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Gasoline prices make Catonsville florists feel less than rosy

Two Catonsville shops alter delivery tactics to compensate for higher costs

By Brian Conlin, bconlin@patuxent.com

3:05 PM EDT, April 17, 2012

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Just because gasoline prices now hover around $4 per gallon in the Catonsville area doesn't mean that Tom Medicus has started thinking about ways to cut costs.

It's practically ingrained in the Catonsville florist's DNA.

The Hilton Flower Shop had been in his family for about 70 years before Medicus took over in 2000.

To cut down on delivery costs in the late 1960s, the flower shop on the 900 block of Frederick Road entered a co-op with other Baltimore County florists , the Catonsville resident said.

Every day, a shop's employee and drivers from 20 other florists meet at central location off Washington Boulevard to swap floral arrangements so that each florist makes the deliveries closest to its shop.

"In these times, it works even better than it used to," Medicus said. "We used to complain when gas was a dollar."

In addition to making local deliveries in a more gas-efficient SUV instead of the gas-guzzling van he once used, he tries to consolidate trips. He also will charge a special delivery fee, if a customer can't wait for the next batch of deliveries.

Since 2000, Medicus said the amount of deliveries from his shop has dipped a small percentage to an average of about a dozen a day.

The shop serves clients around Baltimore County, deep into Howard County and into Carroll County, Medicus said.

While the average price for a gallon of gas has increased by 18 cents in the past year, according to the website of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the recent fuel spike hasn't forced him to raise his delivery prices. They've remained $7.99 for deliveries within five miles, $10.99 for areas beyond the five-mile radius and $12.99 for Baltimore City, Medicus said.

But the shop is considering raising them by a dollar, he said.

"The only other option is to raise the price of my flowers and include the delivery price in it, but I'd rather be up front with them," Medicus said.

One block east on Frederick Road, Blue Iris Flowers has slowly increased its delivery charge to keep up with the times.

Allison Glascock and her mother, Catherine, took over the 45-year-old shop a year ago and had to update the delivery price, the younger Glascock said.

"We had to up delivery and that was one thing I didn't want to do," Allison Glascock said. "It needed to be upped anyway. It was like a six- or seven-year-old delivery fee."

Even after switching from a van to a more fuel-efficient SUV in August, the shop kept the delivery price at $8.50 through Valentine's Day but upped it to $9.95 the next day, Allison Glascock said.

"Most customers understand. They're paying $4 a gallon, too," Allison Glascock said.

The shop averages between five and 10 deliveries each day and goes as far south as Glen Burnie, as far north as Towson, as far west as Ellicott City and into Baltimore City as far as Interstate 83.

"We try to go with a delivery fee that was average or below average of other florists in the area because we are in a very central location," said Allison Glascock, estimating 80 percent of her customers are in Catonsville.

Blue Iris Flowers attempts to use its location to its advantage.

Allison Glascock said they will walk arrangements to nearby customers without charging a delivery fee and will reduce delivery prices if a cluster of orders come from one location.

The younger Glascock couldn't provide a total number of deliveries her shop did for Valentine's Day, but said she received the indication that holidays are fertile for deliveries.

"Our Valentine's Day was through the roof, so I don't think the gas is going to hurt ourMother's Day," Allison Glascock said. "Unless it shoots up to $10 per gallon or something catastrophic like that."

It's not just the florists battling the high gas prices.

Flower wholesalers must also combat increased costs by raising the price of flowers, Allison Glascock said.

"We try to keep the prices of our flowers more stable because the wholesalers are paying more for gas," the Ellicott City resident said. "We're just trying to buy in bulk as much as possible and trying to do things that can go from season to season."