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A Florist's Thoughts on Valentine's Day

Updated on February 11, 2016
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Kylyssa Shay worked as a florist for 18 years and has created and taught an assortment of crafts to adults and children of all ages.

A simple heart wreath made of ivory roses
A simple heart wreath made of ivory roses | Source

What a Florist Thinks about Valentine's Day and Some Advice for Valentine's Day Flower Buyers

For almost 18 years of my life I was a professional floral designer. The single craziest day of the year in every last one of those years was February 14th, Valentine's Day.

Florists look at Valentine's Day with mixed emotions. Floral designers know they'll be getting more hours to make up for the dreadful slowness of January, but they also know that all those extra hours will come in one big clump. They know they'll have an opportunity to make more big, unusual arrangements for Valentine's Day than any other time of the year, but they also know that they'll have to make many more cliched, boring or unattractive arrangements for Valentine's Day than at any other time of the year. Florists know their business will be flush with customers for the entire week before, but they also know that the worst type of customers come out for Valentine's Day.

I'd like to explain to you more about Valentine's Day from a florist's perspective - why the prices are so high, the work so stressful, and why you should skip the red roses, among other things.

How Do You Feel About Red Roses as Valentine's Day Gifts?

Blooming red roses
Blooming red roses | Source

Red roses as Valentine's Day gifts are

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A hand-tied dozen red roses with limonium and premium foliage including aspidistra leaves in a glass vase
A hand-tied dozen red roses with limonium and premium foliage including aspidistra leaves in a glass vase | Source

Why You Should Skip the Roses on Valentine's Day

The problem with Valentine's Day red roses is that everyone wants them. That may not sound like such a bad thing but the problem is that there simply are not enough red roses to meet the demand on Valentine's Day. Now, the logical thing to do would be to grow as many red roses as possible timed to be at their peak in the first two weeks of February and to only sell those red roses.

But people want to make as much money as possible off of Valentine's Day shoppers. The growers cut red roses that are not ripe enough to open off the bush and include those in shipments. Also, they become far less picky about quality control and pass off red roses they would have normally discarded for quality issues as good enough for Valentine's Day.

On top of that, the flower wholesalers try to keep the red roses shipped from the growers the previous week (and sometimes the week previous to that one!) fresh until Valentine's Day. The wholesalers do this by cooling and slightly dehydrating them. This is a really dirty trick because the florist who buys these floral time bombs can't tell that there's anything wrong with them until they've been given a fresh cut and allowed to sit in nutrient solution overnight. Even that's not a sure test - they can look fine, even for a couple of days but once they are out of the floral cooler for a while and in a recipient's warm home they flop over like jellyfish.

The same quality problems apply to other flowers at Valentine's Day to a lesser extent so you may want to rethink the whole cut flower concept and get your sweetie something else.

On top of the quality issues, at many shops there is another issue with red roses. Arranging roses in a vase is one of the first things many assistants learn. Since shops on Valentine's Day are flush with more complex orders requiring the skills of experienced designers, an assistant, a temp, or a new hire will likely be arranging your flowers. If there's time, an experienced designer will check them over before they head out the door but that is not always the case. This may result in roses arranged differently than what you are used to seeing from the shop you buy them from.

Exclamation point made of coins
Exclamation point made of coins | Source

Why Flowers Cost So Much at Valentine's Day

Flower wholesalers want to get into the gold mine at Valentine's Day, too, so they jack up the price of the roses at Valentine's Day as much as three to five times as much as usual. They also increase prices similarly high for other flowers for Valentine's Day. That is more than retail! The flower wholesalers know the florists have no choice but to buy them.

So florists often make LESS per flower and LESS per arrangement that costs you MORE on Valentine's Day than it usually would! But, I assure you, the customers don't get angry at the flower wholesalers, they get angry at the florists over Valentine's Day flower prices.

What accentuates this problem is that growers and wholesalers are often passing off inferior product at Valentine's Day, resulting in far greater spoilage. Florists have to throw out a much higher percentage of flowers at Valentine's Day for quality control purposes so they pay even more per flower than the jacked up prices due to the high percentage of flowers that arrive in an unsaleable condition.

Don't get me wrong, florists still make good coin on Valentine's Day, it just that it's actually due to a huge volume of sales rather than the outrageous prices, prices they've simply passed on from the wholesalers and growers. Many florists make less per dozen red roses on Valentine's Day than on a dozen red roses sold at any other time. They just happen to sell 20 to 200 times as many during Valentine's Week as they would on a normal week.

Modern heart bridal bouquet created by the author for a Michigan design contest
Modern heart bridal bouquet created by the author for a Michigan design contest | Source

Why Florists Work Really Long Hours for Valentine's Day

To meet the incredibly increased demand for flower arrangements on Valentine's Day it seems like the thing to do would be to hire on a whole bunch of temp designers, right? Unfortunately, that's not really all that workable. There are some temps available for Valentine's Day but temp workers present certain problems.

Most flower shops have a style which is part of their image and it's hard to train someone in your style in a day or two. Failure to do so can upset longstanding clients if the arrangements sent out for Valentine's Day don't meet the image they expected.

For some things, temp designers are great - making rose bouquets, processing flowers, and performing simple but vital tasks to keep the flower shop running smoothly. But there are usually not enough well trained temp designers to cover a flower shop's extra Valentine's Day business.

Part of the reason for that is that temp floral designers are usually retired or semi-retired floral designers. They are super for big weddings, special events, and during Mother's Day week. But some of them know what Valentine's Day is like in a flower shop and want nothing to do with the madhouse. Another part of the reason quality temp designers are hard to find for Valentine's Day is that they have been snatched up by other flower shops and there aren't enough to meet the demand. Chances are, if someone is a trained floral designer and has the stamina to work Valentine's Day, they are already working in a flower shop.

