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From South America with love

Come mid-winter in mid-Ohio, the thought of soaking up the sun’s rays and 70-degree temperatures in South America sounds like a great vacation.

But for Tom Royer, traveling to Bogota, Colombia, is work.

Tom is senior vice president and chief operating officer for Connells Maple Lee Flowers. For the past 30 years, Tom has been making regular visits to flower farms near Bogota.

One of those trips comes every year in advance of Valentine’s Day, which is the floral equivalent of the Super Bowl. Tom visits South America in order to check on the quality of the product that will wind up in our customers’ homes and workplaces.

“It’s a product of the way we do things,” Tom said. “We’re very detailed about a lot of things we do. Flower-buying is just one of them.”

Bogota sits on a plateau, giving it year-round fall temperatures that are ideal for growing flowers.

Back in the early days, Tom remembers, construction of a bridge was cause for celebration in Bogota. Roads leading to the flower farms would wash out. Today, much to Tom’s delight, Bogota is a modern city.

Then as now, the purpose for going to Bogota is simple.

“We want the best possible flowers we can find,” Tom said.

By visiting the farms, Tom can inspect the latest crop in the field. He makes sure that the farms cut the flowers at the right maturity. He always carries his measuring tool to ensure that he’s getting the right length and head sizes for the flowers that Connells Maple Lee buys.

Tom’s work doesn’t end in Colombia. After several days on the farms, he then flies to Miami, where the flowers will arrive via cargo plane from Bogota. Until the flowers clear customs, they will be stored in refrigerated warehouses. Tom will inspect the flowers again to make sure that they fared well on the flight.

Finally, the flowers will be loaded on a refrigerated tractor-trailer destined for Connells Maple Lee’s distribution center in Grove City, which will receive some 60,000 roses and carnations, among other flowers, just for Valentine’s Day.

With so much fragile product involved, Connells Maple Lee has its schedule down to a science. Flowers can’t arrive too early, lest they wilt before the holiday. They can’t arrive too late or Connells Maple Lee won’t have enough time to create all of the arrangements that will be needed.

When the tractor-trailer arrives from Miami, it will be unloaded immediately, the flowers cut under water to maximize their moisture intake. The Connells Maple Lee team will be geared up to make thousands of arrangements.

“The goal is trying to eliminate any product issues when the flowers arrive in Grove City, because we cut the schedule tight,” Tom said. “We have it very well orchestrated.”

It’s that tight schedule – and Connells Maple Lee’s control of it from farm field all the way to consumers – that ensures the best quality possible.

The big online retailers can’t say the same thing. They don’t actually make their arrangements, instead contracting out that work. The result is much longer lead times – and a commensurate variation in quality – when compared with Connells Maple Lee.

“And from a competitive standpoint, we have to do that better,” Tom said. “That’s the way I look at it, is that we have to be better than anyone else. We have to have fresher stuff. It has to be much nicer.”

 

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