Columnist

Local florists find more competition for fewer consumers

 
 
  • Debbie Leavitt, left, and Jennifer Mullen work on flower arrangements to prepare for Mother's Day at Debbie's Floral in Mundelein.

    Debbie Leavitt, left, and Jennifer Mullen work on flower arrangements to prepare for Mother's Day at Debbie's Floral in Mundelein. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Jennifer Mullen, manager of Debbie's Floral in Mundelein, says people are still buying flowers for Mother's Day. Some are just ordering less-expensive arrangements.

    Jennifer Mullen, manager of Debbie's Floral in Mundelein, says people are still buying flowers for Mother's Day. Some are just ordering less-expensive arrangements. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Published: 5/7/2009 12:02 AM

Suburban floral shop owners are cautiously preparing their petals for their biggest holiday of the year.

A slow economy and competition from big floral brands have forced many area florists to cut back on their fresh-cut flower orders leading up to Mother's Day. The florists don't want to be left with extras that they may not be able to sell next week.

"Times are tough. I've scaled back my orders to the wholesaler by 40 percent over last year. We have to be slim and trim. It's a bad economy," said Christy Dugo-Rudie, owner of Joseph's floral and gift shop in Libertyville. "You can't over order in a down economy. A florist feels it right in their pocket."

The florists are cutting back because the consumer is buying less.

Spending on Mom this year is expected to drop 10 percent to $14 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. But flowers remain the most popular gift. Flowers account for about $2 billion in sales in the two-week window leading up to Mother's Day. This is twice as much as for Valentine's Day, which also saw drooping flower sales.

Florist Don Robbins has trimmed his flower orders for Sunday by nearly 20 percent.

"I think sales are going to be down," said Robbins, the owner of Robbins Flowers in St. Charles and Batavia.

However, he added that the flowers are coming in really fresh from South America and Mexico.

The manager of a Lake County florist store is finding that people are still buying flowers for their moms but spending less money on the arrangement.

"Flowers are not a necessary thing. Business is slower than usual," said Jennifer Mullen at Debbie's Floral in Mundelein.

Growing competition is also dampening sales at the independent floral shop. Shoppers are finding a lower-priced selection at Jewel or Dominick's Finer Foods because the big retailers are able to obtain better deals when they order in such large quantities, said Donna Matthias, owner of Donna's Custom Flowers in Mundelein.

The big floral brands, such as FTD.com and 1-800-Flowers.com, are also doing more to entice buyers wanting lower-priced arrangements, she said. These companies have turned into the local floral shop's competitor, Dugo-Rudie said.

Brad Behrens, manager at Phillip's Flowers & Gifts in Naperville agrees. He said customers often don't realize that the big floral brands are serving as a middleman between the florist and consumer. Service and delivery fees are added for taking the order.

Times have changed in the flower industry. Consumers now have other options Dugo-Rudie said. Long gone are the days when a shopper who wanted fresh cut flowers had to go directly to the local florist.

"I just don't see it being a gang-buster holiday," Behrens said.

Flower sales fall

Year Spending (in billions)

2007 $2.3

2008 $2.0

2009* $1.9

Source: NRF 2009 Mother's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey

* Expected sales