Yes, I do know that it is the middle of winter, and that we are about five months from being able to cut flowers in the garden. How I look forward to that! Yes, I do have flowers every day. But I do not have freshly cut zinnias in their bold and striking colors. I do not have big bright yellow sunflowers. I am missing my brown-eyed Susans and gladioli, and especially the tall, stately delphinium. Of course, on most days there are always a few, past-their-prime flowers at the shop. There are always flowers that are past the point when I will sell them, but will last a few days or a week if I take care of them. It is amazing to see how many people come in during the week to pick up a few stems for the house.
This brings back some memories about my mom. It is a memory that has been brought back over the past few months. When I was young and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I asked how we survived during the Great Depression, selling flowers. Her answer was that when times are very tough — very, very tough — a person with only a dollar might well spend 20 or 25 cents on flowers to take home. That has proven to be true these past six months. Although today, you do not get many flowers for 25 cents.
Really, there is no excuse to not brighten your home with a bit of living color. Flowers are everywhere, from flower shops to big box stores and supermarkets and even gas stations.
That last statement always draws out a lot of questions, especially, "Aren’t the supermarkets with those huge displays killing florists?" We learned a lot about flowers in the last 25 years of the last century, from the Europeans. No Dutchman would think of going home on a Friday night without a bouquet. A Frenchman arriving to pick up a date without holding a few flowers — unheard of. I remember being on a piazza in Siena, Italy, and having a man walk up to us, pin a little cluster of acacia blooms on Anne’s lapel and wish her a wonderful day. That was the first time that I ever heard of the International Day of the Woman. Why was this happening in Europe and much of the rest of the world, but not in in the United States? Research showed that in Europe, there were flower stands wherever you turned. You might pass six of them on the way home from the office. With all those reminders, it was an unwise man who did not spend some Euros.
Back to reality. We live in America, and when street vendors showed up with buckets of flowers on Easter and Mother’s Day in gas station venues, florists were up in arms and bombarded city fathers to ban those sales. Little did we know!
Yes, those vendors have hurt. But the Society of American Florists, our national trade association, believes that perhaps some 80% of the flowers sold at stores other than flower shops might not be sold in this country. The major number of those sales are on impulse. “Aunt Susie is not feeling well, so for five bucks I can brighten the next few days for her.” Those massive displays grab your attention and the low price of a conveniently sized bunch seals the sale.
The title of a Cornell conference I attended a number of years ago was attended by retail florists from all sizes of operations and was titled, “Is the Retail Florist Still Relevant?” Today as then, the answer was a resounding "yes." Yes, but with a qualifying comment. The florist is and will be relevant as soon as they realize that they are no longer selling flowers. He, or she, needs to understand that they are adding value to that bunch of flowers. They are selling the service, not flowers and plants. They are providing the ability to design beautiful bouquets from the bunches of flowers, to sit with the client and understand the need and fill it, and deliver it — that is what they are all about. I know that I am relevant, and that makes me feel good.
Carmen Cosentino operates Cosentino's Florist with his daughter, Jessica. He was elected to the National Floriculture Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2008, received the Tommy Bright award for lifetime achievements in floral education. In 2016, Carmen and Jessica were presented Teleflora's Tom Butler Award, naming Cosentino's the florist of the year at the company's annual meeting in Hawaii. Carmen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 253-5316.