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A Guy’s Guide to Flower Buying

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There’s a gender gap when it comes to buying flowers: Women buy 65 percent of fresh flowers, according to the Society of American Florists, while men buy 35 percent.

To the extent that men might be intimidated or uncomfortable buying flowers, we’d like to make the experience a more enjoyable one for them.

To do this, we tapped the expertise of our own Cheryl Brill, who shared these insights based her more than 20 years of experience in the flower business.

Roses are red – and lots of other colors

Too often, men think only of roses for their significant others, and then only in red. Cheryl encourages male customers to be more adventurous, whether it’s with other colors of roses, other flower varieties, or other looks such as a textured garden appearance.

Don’t stop at Valentine’s Day

Maybe the tendency to focus on red roses has a lot to do with Valentine’s Day which, let’s face it, is ruled by red roses. But the year has only just begun when Valentine’s Day rolls around, so why not mix it up for the 364 days that don’t fall on Feb. 14?

What’s more, 63 percent of flower purchases are for the buyer, compared with 37 percent as gifts. And 86 percent of purchases are for non-calendar occasions, 50 percent of which fall into the “no special occasion” category. The bottom line is that people like to receive flowers any day of the year.

Bouquets don’t have to break the bank

Flower prices tend to rise around Valentine’s Day, in concert with a spike in demand for what is the floral industry’s equivalent of football’s Super Bowl. If that’s the only time of year that you purchase flowers, you can get a warped sense of how much they cost on a day-to-day basis.

Cheryl described how a $7.99 rose bunch made a positive impression on one male customer, who realized that he could afford to be a more frequent flower buyer.

Get the right vase

If she likes to arrange flowers, Cheryl said, then get her a vase that lends itself to arranging and one that fits the décor of the room where it will be used. Does she tend to put flowers on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table?

You don’t have to DIY

In this age of do-it-yourself, there’s a tendency to think that we must go it alone with everything. Rest assured, your trained florist is eager to help. It starts with the right container; she noted that it doesn’t have to be a plain, clear vase. Either bring one in, or your florist can help you select one.

Think about what you want to say

Before you visit or call your florist, Cheryl advised, think about the words you want to send along with the flowers. She said florists are a bit like bartenders: they’ve seen and heard everything, so don’t be embarrassed. Speak from the heart because the sentiment is just as important as the flowers that it goes with.

Valentine’s Day is an oasis amid the darkness of winter, Cheryl said, but it’s nice to see male customers the rest of the year, too.

Highlights from our fall catalog

Every year, we introduce a fall catalog that contains approximately 20 percent new products. We asked Geoff Royer, a member of our product development team, to describe how some of the new arrangements came about. Here’s what he told us:

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One of the tasks of the product development team was to come up with more arrangements that are specific to birthdays. This arrangement does just that with the birthday bear that’s attached to the vase.

This is the fourth in our lineup of Big Hugs vases. We also have redesigned the baby boy and baby girl versions of that style.

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We realized in the spring that we could do better on the pricing of the mini callas than we had before so we opted to develop a few arrangements with them.

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This collection of arrangements is a new style for us, each one in a nine-inch glass bowl that we’d never carried before. We used them in some new lifestyle shots we are using to enhance our brochure and websites.

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This addition features several flowers that are new to us, namely the Memphis daisy pom, charmellia alstromeria, and Nobbio cherry carnation.

We had featured Memphis at previous holidays. We loved the color and the lateral lengths on the daisy but no one grew it year-round until now.

Charmellia is a new product in the floral world. It lasts incredibly long and, as it opens, it changes from dark pink to a lighter pink.

The colors and variegation of the Nobbio cherry petals are like nothing we’d ever seen. This carnation is from a farm called Geoflora, which is associated with South American carnation breeder S.B. Talee.

Talee developed the Nobbio series in response to a Japanese market that wanted something beyond the standard red, white and pink combination with a longer stem length. We can take the sizes the Japanese markets don’t want at a good price.

Refresh: Connells Maple Lee launches new website

Temperatures go from warm to cool, green leaves turn gold, red, orange.

And just as fall is the season of change in the natural world, it can be in the digital realm, too.

At Connells Maple Lee, this fall coincides with the launch of our new website. It’s still at cmlflowers.com, of course, but it has a fresh, crisp new look and functionality that should make the shopping experience even more fulfilling. (This look also is evident in our e-blasts and printed fall catalog.)

