Partnering with your Wholesaler_Header.png__PID:7335ac42-9a79-4b74-b8cb-216746afc83b
Partnering with your Wholesaler_mobile.png__PID:ac429a79-3b74-48cb-a167-46afc83ba756

"Solve problems to create new business," suggests Lenny Walker, VP of sales and operations at Kennicott Brothers Company – a wholesale florist supply with fourteen locations selling fresh flowers and floral supplies.

Changing times

Like many business models, the floral industry is changing. “It's not what it used to be.” Lenny says as we discuss the benefits of ‘partnering with your wholesaler’ during changing times.

AIFD-CoolerImage (1).png__PID:7ae37060-e2ea-4bdb-9191-859cbf5e6ef1

Established in 1881, the Kennicott peony growing heritage continues as they sell peonies around the world. Kennicott is no stranger to change. With change comes challenge and challenge creates new opportunities. In the midst of change, how can suppliers and florists work together to make business even better?

 “I think the biggest challenge we're facing is just understanding where everybody's heading coming out of the pandemic,” begins Lenny. Understanding how to communicate with one another inspires success.

Communication is a connecting force

“Many people talk, but fewer communicate, and communication is the key to accomplishing things,” Lenny continues. Many retail florists and wholesale suppliers are experiencing a lessened number of walk-in customers but an increased need for technical communication.

“We’re different in Chicago,” explains Lenny. “We have a very high walk-in traffic, which is great because you get to see and interact with the customers. We learn from them and get their reactions. You can send somebody an item that you think is cool - “Let me send this to you. Tell me what you think,’ and it's a $10 education,” offers Lenny. On a phone call, you don't get the same reaction.

IMG_5766 (1).JPG__PID:859cbf5e-6ef1-476c-995c-81197f1864e3

Walk-in shopping is instant inspiration. It drives impulse sales. Shopping a supplier is like a chef at a produce or farmer's market. The inspiration drives us to be cutting edge. It might not be for today. They may need that product two months from now, but it's remembered because they walked in, saw it, and talked about it. Especially in wedding work where you often see a product now that you will use later.

Technology helps us connect

Inspiration is what keeps us all in business, and now there's so many ways to connect. Facebook, Teams, Zoom, everybody can connect via video somehow. Every day is another learning curve because people use so many platforms with different guidelines and operational needs. On the flip side, opportunities are there for cooler tours, texting flower photos. Sometimes a text has more value because it doesn’t interrupt what they're doing.

Kennicott Brothers Company is employee owned. Over 20 years ago, company chairman Red Kennicott, established a NESOP plan - Employee Stock Option Program, to keep the 143-year-old company moving forward.

Just like he searches for the finest flowers and supplies from growers and factories around the world, Red's goal was to get the best people into the company. Making them owners with something to work toward while keeping the wealth within the company. Insuring the longevity and sustainability of the organization.

“We look at our business as a triangle. We connect people with flowers. Some would call it the middleman. I call it the connector,” explains Lenny. Putting a face to the transactions. It's very common for retailers to learn about the factories and the farms know their end customer. “We want that relationship. You're doing it for a person, not just filling an order.”

thumbnail_IMG_6774 (2).jpg__PID:bf5e6ef1-c76c-495c-8119-7f1864e3eba6

“We’re partnering between two different levels in our industry but we need each other and we need to be fair and honest and I think sometimes we forget that we're on the same team,” Lenny continues.

The chaos of Covid

When COVID hit, nobody knew what was going to happen for those ‘two weeks’ that we were going to be closed. Millions of dollars of flowers were dumped. Kennicott was careful to respect their partnerships and relationships.

Cash was king. Kennicott called their partner firms and said “We will pay you according to the way we've been paying you.” Seven, 15, or 30 days - however they typically paid, that's how they would continue to pay. People in many industries stopped paying bills because they didn't know what was going to happen, but it was equally important to protect your business.

Kennicott’s farms have an investment in the ground that must be maintained. “Can you imagine if you didn't take care of the roses that are in the ground for many years?” What happens when we're ready to open up? There's more business than we could ever take because of the pent-up demand. If we didn't spend our money wisely and make sure that flowers were taken care of, we wouldn't be in the good situation we're in now,” Lenny confides.

Together we're stronger

A favorite Kennicott saying throughout its companies is “When you stumble, we'll pick you up, we'll help you out.’ So just be open with it,” says Lenny. "Everybody runs into hard times. Don't be shy about it. Call and say, “Hey, I need your help on this. How can we work through this?” We've never turned anybody down with a decent request.”

 There’s a difference between running towards a problem from running away from a problem. “The difficulty comes when somebody runs away from it and it gets ugly.” Companies that did take care of their suppliers and employees, and tried to help their customers were able to go full speed when business bounced back.

chicago-cooler-1-feb2024  Fix floor.png__PID:995c8119-7f18-44e3-aba6-df1b514a3e5e

Companies that let go of well-trained employees were searching for people to fill in the blanks. “We still see a lot of businesses who say they can't go full speed because they can't find people to work. You have to wonder if they had people they didn’t take care of.”

Everybody had different situations. “I'll never judge anybody because nobody knew what was going to happen. We did what we felt was right. We did a small layoff, but brought people back as quick as we could. We never closed any of our locations,” says Lenny.

Kennicott has over 400 employee owners. “We don't look at it as 400 people, we look at it as 400 families, and how many people is every decision we make really impacting. We don't take it lightly,” Lenny says. He acknowledges that we're on the cusp of change and he’s not sure which direction we're going in. “When we do our business plans, we look to the future.”

Moving forward

Everybody's looking at AI now for daily business or automation. “One thing we've made sure across our company is that AI will never replace a person. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking at ways to do things easier, quicker, faster. Just to take the stress off, so we can have more time to talk with the customer and be inquisitive.”

Focus should be on growing the business and industry together, reminding consumers of the value of flowers. “Whether it's the floral promotion board that we've been trying to do for years, or “That Flower Feeling” that everybody's participating in. How do we increase the consumption of flowers? One flower bunch or stem at a time,” suggests Lenny.

That Flower Feeling.jpg__PID:eba6df1b-514a-4e5e-b4da-3409b609f299

It's not a matter of price. It's a matter of getting the business and keeping the next generation coming back. Trying to create a sustainable business for everybody you're partnering with.

How do we keep people interested enough for the retailer to get the business? Do a nice enough job to earn the business? Keep farms and factories behind us doing what they need to do to complete the circuit?

Solving problems will create new business. It's a matter of consistency. “Never underestimate the compounding effect of consistency,” advises Lenny.

How do we get there? “I think that's the million-dollar question,” Lenny responds.

What solutions can you share for growing your flower business?