Planning to send Mom flowers for Mothers Day?
If you do, youll participate in one of the top flower-buying occasions of the year. And to help lay some blossoms on Americas moms, operations are in full bloom at three wholesale florists located just east of downtown Spokane. Their preparations provide a glimpse at the complexity of a thriving yet quiet industry here.
We couldnt do this all the time, but when were up against a wall, we shift into high gear, says Carlotta Lavagetto, manager at Jones Wholesale Florist Inc., of the preparations for Mothers Day.
Jones, located at 24 W. Second; Pacific Wholesale Florists, at 304 E. Second; and Glacier Mountain Floral Suppliers, at 115 E. Pacific, sell cut flowers, greenery, vases, baskets, ribbons, candles, balloons, silk flowers, and more to retailers here and across a broad swath of Eastern Washington, North Idaho, Montana, and northeastern Oregon.
Thats a lot of territory, and during the last week of April, with the chaos of Secretarys Day on April 25 barely over, Jones salespeople are working the phones to round up Mothers Day orders from retail florists.
From cubicles that line the glass front of a walk-in cooler filled with some 200 varieties of flowers, Jones sales team tells customers about specials and describes the particulars of blooms and greens.
In a back room, a worker quickly folds slender rectangular boxes for the flurry of orders of long-stemmed flowers that will shipped to retail florists the second week of May for delivery by Mothers Day on May 13. In another area of Jones 30,000-square-foot facility, workers make room for a harvest of foliage and blooming plants.
Things also are in high gear a few blocks away at Pacifics 35,000-square-foot warehouse. A salesman sets his phone down on a counter just outside a glass-fronted walk-in cooler, dashes into the cooler to grab a bunch of copper-colored blossoms, and scurries back to the phonedripping water from the bundle of flowers in his handto describe the exact color of the blooms to a customer.
Pacifics owner, Darrell Weiland, says his sales team tries to lock in holiday orders from retail florists early, so Pacific can place its own orders to growers before popular types and colors of flowers are sold out or demand drives prices up.
Ron Gainey, general manager of Glacier Mountain, likens the mad rush and the ups and downs of the wholesale floral business to the periodic wildness on the floor of the stock market, but says that the perishable nature of the product adds an extra challenge.
We make no money when we have to throw our product in the Dumpster, he says.
A sweetheart rush
While lots of people care about their moms, those who send flowers to their sweethearts are especially insistent that the bouquets arrive on time. Because of that, Valentines Day eclipses Mothers Day as the busiest day of the year. Other top flower-buying holidays, Christmas and Professional Secretarys Day, also fall short.
Work on Valentines Day starts at 2 a.m. and lasts until at least 6 p.m., Jones handles the same amount of business on that day that it usually sees in a whole week, says Karen Montecucco, who co-owns Jones with her husband, Max.
Mothers Day, however, still is mighty big. The intense period of preparation for the holiday lasts about two weeks, says Lavagetto, the manager at Jones. Also, the hustle for Mothers Day plays itself out amidst the annual spring flurry of proms, upcoming graduations, and the constant business spurred by births, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, and other occasions.
The current flurry of activity is just the final push in the Mothers Day countdown. Initial planning started about a year ago, when wholesale florists placed orders for novelties designed especially for that holiday, such as specialty mugs, goblets, and teapots that will hold this years Mothers Day bouquets. Although basic glassware for everyday bouquets is readily available year-round, special holiday items must be ordered from manufacturers in Asia well in advance, Montecucco says.
Last November, Jones secured its supply of geraniums, fuchsias, and other colorful garden flowers for Mothers Day planter baskets from Spokane growers, Montecucco says.
She and her husband also own Rosedale Greenhouse here, which grows roses and mums. To produce mums for Mothers Day, Rosedale Greenhouse must order cuttings a year before the holiday, then plant them 14 weeks in advance and nurture them so theyre ready to be sold as potted plants for mom. Rosedale Greenhouse cut back its roses in mid-March to ensure a crop of buds that will open just in time for May 13. Normally, a rose bush blooms about eight weeks after its last flower was cut.