Among the improvements, both functionally and aesthetically:

  • The website now features “responsive” design, which means that it adjusts to the size of the browser in which it is viewed. We realize that customers shop online from different-sized screens, from desktop to laptop, tablet to smart phone.
  • Additional filters help shoppers more readily find what they’re looking for. For instance, instead of just searching by price across all products, it’s now possible to narrow that search by categories. Soon you’ll be able to filter by flower and color, too.
  • Arrangements are shown bigger and scale according to screen size.
  • Text is set against transparent colors, allowing more of the background flower images to shine through.
  • If the curvy page designs have a familiar feel, it’s because they are macro-views of actual flower shapes. The size, color and placement of the shapes are not determined by templates but rather are unique to each layout. This allows the layouts to remain fresh and change with the seasons.

What do you think of our new website? We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below, or let us know the next time you visit one of our stores.

Oh, Atlanta, we hear you calling

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We don’t procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. In fact, no sooner is one Christmas in the rearview mirror than we start planning for the next one.

It’s not that we’re eager for the passage of time. Rather, we’re beckoned by AmericasMart in Atlanta, which describes itself as the nation’s leading gift, home furnishings and area rug wholesale marketplace.

In Atlanta, we might purchase containers bearing a Christmas decoration, or snowflake or snowman stick-ins to complement an arrangement. We source Christmas décor at AmericasMart but also gifts that customers will give at the holidays, such as a picture frame.

A half-dozen Connells Maple Lee representatives visit AmericasMart’s three-building, 7 million-square-foot complex every January, buying gifts and arrangement accents for the next Christmas season, and again in July, when the focus will be on the next spring.

Focus on larger gifts

Jenni Eberly has made six trips to Atlanta, so she’s a veteran now. But as a first-time visitor, she found the experience daunting.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “looking at all that merchandise set out in the displays. Because then you have to take these huge displays and then pick out what you’re going to buy.”

As vast as AmericasMart is, Connells Maple Lee spends most of its time on five floral and holiday floors. In July, the group arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and worked through Friday. The pace is constant, and even lunch and dinner conversation turns to what each of them has seen from vendors.

Geoff Royer coordinates the Atlanta trips. He sets up meetings with specific vendors. He also arms each member of the Connells Maple Lee delegation with a folder that identifies, by holiday, items on their shopping list.

The needs range from broad to specific. In January, some of the focus was on larger gifts, such as clocks, afghans and pillows that are relatively new for Connells Maple Lee. In July, one of the goals was to find new versions of a heart stick-in and accent ribbon to give a new look to an existing arrangement.

Erica Bixby has been to Atlanta three times. With experience, she has learned to think beyond the initial appeal of new products to identify how they will work in Connells Maple Lee’s stores.

How will they complement other items, and will they work given the price at which they will have to sell, including once freight costs are factored in?

Something might look nice, Erica suggested, “but you can’t really sell it for $50.”

Moments of inspiration

Technology has made it easier to document the trips. Photos taken with a tablet or smart phone are invaluable for jogging memories. After all, Christmas giftware purchased in January won’t arrive until summer or fall.

Photos also capture moments of inspiration.

“I have a bunch of things that I liked for silks,” Erica said, with an eye toward Connells Maple Lee crafting similar arrangements in-house rather than buying them already made.

“Or I take pictures of displays that I’d like to duplicate in the stores,” Jenni added.

On her phone, Jenni pulled up a photo showing how one vendor used eye hooks and ropes to display pillows.

“It’s up, it’s still in the display, but it’s out of the way,” Jenni said, noting that pillows are vulnerable in a flower shop, where the need to water plants is constant.

One week after returning from the July trip, Erica and Jenni were looking at tables filled with arrangements being created or revamped for fall debuts. They estimated that 30 percent of the items were from Atlanta.

“That container, that container, that container,” Jenni said, pointing at specific arrangements. “That vase. Those deer [figures]. Those are all things that we picked up in January.”

Plants and pets: know the facts to keep dogs and cats healthy

No plant says Christmas quite like the poinsettia. But nary a holiday season goes by without poinsettias being negatively associated with pet health.

Yet the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says poinsettias “may be the most misrepresented plant when it comes to toxicity. Since 1919 poinsettias have been called lethal if ingested by pets. However, many animal studies have shown that it is just not true.”

Relatively few plant and flower species are dangerous to pets, and the effects can range widely.

As the ASPCA notes, poinsettias and other holiday plants are not good for pets to ingest, potentially irritating the mouth and stomach and sometimes causing vomiting, but generally are “over-rated in toxicity.”

