Sharon McGukin

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

Valentine's Day can be overwhelming for florists. Most everyone has a Valentine to celebrate – a spouse, partner, child, family member, friend or date; making the holiday the biggest, single flower-buying day of the year.

Despite best efforts – excess overtime pay, last-minute re-stocking of flowers, delivery challenges, and mistakes can quickly diminish your profits. How do floral experts manage to make ‘cash out of chaos’ year-after-year?

Photo: Tipton and Hurst

We asked Chris Norwood, AIFD, PFCI, AAF, Vice President of Floral Operations at Tipton and Hurst for some money-saving, time-crunching tips. Located in Little Rock, Tipton & Hurst is Arkansas's largest and oldest florist.
Chris offered this advice: “I tell our employees all the time, ‘We're not selling anything that they can't get anywhere else. Whether it's a big box store or another florist, whatever. It's all about how you treat the customer.”

He recommends organizing a holiday plan that caters to your customer.

• Remove everyday products from your website
• Offer maybe eight designs, plus roses
• Increase the minimum cost for custom design work
• Duplicate 300 of one item and 200 of another, etc.
• Use available product. Re-evaluate as you work - “We're going to run out of this” … “Let's make more of that”
Sometimes too many options are overwhelming. Streamline the number of designs and vary prices for easier customer selection.

Organize Far in Advance

Start your Valentine Plan in the January one full year before the Valentine’s Day. Begin by sourcing new containers. “We offer at least two specialty container arrangements. I'll try to find something unique, to make our designs stand out,” Chris explains.
“The good part about Valentine's Day is that most men are not too picky,” confides Chris. “They just want to get in and out. You can tell how long someone's either been married or dating by how big the arrangement going out the door is.” They all want to impress.
Chris shares a trick learned from Dr. Delphinium in Dallas. “It’s called ‘bundling’ and that’s been pretty successful for us.” T&H sells a Vintage Valentine that includes a teddy bear, box of chocolates or a heart of chocolates, and a dozen roses. The combo is slightly discounted because it doesn’t require an upsell or sales of individual products.
Following their yearly sales history, T&H buys X number of bears for the special. Sales history also indicates how many dozen red roses will sell. “How many ‘color’ roses, is always the wild card for us,” Chris adds. The popularity of rose ‘colors’ fluctuates according to trend.

Photo: Tipton and Hurst

Profit from Pre-Ordering

Photo: Tipton and Hurst

Like most florists, T&H pre-orders in December. “Most of your farms request that number by November or December, so they can start ‘pinching’ or whatever they do. You know, it takes nine weeks to grow a rose.” T&Hs flower buyer pre-books about 75%, allowing 25% to float the market while looking for pre-holiday deals.
“Red roses make-up 80% of our orders, because guys … like I said … in and out. They don't want think about it. Red's foolproof.” Unfortunately, in recent years South American growers have experienced turmoil and bad weather. Pre-booking doesn't mean you’ll get everything, but try for at least 60% of your product.

Sell by Generation

“To be something for everybody, you can't just offer one style,” Chris adds. He expands sales by focusing on generational niches:
• Millennial
• Gen X
• Boomer

Boomers tend to be traditional, while younger generations love color and contemporary designs. Popular themes and current color harmonies help round out the design menu.
“We don't do wire service specials,” explains Chris. “Part of my job is to make our own specials.” He knows there will always be requests for:
• New color trends
• Traditional pinks
• Classic red and whites
• On-trend colored roses

Valentine designs of more plentiful and less expensive flowers than red, pink and white can increase profits. Suggest a Liz Claiborne color scheme of burnt orange and hot pink.
Most designs have three price points. Roses have six price points including upcharges for filler.
• Basic roses – budvase, half-dozen, dozen, three dozen
• Basic dozen with mixed foliages
• Basic dozen with flower filler
Cut crystal vase of roses
Generally, on a holiday wax flower is cheaper than baby's breath (gypsophilia). Customers have to specify to get gyp in a T&H arrangement.

Typically, half-dozens don’t sell as well because they aren’t as showy. Increase their perceived value by adding another flower or two to the mix - like a hydrangea or lily.
“We do a different size vase on roses. A smaller opening like a temple jar with a small mouth to it,” shares Chris. “The roses don't flair out as much and are more confined for delivery. Usually, by the time you deliver an open mouth vase, it's going to be ‘wonky’ more or less. I can control the dozen roses and it takes less to green it in.”

Photo: Tipton and Hurst

Pre-Plan Your Prep and Production

The T&H design department is small but effective.
• The design work is done by teams
• Extra staff hired for flower care, prep, rose production
• A production line for greening, designing, storing, tagging
• Four semi-trailers in back for cold storage
• Folding tables stacked two high for shelving
The bulk of T&H flowers arrive two weeks before the holiday. “Whether you get them on the 12th of February or the 1st of February, your roses have already been cut and stored in a cooler somewhere. You may as well get them yourself and give them excellent care and handling,” suggests Chris.
For ultimate longevity, store roses just above freezing, anywhere from 34 to 35 degrees. T&H starts greening 10 days out, and rose production about a week out.

Invest in On-Time Delivery

Photo: Tipton and Hurst

T&H hires about sixty extra drivers in addition to regular staff.
• Paid by contract per delivery - 30 to 40 per day
• Pay adjusted by area, distance, etc.
• Some shops use contract delivery - Shipt, Door Dash, etc.
Delivery charges vary by timeline:
• Deliveries four or five days out possibly free
• The 13th will be one charge.
• The 14th a premium charge
“On the 14th the order needs to be there by noon. Nobody wants it at three o'clock when they're all trying to go home. Cause, ‘No one can see how much I'm loved’ if it gets there late,” chuckles Chris.

Guarantee Customer Satisfaction

We all make mistakes. T&H sees this as their time to shine. They guarantee satisfaction. “We really harp more about customer service at our sales meetings than we do about the product that we're selling,” Chris explains.

“All our employees have the authority to do whatever it takes to make that customer happy. We all live and die by the Google Review right now. So, if we ever get a bad review, we are so on it!” Sometimes people just want to be heard, feel respected and are happy with a replacement. “I always say that Valentine's really is just a ‘customer service holiday’ cause we're not getting rich off of it by any means.

And, I’ve never understood why no one wants flowers on the 15th” Chris adds with a laugh.”

How Can You Deliver Excellent Service and Profitable Designs?

Organize in advance and stick to your plan.
• Know your customer
• Follow year-after-year shopping patterns
• Start organizing early
• Limit menu options
• Staff adequately to limit excess overtime
• Avoid last-minute re-stocking of flowers
• Use digital marketing to promote the holiday

“We're constantly trying to make it be a ‘wow’ experience because we want the customer to come back,” says Chris.

What Valentine tips do you have to share?