Red roses, blue violets and every shade of alstroemeria: florists prep for Valentine’s Day

Staci Vermillion works behind the scenes at Flowers by Ruzen in Newton, creating ribbons and doing preparation work for Valentine’s Day this Sunday.

By Jackie Nelson

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and flower shops across the nation are preparing for one of their busiest days of the year. With an on-going pandemic, florists are facing more uncertainties than ever if it will be a good day for the industry.

Locally, shops have ordered thousands of roses and assortments of other flowers and greens to prepare bouquets for the big day.

“There’s less room for error this year. With higher flower costs and higher labor with the busier holiday, you have to be able to account for all of that,” said Randi Werner, owner of Sunshine Blossoms in Inman.

Jack Clay, owner of Flowers by Ruzen in Newton, said a week prior, “I start dreaming up the specials.” However, with the limited life of cut flowers—by far the most popular sellers on Valentine’s Day—“You can’t start producing too early. It really creates a Valentine’s week crunch.”

The Valentine’s Day rush started earlier than usual with shops having to submit orders shortly after Christmas. Typically, Werner said, orders are not due until the New Year. This year, with Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday, Werner added, it makes for a historically slow day. But she is optimistic this year.

“With COVID and the holidays being quite a bit busier than normal, I’m anticipating an average Valentine’s Day,” she said.

Behind the scenes at Aunt Bee’s Floral and Gifts in Marion, racks of vases, pre-made bows and the company coffee pot are ready for one of the industry’s biggest days: Valentine’s Day.

Wendy Youk, owner of Aunt Bee’s Floral in Marion, said sub-freezing temperatures this Valentine’s Day compounds an already difficult day.

“Flowers will freeze, and it will kill everything before they even get to the door,” she said.

The day of Valentine’s, Clay said he and his staff anticipate an all-hands-on deck day full of designing and sending out flowers.

“It’s a long day, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. All of it has to be planned. The wildcard is how the demand starts to flow in on Valentine’s Day. Most men, a lot of men, wait. So that’s the unknown part of it,” he said.

While Aunt Bee’s and Sunshine Bouquet are anticipating selling a lot of red rose bouquets, Clay sees a different trend “leaning more toward color, the mixed color bouquets with pinks and yellows that are non-traditional.”

Youk creates “an assembly line” of employees.

“Everyone’s job is important that day, from sweeping floors to putting arrangements together to deliveries,” she said.

Each shop takes its own approach to creating bouquets in the hectic days leading up to Valentine’s Day. In Clay’s shop, bouquet “recipes” for his specials are taped along the back cupboards. Youk said her team’s decades of experience are called upon.

“A lot of roses and a lot of other arrangements, it all comes to us. It just comes together as you go,” she said.

Werner keeps a close eye on what flowers and vases are moving on their own and which ones may need help getting out the door.

“Everything is hand-done. Every designer has a style and even a greens preference. Even with vases, some I get tired of looking at and I’ll put them out and just ditch them into arrangements. I might break even on the cost of the vase, but some things you just get tired of looking at,” she said.

The industry has been affected on both the consumer and supplier side. Weddings and funerals were cancelled or severely curtailed, even get-well-soon deliveries.

“We tried to wire flowers out for someone in Wichita for Via Christi, and they still aren’t accepting floral deliveries,” Youk said.

Clay said the pandemic has, however, led more people to shopping local.

“People are cooped up and can’t get together, so people are sending flowers. Those things have helped make up for the COVID impact,” he said.

To balance Aunt Bee’s dip in demand for arrangements, Youk has a healthy greenhouse business, supplying area gardeners with flowers and produce

“That was actually our best year ever. Last year, people were needing something to do. Since you could still go outside and grow your own food, it was a crazy season and totally unexpected,” Youk said.

Sunshine Blossom owner Randi Werner juggles building arrangements, taking calls and getting her shop ready for Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest floral industry days of the year.

At Sunshine Blossom, Werner said she is still experiencing the effects of the pandemic.

“We got marked out of colored vases. And the flower food hasn’t shown up yet,” she said on Monday afternoon, “It seems that everyone is blaming backorders and non-shipments on COVID. Everything backordered and sold out; it might be two to three weeks before it’s shipped, it might be six months.”

Universally, however, the local business owners said customers should avoid big, online flower sellers.

“Those wire sellers don’t produce anything. They try to push it onto local florists, and typically, the customer that orders flowers isn’t getting the value out of that wire service,” Clay said.

Youk said, at times, customers will only be getting a quarter of what they could have gotten for the price, had shoppers contacted a local florist directly.

“I can’t figure out why people order from them. They don’t sell flowers. They don’t process things right. They don’t include delivery fees. They are a waste of time,” Werner said.

All three local businesses said, with their abilities to deliver flowers, have their doors open on Valentine’s Day and the days leading up, shopping locally will not only get people the best bang for their buck but guarantees customers know exactly what they will be handing their loved on this Valentine’s Day.