So this lack of available, good floral designer temps means that regular floral designers will work long days. During Valentine's Day weeks I've worked days as long as 20 hours and come back for more less than six hours later to do it again. People think floral design is not a demanding job but they also don't usually realize that it's a standing job. Fatigue takes a harsh toll on creativity and after a few really long days in a row, floral designers tend to be a bit worse for wear.

How this impacts you, as a flower customer is this - if you put in your order late a tired, possibly cranky and bleary-eyed designer is going to make your design with whatever is left. So order early for Valentine's Day, at least a week ahead of time, more if possible. Valentines Day pre-orders get done first by designers that are fresh with the flowers that are best.

A man pretending to be angry
A man pretending to be angry | Source

Why Some Valentine's Day Customers Are the Pits

Of course the vast majority of Valentine's Day flower shop customers are perfectly normal and very often completely wonderful people. But then there are the ones that aren't. Let's say one in a hundred customers is rude, mean, or nasty - that means that you might have over a dozen on Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day seems to really bring bad customers out, though. I think it's because some of the customers for Valentine's Day are different from the customers who order flowers for other occasions. Many Valentine's Day customers never order or buy flowers except at Valentine's Day. They aren't familiar with flowers or various concepts regular flower customers are such as the fact that flowers with labor added cost more and sales clerks aren't the same as floral designers, female or not. And believe it or not, some of these once a year customers don't realize that flowers die, usually within a week. Many Valentine's Day customers also don't seem to want to be buying flowers but they feel as if they have to.

What compounds this grumpy customer phenomenon is the fact that temp workers, often teens, are hired on to work just for the Valentine's Day rush. The floral designers themselves often ring up sales on regular days but they have to be making, making, making flower arrangements for Valentine's Day. So the staff an average Valentine's Day customer encounters can be less than knowledgeable.

Here's why I say some Valentine's Day customers are the pits- no less than once and usually several times, each polite, innocent salesclerk will get a very rude customer. At least one customer on Valentine's Day will make a scene at the top of his lungs because flowers cost more than he thought or because the shop can't drop all of the orders people placed weeks before for Valentine's Day and re-route the delivery vehicles to make a delivery within the hour. It's just such a surprise to the young clerks to see some adult throw a full-on tantrum over Valentine's Day flowers that it disrupts everything and really hurts their feelings.

An odd Valentine's day plush novelty
An odd Valentine's day plush novelty | Source

What Makes It All Worthwhile, Bad Flowers, Customer Tantrums and All

The thing that offsets the grumpy customers is that maybe one in fifty customers are above and beyond nice so floral shops get many more of them, too, for Valentine's Day. So there are at least twice as many super wonderful to deal with customers as icky customers on Valentine's Day and tons of pleasant customers, too.

One big plus of Valentine's Day, as far as I was always concerned, was getting to see so many customers just delighted when they picked up their Valentine's Day orders. It was also great to get the phone calls from tickled pink flower recipients and to see the steady stream of thank-you notes trickle in for the next few weeks after Valentine's Day.

Another high point for floral designers is getting to make big arrangements for Valentine's Day. Small arrangements are wonderful to make, too, but as a designer one is always trying to make the most impressive and beautiful thing she can - which is much easier when money isn't tight. There are also more "open orders" or "designer's choice" arrangements for Valentine's Day and the experienced designers get to do them. Those kind of orders are orders where the customer decides to leave the designing and flower choices up to the floral professionals. A typical "designer's choice" order might read something like - "I'd like to spend fifty dollars on the flowers and she likes yellow." These are so fun to do because the designer can make what he thinks is prettiest with the flowers he thinks are best.

A large arrangement sent as a Valentines day gift
A large arrangement sent as a Valentines day gift | Source

People Feel like They Have to Buy Flowers for Valentine's Day

Throughout the year, people send flowers to their loved ones. Florists get to see beautiful romantic gestures made with flowers every day. They write out customer messages on cards that are so tender and loving they'd make you cry. So much genuine love passes through a flower shop it's one of the reasons being a floral designer was my career.

Holidays are full of loving gestures, too. For Mother's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas people joyously send flowers to loved ones.

On Valentine's Day people feel obligated to give flowers. Some women expect and demand flowers for Valentine's Day and let me tell you, some of the guys don't like it one bit. Florists hear all about it.

Valentine's Day has been turned into an obligatory romance day, a day when people have to fake a spontaneous display of love or suffer social consequences. Don't get me wrong, it's sweet to get a token of love for your beloved on Valentine's Day, but it isn't spontaneous. And if you really aren't feeling like it and it's really just a token gesture made because you have to, well that's no fun at all!

Have You Ever Felt Pressured to Get a Valentine's Day Gift?

Have you ever felt you HAD to get a Valentine's Gift for someone?

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Kalanchoe blossoms on a live plant
Kalanchoe blossoms on a live plant | Source

My Advice for You on Valentine's Day

If you simply must send flowers, I strongly suggest sending a blooming plant as a Valentine's Day gift instead of cut flowers. The quality will just be better and it will last longer. Whatever you order, if you order from a flower shop for Valentine's Day, order at least a week ahead of time.

Write a love note. A large majority of Valentine's Day cards attached to flowers are just signed, "Love, Whatshisname" and nothing else.

Give a gift from the heart, not because you feel you have to because it's Valentine's Day.

Give your loved one something you think he or she will actually want, not what trends or traditions say you should get. A dozen red roses for Valentine's Day is the most tired cliche in the floral business and going by customers who purchase flowers for themselves, red roses aren't even a favorite of many women or men.

© 2010 Kylyssa Shay


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