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A rose is a rose...

Posted Aug 25 2008 6:44pm
Valentine's Day is upon us and, for that reason, I'd like to talk about a relevant issue that has nothing to do with autism. I'd like to enlighten you about Valentine's Day and flowers.



You see, I'm a flower guy. I grew up in a flower business family. I have spent the last 14 years dealing with commercial cut-flower sales and distribution. I am not a retail florist - I have no floral design skills or talent - but I do have a strong working knowledge of the worldwide floral industry. Needless to say, Valentine's Day is a BIG DAY for our industry. It is also the day when one of the most negative consumer images of the floral industry is reinforced - that retail florists "price-gouge" their customers at Valentine's Day. I am here to tell you that they do not, and that any price increase for Valentine's Day is justified in numerous ways.



If I haven't lost you yet, let me explain. From the beginning.

Roses are the flower of Valentine's Day. This is not news to anyone. For those readers in North America, over 85% of our total consumption of cut flowers is produced in Colombia and Ecuador (with Colombia holding the lion's share). With roses, that percentage is even higher. If you are fortunate enough to receive roses for this Valentine's Day, you are most likely receiving Colombian-grown roses. For those readers who are located in Europe, your market is largely supplied by Kenya and Zimbabwe (even the current violence and political upheaval in Kenya, tragic as it may be, has not slowed down floral exports). For floral consumers in England, particularly customers of Tesco, you can even check your flowers for "Food miles" (a marketing campaign that seems to have run its course) to see that many of your flowers have travelled a very, very long way before arriving on your kitchen table.

Now, it is easy to understand that roses, since they are a plant that is put in the ground (or hydroponic growing medium, as it were) to stay for several years, are not intentionally over-produced on a 12-month basis simply so that there are sufficient blooms available for Valentine's Day. In other words, you don't plant for the holiday, harvest the crop, the plant something else in the same soil. Roses plants are a multi-year investment that require 24/7/365 care to result in a livable profit.

This means that rose growers must employ special techniques for 'force' a crop for the holiday harvest. The main method to achieve this is known as 'pinching'. When a grower pinches his/her crop, he removes a very young flower bud that would otherwise be ready for harvest in the next couple of weeks. The remaining stem then 'breaks', meaning it splits into 2 stems. About 6-8 weeks later, each stem 'break' will produce a saleable bud, or flower. The economic impact of this pinch is tremendous to the grower. They essentially sacrifice an entire harvest is an effort to double a future harvest. This is the first mechanism that results in a higher price at the retail florist in Des Moines or Seattle or Bath or Zurich.

The next issue that arises is transportation. Imagine that you own a commercial cargo airline that flies throughout the Americas. One of your main 'lanes' is the one that runs fresh flowers (and produce) from Bogota, Colombia to Miami, Florida, USA. (Miami is the port of entry for the vast majority of flowers coming from South America). You typically fly in one planeload per day, and your sales team has developed contracts to return items to Colombia such as clothing, or paper products, or computer monitors, or other items. Your established rates are reflective of your ability to generate revenue both ways , right? Now, it is the lead-in to Valentine's Day. Your regular, daily clients - the flower growers in Colombia and the wholesalers/distributors in Miami and throughout the U.S., are relying on you to push through over 10 times your typical volume. You find a way to add more lift to your flight lane into Miami, but the planes must fly back empty. Therefore, you must capture the cost of a round trip in just one direction. This is the second mechanism that causes higher prices for the holiday.

Now, picture the need for flowers to be distributed from Miami to all points in the U.S. so they can reach their retail endpoints. There are a variety of methods available to accomplish this, with the Big 3 being: Refrigerated trucks, commercial passenger airlines, and express delivery services such as FedEx. In each case, these transporters face the same problems that the airline from Colombia to Miami faced. All in light of fuel costs which are dramatically higher than they were just a few short years ago.

All of these factors impact the per-stem costs of flowers - most particularly roses - by the time the retail florist gets their hands on them. Now that they do have their roses, they have their own hurdles to jump. If a retail florist typically has, let's say, 5 full-time employees on staff, then that is the number they have to work with (plus temps) to accomplish 5-10 times the normal workload. They need to receive the product, process the flowers (cut stems, place in clean water with floral preservative, clean the stems and strip the guard petals, de-thorn some varieties, and store in refrigeration), arrange the flowers (to custom specifications in many cases), and deliver the product on many orders. All of this is done with most employees on overtime or, sometimes, even double-time wages, with rented delivery vehicles, with rented refrigerated trailers for additional storage space, and with any number of other issues forcing costs up and up and up.



These are some of the reasons why roses cost more at Valentine's Day.



And, if you are like me, it doesn't matter at all. If you are like me, the special person in your life is well worth the money spent.

Happy Valentine's Day to my lovely wife!
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