A rose is a rose…is not.

by Cinda Baxter on February 6, 2012

in Independent Retailers, The 3/50 Project

The following is a reprise of my 2.7.11 blog post, at the (very repeated) request of brick and mortar florists. Happy Valentine’s, everyone!—Cinda

Yes, the Super Bowl ad featuring Faith Hill and the guy sending flowers was clever (and yes, his girlfriend probably broke up with him over what he wrote on the card). But have you ever wondered just how much of your money actually ends up in the vase when ordering through an online floral site?

Probably not…but then, you probably didn’t see the finished product either.

To understand what’s going on behind the curtain, you first need to know the players:

Wire services are companies most of us have heard of—FTD, Teleflora, Bloomnet, 1800Flowers, and the like. Originally created to link local brick and mortars to each other nationally (making it possible to place an order in Kansas City for delivery in Denver), they’ve jumped into the online business, now selling direct to consumers…at great expense to local florists.

Non-affiliated order gatherers (aka order takers) are a more slippery lot. They purchase local phone numbers in multiple cities, build websites behind each number to give the impression they’re a nearby brick and mortar, then route calls through a central phone bank somewhere out of state. Their role is to process and pump—take the money, grab their cut, then pawn fulfillment off to a third party who’s given pennies on the dollar to work with—often a warehouse operation, rarely an actual florist.

Where’s the money go?
Numbers for unaffiliated order gatherers are tough to come by; no two seem to play by the same set of “rules.” Wire services, however, are more easily charted, as they follow well-documented patterns:

Why cross your fingers and pray the business who “inherits” your online order can magically turn $35 into a $50 look and a ride across town? Instead, let’s get all that hard earned cash into your vase:

Step 1. Do a Google search for “flowers” or “florist” plus the name of the delivery city
Ex: florist “Salt Lake City”
Check out the resulting websites, looking for a local phone number—not just a toll free number. If only the latter appears, beware; you probably landed on an order gathering call center. (Don’t assume a street address is legit; quite often, they’re commercial addresses at p.o. box locations.)

Step 2. Next, call the local phone number
When they answer, say the following (exactly as written):

“I’d like to come by to pick something out in person. Where are you located, and what are your hours this week?”

If they answer you straight up, it’s a brick and mortar florist. If, however, they work toward getting you to order over the phone or online instead, you just found a call center. Next in line, please…..

(Side note: After they confirm they’re an actual store, it’s okay to come clean. There isn’t a brick and mortar florist in the country who won’t thank you for checking to be sure they’re real.)

Step 3. Separate delivery from daisies
If you want a $50 floral arrangement, ask for a $50 floral arrangement. If, instead, you want the $50 to cover both the arrangement and delivery, tell the florist up front. Don’t assume delivery is free–it’s not (in spite of what the online sites lead you to believe…they may advertise a $50 arrangement with free delivery, but the expense comes out of the portion you thought was allocated for flowers).

Between paychecks, gas, and insurance, florists pay a premium to offer delivery service, then price it as low as they feasibly can. Don’t haggle; they’re already cutting numbers to the bone.

Mission accomplished
Your goal is pretty straightforward: Find pretty flowers, pay for pretty flowers, send pretty flowers—not fund a call center or national processing service. Dialing up a phone number or two instead of trusting your keyboard will make the difference between “ooh ahh” and “oh well” on the receiving end.

C’mon. Go for the gush. It’s worth it.

Christy C. February 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Online travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity, etc. do the same thing. They take 20%-30% of the room rate as commission. Imagine if the innkeeper of your local, privately owned bed and breakfast or inn has already reduced rates for these sites – they’re getting hit with a huge fee on top of it. Call and book directly – you might get a better deal!

Chez Bloom February 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thank you so much for this extremely well written article! As a real local florist in Minneapolis, we have several online “Order gatherers” posing as local florists with fake address etc. This is the first article I’ve read that explains it so clearly! You Rock!

Editor’s note: Right back atcha, Chez Bloom!

J Schwanke February 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Thanks for Writing a DEAD ON, Truthful Blog about the Dangers of Wire Services and Order-gathers… The Local Independent Florist Thanks you from the BOTTOM of their Heart!
As an Advocate/Spokesperson for Flowers and Local Flower Growers, Flower Sellers and Flower Buyers… We appreciate YOU more than you ever will know!
All the BEST and Keep up the GREAT WORK! GO LOCAL!!!!

John Barlowe February 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Great information Cinda.
Most people would not think about so much of their money leaving the area, especially if they saw the arrangement come from a local place. They would naturally assume they were getting full value for their money, which they are not.

Same thing applies to custom picture frames ordered online, or most any other item. Shop local and benefit your community and yourself.