The same can’t be said about lilies and cats. Eating just a couple of leaves or licking a few pollen grains off their fur can quickly cause kidney failure, according to CBS News.

“A cat that’s eaten part of a lily will vomit soon afterwards, but this may gradually lessen after two to four hours. Within 12 to 24 hours, the cat may start to urinate frequently. Urination may then stop if kidney failure occurs. If untreated, a cat will die within four to seven days after eating a lily.”

This is the case for any true lily — belonging to the plant genus Lilium — including Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily, Japanese show lily and certain species of daylily.

In contrast, the calla lily, peace lily, lily of the valley and Peruvian lily (alstroemeria) are not true lilies and won’t cause kidney failure in cats although they have other toxic principles, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.

If you love plants and pets, then it’s a good idea to consider which ones are the best fit for your home. Here are several resources:

The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center offers an exhaustive, sortable list of plants that are toxic or non-toxic to dogs and cats. The list focuses on plants “that have been reported as having systemic effects on animals and/or intense effects on the gastrointestinal tract,” according to the ASPCA, which cautions that the list is not meant to be all-inclusive.

If you think your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, the ASPCA suggests contacting your veterinarian or its 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

The Humane Society offers an informative — and highly alliterative — list of “plants potentially poisonous to pets.”

The Pet Poison Helpline offers its Top 10 Plants Poisonous to Pets.

Of course, as the Pet Poison Helpline notes:

“While there are thousands of species of plants and flowers, only a small percentage of plants are truly dangerous and poisonous to your pet.”

Our flowers are rooted in many places around the world

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North America to South America. Europe, Africa and Asia.

Oh, the places we’ll go to procure high-quality flowers.

We’ve previously told you about our regular trips to Bogota, Colombia, which has an ideal climate for growing roses, for instance.

Here’s a sampling of other flowers and the countries from which we source them:

Hydrangeas/pompons: Medellin, Colombia
Iris/tulips: Holland
Dendrobium: Thailand
Gerbera daisies: Canada
Hypericum: Ethiopia
Carnations/alstromeria: Bogota, Colombia
Gypsophilia: Quito, Ecuador
Sunflowers: United States
Sweetheart roses: Holland

Postcard from South America: Day 3

Day three found Tom Royer and Geoff Royer again in Bogota, again inspecting Valentine’s Day roses, this time at the Multiflora farm.

“The quality was very good from what we saw,” Geoff said. “It’s impossible to look at every bunch we get, but we make sure we go through the process with them about the cut point, again.”

As noted in our Day 2 entry, cut point is crucial. It’s the stage in a flower’s life when it is cut from the plant. The cut point has to be just right to ensure that our customers get the best quality and most value from their flowers.

Multiflora has invested in its processes to make them more accurate and efficient. Workers used to grade flowers in the field, so it was not as accurate as it could be, Geoff said.

Now the only thing they do in the field is sort the roses, long-stem vs. short stem. Now there’s a post-harvest building where the roses are graded more accurately, prepped and packed in boxes for shipping to customers such as Connells Maple Lee.

Multiflora now cools its loading dock, so there is no break in the “cold chain” between the post-harvest building, the loading dock, and the refrigerated trucks that will transport the roses to the airport.

“The better that flowers can be kept cold, the longer they will last throughout the process and for our customers,” Geoff said.

Multiflora is switching to a hydroponic growing system, so the plants are growing in raised beds rather than directly in the ground. This gives the farm more control over the nutrients the plants receive — and increases the yield by 50 percent.

Headed for home

Tom and Geoff also visited the Hossa farm, which provides us with spray roses (multiple small blooms per stem). But the focus of this stop was Hossa’s lilies.

Hossa has developed new varieties that produce more blooms per stem. And like Multiflora, Hossa has improved its processes, namely packing.

“They tightened the lilies into the boxes better so during transport they don’t shift,” Geoff said. “If the lilies shift in the boxes, it damages the buds and leaves bruising and creasing once the flowers open up.”

Their farm tours completed, Tom and Geoff are heading home. Tom will make one more stop, however, flying to Miami for another inspection of the Valentine’s Day shipments, ensuring the highest quality before the flowers are packed on our truck for delivery to our Grove City distribution center.

There, our employees will handcraft thousands of holiday arrangements using the roses, carnations and other Colombian-grown flowers that Geoff and Tom saw firsthand only days earlier.

