The Mom-and-Pop corner florist is wilting under a drooping economy, competition from big-box stores and a movement away from corsages, corporate gifts and other niceties that once defined the industry.
For Metro Detroit florists, the economic recession deflated their incomes, some saying they lost huge portions of their business when companies chopped floral budgets, consumers stopped sending bouquets and brides skipped showy centerpieces.
“When things tanked in 2008, we lost about half of our business. It was really, really scary. We thought the doors were going to close,” said J. Robbin Yelverton, co-owner of Blumz by JRDesigns Floral and Event Professionals in Detroit. “We used every trick that we knew to try to be survivors.”
However, those who made it through the downtown have emerged savvier. They troll online sites to flag middlemen who use their Google images to sell their own weedy varieties. They got smaller, skipping full storefronts for more cost-conscious studios. A few like Blumz decided to go big, adding event space to compete with banquet halls and generate sales from foot traffic.
The state’s number of retail florist establishments and workforce continued to shrink in 2011, representing 10 consecutive years of declining numbers, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns. Michigan’s florists went from a high of 860 in 2001 to 498 in 2011, its data shows.
Rod Crittenden, Executive Vice President for the Michigan Floral Association in Haslett, estimates that number has continued to fall to about 450 establishments today.
In July, the competition got even thornier. Floral giant the FTD Companies Inc. acquired Provide Commerce, which includes the highly recognizable consumer-gifting e-commerce brand ProFlowers. Together, the two companies have more than $600 million in annual revenues and domination over the floral market.
The explosion of floral outlets — from grocery stores to low-cost warehouse chains to the guy selling greenhouse rejects on street corners — has soured the consumer to some degree, Crittenden said.
“People have shied away because they may not have gotten the best quality in the past. That leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Crittenden said. “But that’s why working with a florist matters. Flowers aren’t manufactured. They’re grown. … It really boils down to a florist’s relationships with their sellers and growers to get the best-quality flowers. Unfortunately, the longest lasting also costs the most. It’s difficult to get the public to see that.”
Florists who succeed tend to be those with the latest technology — smartphone ordering, anyone? — as well as social-media savvy. Yelverton has Skyped with overseas brides. Bruce Anderson of Morhring-Woods Florist posts his best work on Instagram. Lisa Waud of Pot and Box has daily pictures of her blooms in her Twitter feed.
Blumz got through the downturn by focusing on flowers. It also got smart with its space — Yelverton transformed 3,000 square feet of its 10,000-square-foot building in Ferndale into event space. It is used for everything from Rotary meetings to birthday parties to bridal showers, Yelverton said.
“It’s as much as a marketing effort as it is a source of revenue,” said Yelverton, who also has a by-appointment office in Ann Arbor. “It’s just one more way to stay in front of people’s faces. In the floral business, we get more traffic on the phone or from the Internet than we do actual feet in the store. … Anything we can do to get their beating hearts in our door works for us.”
Pot & Box’s Waud got into the floral business about seven years ago. She had a successful shop in Ann Arbor when she got the opportunity in 2013 to run a pilot store along Woodward Avenue through D:Hive’s pilot program. Within weeks, she realized that running a traditional florist shop wasn’t for her.
So she created her own business model. She has studio space in Ann Arbor and Detroit where Pot & Box meets with clients by appointment and prepares arrangements for special events. Her Corktown studio inside an Airstream trailer gives her a cool hangout as well as flexibility and low overhead.
“(The floral industry) is very much economically driven. … People are more likely to get their hair cut than buy flowers, so that’s my challenge,” Waud said. “We’re just now coming out of these weddings where the bride wants wildflower arrangments in mason jars. Now, people have a bit more money, they’re more comfortable. The arrangements are getting taller, more glam, shinier.”
That doesn’t mean florists have free reign to spend a client’s money. Recently, a cost-conscious bride asked Grosse Pointe Woods florist Anderson if he could work a big-box store’s roses into her arrangements.
Anderson, owner of Mohring-Woods Florist on Mack Avenue, has more than four decades of experience in the formal industry. He has done hundreds of funerals, holidays and weddings. He told the Bridezilla a firm “No.”
“I’ve gotten brides that walk in with their iPads with their visions off of Pinterest and they want them emulated,” Anderson said. “They have unrealistic visions of what they want, so you have to transform their budget into something they’ll respond to and want to do.”
Making fantasy and reality meet is challenging. In effort to get their flowers fast, convenience-minded consumers may turn to overnight flower shippers. But going into a traditional florist shop or calling ahead can still get you same-day delivery, fresher blooms and that lux look.
“A professional florist is a lot more than flowers thrown in a box. Designers at a floral shop are the ones who make it look like the pictures online. It’s not easy; it’s a skill. That’s a lot of what you pay for as well,” Crittenden said.