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Growing flower prices wilt Arbutus area florists' profits

Higher prices for flowers and online competition at root of problem

Lauren Loricchio, lloricchio@tribune.com

6:00 AM EST, February 12, 2014

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Valentine's Day is the busiest day of the year for Jackie Jones, owner of Corner Florist in Lansdowne.

"It's our busiest single day holiday," Jones said, as she sat at a table surrounded by freshly cut roses and carnations as two floral designers chatted with customers.

A large bouquet of roses surrounded by baby's breath was displayed on a table adorned with Valentine's Day decorations.

The Hammonds Ferry Road shop sells between 2,000 and 3,000 roses every year for the holiday, said designer Jenn Murphy, 29, who has worked at Corner Florist for 13 years. For the past 22 years, Valentine's Day has remained the store's busiest day.

But profits are on the decline, a situation not unique to the local shop. Florists in Arbutus say the rising cost of flowers coupled with competition from online websites have taken their toll on their profits.

"Years ago, you could count on Valentine's Day making up 50 percent of yearly sales," Jones said. "That doesn't happen any more, because prices have changed so much."

The co-owner of Riedel's Flowers in Arbutus, Cheryl Riedel, agrees.

"We are making a lot less money," said Riedel, who has been in the business for 35 years.

Jones said the price of the flowers she buys has gone up every year, increases she attributes to rising labor and fuel costs, and unpredictable weather that destroys flowers.

Those increases mean less profit, as both florists said they have kept their prices for roses the same for years — even as their costs continue to increase.

Riedel used to order roses from Pennsylvania, but now has to have them shipped from California and South America, which makes them more expensive, she said.

Jones started her business in 1992 when another florist shop down the street from where hers is now located closed and she saw a need for one in the community. While she appreciates the beauty of flowers, her motivation for starting the business was providing customer service to the community.

Her husband, Fred Jones, a retired Anne Arundel County firefighter, assists her with administrative duties, while she handles sales, customer service and ordering.

Riedel's Flower's is also a family-run business. Established 65 years ago, it is now run by Cheryl and Philip Riedel, and their daughter, Patricia.

Riedel's Flower's is also a family-run business. Established 65 years ago, it is now run by Cheryl and Philip Riedel and their daughter, Patricia. 

Another company, House of Arnold Florist, has been run by Suzanne Matthew and her sister Sharon Joseph since 2005. 

The relatively new competition from online retailers, who offer flower arrangements at rock bottom prices, have complicated the lives of local florists. 

However, Matthew said she doesn't see online companies as competition because she provides her customers with better quality flowers.

The online retailers take orders, which they hand off to local florists who fill them. 

Corner Florist and House of Arnold Florist, don't work with any of the online florist companies, they said. However, Riedel fills orders for a few of them.

“We fill orders for several of the online sites. We wouldn't be here if we didn't,” she said. “They have much more money to position themselves on the Internet.” 

Because the companies offer floral arrangements at low prices, the quality of the product suffers.

"Let's face it, something has to give," Riedel said.

All three florists pointed out that while online companies offer lower prices, there are hidden fees that add up and often make the floral arrangements similar in price to those offered at a local florist.

"They are people who are just taking orders and passing them on, so there is no personal relationship with you," Jones said.

"The quality you're getting [from online companies] is not your local florist quality," she said.

When customers ask the local store to match the low prices offered by online companies, Murphy says Corner Florist can't because their flowers are of a higher quality and cost more.

"I can't provide them with a dozen high quality roses for $19.99. They're costing me more than that," Jones said.

There have been times when customers have purchased flowers from an online company that are of poor quality or arrive late, and they have become customers of Corner Florist, Murphy said.

"I feel like they know what they're getting here. [Customers] are going to see me around in the community. I want to give people top quality," said Jones, a board member of the Lansdowne Business and Professional Association.