How can you revitalize your sympathy flowers business? By offering personalized arrangements that celebrate a life rather than mourning a loss.
That’s the message from Randy Wooten AIFD, PFCI, GMF, an FTD education consultant, past president of the Georgia State Florists Association, owner of Delorice’s Florist—and author of “Jubilation,” a book of inspired sympathy flower designs.
All photos: Randy Wooten
Randy’s small-town shop services weddings, events and everyday deliveries, but funeral work, which represents 40 percent of his business, is his bread and butter. While many florists across the country experienced a decline in sympathy sales, in Douglas, Georgia, traditional funeral services with lots of flowers remained commonplace. Until they didn’t.
“For years, my market was unaffected by the shift in our industry. I felt we were living in a bubble untouched by the lifestyle changes others faced,” says Randy. “In 2009, the air in my bubble got thinner too.”
Faced with an increase in cremations and ‘in lieu of’ requests along with a bad economy, Randy went looking for a new sympathy strategy. He ended up creating his own approach and writing “Jubilation.” As a part of the FTD Design Team, he now shares with floral audiences his experience using improved service, unique designs and a close eye on profitability to adapt to a changing sympathy market.
Read on for some of Randy’s working solutions and techniques and to see more of his designs.
Sympathy sales hit hard by the economy
When families suddenly found themselves unable financially to provide traditional services for their loved ones, cremations and memorials were held more frequently out of necessity.
“The economy took a downward turn and my market was hit hard,” explains Randy. “Realizing that funeral work was almost half my annual sales, I began focusing more attention on protecting that segment by improving service, differentiating our product and most importantly tracking profitability,” says Randy.
“I refused to let go of that business and just roll with the changes. This affected 40 percent of my sales! Funerals and weddings were what kept me going.”
At first, no solutions
Randy researched the subject seeking proactive solutions. “Most of what I found on sympathy focused on the 'in lieu of' trend. The number of sympathy programs presented within the industry was far less than other topics, and the ones that were offered didn’t provide solutions.”
Then Randy made two interesting discoveries.
“First was the realization that today’s sympathy designs aren’t that different from those sold 30 to 40 years ago,” he says. “The second discovery was a magazine article written for Teleflorist
in 1979 that featured sympathy work.”
Reading Funeral Work: Positive steps for a New Tomorrow
by Steve Streans was an eye-opening experience. The article suggests the funeral flower business had diminished due to ‘please omit,’ changing lifestyles, loss of traditions and donations to charities.
“I was blown away!” says Randy. “The same issues facing the floral industry in 1979 plague us today and not much has been done in 40 years to address the problems.”
Jubilation rather than mourning
A passion was ignited in Randy to bring sympathy flowers back to the forefront. He realized it is imperative for florists to promote the celebration of life events as a lifestyle tradition. His determination led to the publication of “Jubilation”
Jubilation is a feeling of great happiness and triumph. Randy approached the sympathy market from this direction. His book offers floral design solutions for celebrating the life of a loved one, rather than mourning the loss.
Randy says personalizing designs connect a grieving family by telling a story, expressing a personality or inspiring a memory. Such customized arrangements are eye-catching and inspire a conversation that can bring comfort to those gathered together.
“Designs that share a special memory or life event are especially powerful,” says Randy. He shares these design tips used in creating some of the memorable designs featured in his book.
Randy’s sympathy design tips
To create the double cross design, attach a 36" OASIS® Mache Cross
to the back and side of a Styrofoam Cross using wood picks from the underside at an angle without coming through the front side of the Styrofoam cross. The large cross design featured above required multiple OASIS® Jumbo Cages
to hold the fresh flowers.
The body of the wings design was formed in a FLORACAGE® Grande Holder
. When creating designs with large stemmed flowers in large floral foam cages, encircle the cage a couple of times atop the grids with 1/4" OASIS® Waterproof Tape
. This offers extra security when the funeral home is handling the delivered designs.
The garland laying across the top of the piano was designed in a row of Large OASIS® Casket Saddles
. Attach the end of the OASIS® Garland
or OASIS® Sealed Brick Garland
to the end of the saddle, allowing the chosen garland to hang down the side of the piano.
OASIS® Floral Adhesive
was applied to the side of each stem before inserting the flowers into the floral garland. 1" x 3" UGLU™ Adhesive Strips
were used in forming the cello design shown in the slideshow further above.
OASIS® Floral Foam Tile
was the backdrop for the skull design. When attaching the tile to a funeral stand, use zip ties, OASIS™ Bind Wire
florist wire. When securing tile boards to a flat surface, wide hook and loop fastener works best.
The square foliage wreath design was made on an 18" OASIS® Mache Square Wreath
. A Large LOMEY® Pedestal Foam
attaches easily to various objects when a water reservoir and design space is needed in a standing spray design.
Re-establishing comfort through flowers
Across the country, florists are seeking new ways to re-establish the importance of flowers as a means of comforting a grieving family. The ever-rising number of cremations continues to be a challenge. In many cases, the consumer is uncertain as to what is appropriate to send to a service, so they opt out of sending flowers.
Marketing materials that educate your customer on the benefits and guidelines for using flowers appropriately to celebrate the life rather than the loss can be a good investment. Maintaining open communication with funeral directors and taking the time to truly listen to their needs, objections and suggestions for flowers can also help.
What suggestions do you have for adapting to the needs of a changing sympathy flower market?