About a month prior to the holiday, Jones employees review records of past Mothers Day sales, check to see what types and colors of flowers that national flower-wiring services such as Teleflora and FTD are promoting, ask client shops what specials they plan, and formulate a buying plan, Montecucco says. It helps to be psychic, she quips.
Precognitive abilities also would come in handy for determining where to buy the best flowers. Cut flowers come to Spokane from Florida, California, Hawaii, the Netherlands, Central and South America, and occasionally Canada, wholesale florists here say.
Every flower is always in season somewhere, and efficient communication and transportation networks can link wholesalers to growers worldwide.
Mother Nature, however, still can throw wholesale florists a nasty curve, such as cool, wet weather that delays blooms or a heat wave that pushes flowers past their prime.
Several times, but never on Mothers Day, knock on wood, political instability has interrupted flower supplies from Central and South America, Montecucco says. This year, growers dont expect any such knockdown pitch. Says Pacifics Weiland, It looks like well have pretty good abundance and prices.
This week, wholesalers will focus on selling greenery, which lasts longer than cut flowers, as well as potted plants. Theyll also sell vases, ribbons, tags, candles, and other accessories, known as hard goods, Montecucco says. Next week, cut flowers will take center stage in the final rush to the holiday.
While overnight-document services have transformed business communications, flowers get some pretty fast handling, too.
A refrigerated truck laden with blooms can be driven from Miami to Spokane in just 52 hours, and most California growers are about 18 hours away by truck, says Weiland. A combination of air- and ground-shipping can get flowers from the Netherlands here in about 36 hours, and from South America in just a day or two, he says.
Trucks arrive at flower wholesalers here at all hours of the day and night, every day of the week. Truckers can access secure coolers where they unload the boxed flowers even when no one is at the wholesalers offices.
A combination of cool temperatures and chemistry keeps the blooms dormant for their travels, Weiland says. Workers unpack the sometimes slightly limp bunches of flowers, place the stems in buckets of water to rehydrate them, and put the buckets in coolers.
Theres been lots of research and development on chemicals, and we have a treatment for every need, from sending the flowers to dormancy, to keeping them alive in a subdued state, to pushing them to produce long-lasting blooms, Weiland says.
We believe in chemical dependencyfor flowers, Lavagetto jokes.
Shopping and shipping
Retail florists in Spokane can visit the wholesalers here several times a day to select the freshest flowers and to shop for hard goods, or they can rely on the wholesalers salespeople to help them make selections over the phone. Wholesalers make deliveries to shops around Spokane two or three times a day, and deliver orders to more distant customers several times a week using their own trucks. They also ship via local trucking companies, by bus, by Amtrak, and through the mail and other package carriers.
Jones, which employs 25 people, sends orders via its refrigerated trucks west to Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities; south to Walla Walla, Wash., and Hermiston and Pendleton, Ore.; east to Kalispell, Hamilton, and Bozeman, Mont.; and north to Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint, Idaho.
Glacier Mountain, which employs 18 people here, delivers in Eastern Washington from Colville to Pullman and in Idaho between Sandpoint and Lewiston and operates a five-person branch in Helena, Mont., to serve Montana customers as far east as Billings.
Pacific, which employs 26 people here, makes deliveries to nearly 500 customers within a roughly 250-mile radius of Spokane, Weiland says. It also mails flowers to customers in Alaska several times a week.
Rising fuel costs have challenged wholesale florists recently. The hidden costs can drive you crazy, Weiland says. Transportation surcharges can add up to almost the cost of the flower.
The Spokane wholesale florists say the variety of transport options available here make Spokane a good location for them, and the several-block area just east of downtown where all three are located has good access to all of those options and is easy for out-of-town customers to find. Local customers also like the way the wholesalers are located near one another.
Were lucky, says Jim Alice, who co-owns Liberty Park Florist & Greenhouse Inc., of Spokane, with his dad, Joe. Were down at the wholesale houses two or three times a day so we can keep up with the freshest things. Its always better when you pick out your own stuff.
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