Postcard from South America: Day 2

We started Tom Royer and nephew Geoff Royer’s trip to Colombia, South America, in the city of Medellin. Day 2 found them some 335 miles southwest in Bogota, the nation’s capital.

Bogota sits in the center of Colombia, on a high-altitude plateau that provides year-round steady temperatures that help make it one of the world’s great flower-growing regions.

Tom and Geoff visited two more farms. The first was Elite, one of the largest growers in Bogota and our source mainly for roses and alstroemeria (lilies).

“Today was an inspection day,” Geoff said. “We examined some of our roses and discussed the cut point of the flowers.”

The cut point is, as the term suggests, the stage in the flower’s life cycle at which it is cut from the plant. There is an art to this, as we have to factor in the amount of time from farm, through customs in Miami, to our distribution center, to our stores and, finally, to our customers.

“Roses cut too open will blow open more quickly and not last as long,” Geoff said. “Roses cut too tight may not open at all. We are very critical of this part of the process and work with the growers to ensure that they have our cut points correct so we can provide the best possible product to our customers.”

While Elite has machines to help newer employees with grading the roses for head size and length, all of Connells Maple Lee’s roses are hand-graded by Elite’s experienced crews to ensure the best quality.

From Elite, Tom and Geoff visited the Geoflora farm, a carnation grower whose quality, Geoff said, is second to none. Besides inspecting the mini-carnations and carnations that Geoflora is growing for us for Valentine’s Day, they got a glimpse at some of the new products the farm is developing with its breeder.

“They have developed a carnation head size that is almost in a class of its own,” Geoff said.

Postcard from South America: Medellin flower farms

While they’re getting ready to play a big football game in Houston, Connells Maple Lee is gearing up for its version of the Super Bowl with our annual pre-Valentine’s Day trip to South America.

Tom Royer, our senior vice president and chief operating officer, has been making the trip for decades. In recent years, he has been joined by his nephew, Geoffrey Royer, who is a company area manager.

Their trek allows them to ensure that the roses and other Valentine’s Day flowers growing specifically for our customers are of the highest quality.

Day 1 found Tom and Geoff at the Liberty and Mira Monte farms in Medellin, Colombia, from which Connells Maple Lee mainly purchases daisies and cushion poms.

“The thing I took from today was how very technical it all is and the precision and detail needed to make it all work correctly,” Geoff said.

Conversation at both farms turned to propagation, or the process from seed to mother plants from which cuttings are taken. The cuttings beget plugs that are planted into vast beds and become the flowers we buy.

Planting for Mother’s Day

Geoff noted that while we’re focused on Valentine’s Day, the farms are planting for Mother’s Day.

“Planting any later than the next week or so could cause the crop to be too late for Mother’s Day,” Geoff said.

He noted the multiple variables that play roles in how flowers develop, from minerals such as phosphorus and potassium to sunlight and temperature.

Whatever their current products, the farms aren’t resting on their laurels. They work with breeders to create the varieties of flowers that Connells Maple Lee and other florists purchase.

“It’s not a simple process,” Geoff said. “Hundreds of thousands of seeds are gone through and test to see which ones produce plants and products that could be valued in the marketplace.

“They are then propagated and tested over time to see if they have issues with disease or how well they produce. If they have a winner, it takes time to then create enough cuttings to have a large enough production to make an impact.”

 

‘Freedom’ on the march when it comes to roses

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We’ve all heard the line from Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Far be it for us to quibble with “The Bard,” but names do matter when it comes to distinguishing among rose breeds. This certainly is the case with our standard red rose, which is anything but standard.

Known as the “Freedom” variety, it has been our primary rose since its 2004 introduction by the rose-breeding experts at Rosen-Tantau in Germany. The pure-red Freedom rose, which is grown in South America and Mexico, is known for being a productive plant that is highly resistant to pests and diseases.

What’s more for consumers, the Freedom rose makes a big impression with its deep color, size (flowers range from 5 to 7 centimeters across), and long vase life.

ROSE PETALS

Some tidbits about roses courtesy of aboutflowers.com:

  • Shakespeare referred to roses more than 50 times in his writings.
  • Napoleon’s wife Josephine grew more than 250 rose varieties.
  • Archeologists discovered fossilized remains of wild roses that were more than 40 million years old.
  • The world’s oldest living rose is 1,000 years old and flourishing on the wall of Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany.
  • The rose hips (the part left on the plant after a rose has finished blooming) contains more Vitamin C than almost any other fruit or vegetable.