline business operations while growing holiday sales. What changes can you make?

What changes can you make?