Becky Tyre Retail Details February 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Thank you for such an educational blog post today and, as always, your support and promotion of local, independent businesses. I believe that most customers want to shop local, but I’m afraid the floral industry has a tougher battle due to the misleading websites that you mention. Thanks for spelling it out so clearly and with instructions to make sure we shop local when we have the option. Almost every town has a local floral option.
At Retail Details we L-O-V-E your message and just wanted to say thanks. Happy Valentines week to you and to all the hard working flower professionals who will benefit from your article.

BOSS February 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Cinda, thanks for a very timely write up, you said very well what many of us florists have been trying to say for years.

Thank you…and Happy Valentines.

Sharon Nichols February 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Thank you so much for making this clear to the public. I am a local florist. I have been in business here since 1972. The price of a dozen roses in 1972 was $35. Now on a regular day, we sell for $55 and $70 on Valentine day. Our cost have gone up at least 5 times what it was in 1972, yet you can see we are trying to keep our product affordable. We are not bread or shoes. People don’t have to send flowers. The tele-markature, some even in foreign countries, has really hurt the small florist like myself.

Lori Kunian CFD February 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Cinda, A huge thank you for the factual article on a tricky subject. An educated customer is a customer who can make a great decision for themselves, and an education you have provided without bias…

Cinda Baxter February 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Thanks to each of YOU for all the hard work you put into every vase, pot, and bouquet. As someone who understands the challenges you face (so, so similar to what began in the stationery industry ten years ago), I feel your pain, understand your frustration with the lack of good info out there, and respect your endless determination. Hang in there….!

Kim February 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Thank you, this a GREAT article. I worked for a florist for a short time (loved it) and was amazed at how hard it was for him to make a living. And this was 15 years ago, before the online issues even started! I’m always appalled by online flower prices anyway; a local florist can give you a much more beautiful, rich, and creative arrangement for the money – plus you’re helping a local business owner and your community. Shop local!!

Ellie February 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

As an English bricks and mortar florist, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for explaining this so well

Sandra February 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Thank you Cinda,

Being a NEW local florist it was hard to open up without a wire service but we did it!!…now a year under out belt and blogs like this we are thriving!!
I will be posting this on our facebook page as well!!
Thank you,

Micheal M. February 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Cinda How Wonderful finally some to tell the truth Hopefully the public will listen and believe! I have had many “gatherers” call and try to give me there orders and then wonder when I say NO! One) I can not fill the order for the pennies that they are willing to give me and Two) I don’t want my name on any order that is not going to be suitable for either of the three parties involved! Believe me when I tell a customer the price of the arrangement I am being fair, not ripping you off “because the grocers or “gatherers” are cheaper.

Laura February 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Thank you, Thank you very much! I am a new florist & trying to get out of my wire contracts. It is a daunting task. I have shared the 3/50 project with everyone I know. It is all about education . I love your simple way of checking. I will be speaking at my networking ladies meeting and sharing problems with wire services. I would love to share this & the 3/50 project if you wouldn’t mind? I have already shared this on facebook too! God bless you and keep up the inspiration & encouragement. It is hard competeting with wire , Grocery stores & street corner vendors (Tents.) We need all the support we can get!

Inta Taurins, CAFA, CFD February 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Well said! Thank you for posting this. Now let’s hope enough people see and read it.

Denise M. February 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm

As an independent 30+ year floral designer, I can appreciate the whistle-blowing here of the “order gathers” that plague our industry. However, I tend to see a bigger picture here. We can all agree that a florist is a luxury business, not a business of necessity for anyone. Therefore, we must work together dilegently to create an industry that appeals to John Q. Public. Keep in mind as we continue to bash these “order gathers” in public view, we are taking chances on losing customers to the industry for good. They may start to think we are all evil.
I say, ” lets concentrate on how to make a dollar, instead of worrying about who is stealing our pennies.” I think independent website of your very own is your best bet. Market yourself well. Let your work speak for itself. Stay positive.

Editor’s note: While I agree it’s vital to focus on operating a top notch business, I also believe consumer education, done properly, is a critical component to healthy local economies. Sharing accurate information without anger, drama, or inflammatory spin helps every consumer become a wiser and more appreciative shopper.

Deb February 7, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Thanks for the trying to put the truth out there!! Now, if all of us florists would band together and refuse to accept all orders from “the gatherers” they would soon be out of business.

gina lempa February 7, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Ok, it happened again, your blog message brought tears to my eyes. I love our industry, and I care so deeply for my customers. Thank you for putting out that message so clearly. I am going to share it w/ my local connections in hopes that we will see quality positive articles in the press this week, instead of the negative stuff we have seen in the past.

Steve February 8, 2011 at 8:21 am

Thank you for a very well written article. You have helped both the consumer and the real florist .

Marie Bushnell February 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

Thanks for sharing this information. I always mention at my lectures/presentations at the Phila Flower Show, to order your flowers from a “real” florist in that delivery area. I can now tell them to how to truely find out if they have a brick & mortar business.

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