Rising gasoline prices make Arbutus florists reconsider delivery options

Whether a token of affection or a pick-me-up, sending flowers via a special delivery makes the message even more special, said Suzana Mathew.

"It's a nice gesture and a good surprise," said Mathew, owner of House of Arnold Florist on Annapolis Road. "We get to see that first hand when we deliver flowers."

Mathew said she has seen her shop's daily deliveries drop to between five and 20 a day, about a third of what it was when she opened in 2005.

She attributes the drop to the steady-rise in the price of gasoline.

According to the website of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the average price of gas in the Arbutus area has increased 21 cents since last year and currently sits at nearly $4 a gallon.

That rise means higher expenses when the shop sends out its staffed driver for local deliveries or hires an independent contractor for deliveries farther away, Mathew said.

"We usually just absorb the shock and rebound with it," Mathew said, noting she raised her local delivery price a $1 to $9.95 in mid-March. "But if it's not a temporary thing, and we don't see relief in the long run, it'll be a different thing for us."

In February, Riedel's Flowers in Arbutus, also reluctantly raised its delivery prices by $1, pushing the cost to $10.95, said owner Cheryl Riedel.

"People are getting pinched everywhere with things going up. I hate to do it," Riedel said. "If the gasoline does go down, we'll lower our delivery charge."

The choice to up the delivery charge comes even as some florists offer free delivery, which Riedel called impossible.

"We try to showcase the true cost. No one can really, truly offer free delivery," Riedel said. "They're using a lesser grade of flower or putting less flowers in the item."

To combat increased costs, Riedel said she attempts to consolidate deliveries so her fleet of vans and small cars at the shop on Linden Avenue make fewer trips.

That's not always possible, however, as often customers want their flowers as soon as possible, she said.

Jackie Jones, owner of the Corner Florist in Lansdowne, said that she has held off hiking the price of her delivery charge. But she may not be able to hold off much longer.

"I have not done it yet, but it's all being contemplated right now," said Jones, noting she spoke with her husband and co-owner, Fred, over Easter weekend about raising prices. "I don't want to gouge anyone, but at the same token I can't lose money."

Jones said she makes deliveries from her shop on Hammond's Ferry Road as far west as Clarksville in Howard County, as far south as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and as far north as Sparks in northern Baltimore County.

The delivery charges vary between $10.95 and $16.95, based on how far the driver must go.

"We cover a huge area. And here's the deal, we go that far because the work comes directly out of our shop," Jones said.

Some florists contract others closer to the delivery site to put together an arrangement, but Jones avoids the practice unless the arrangement is out of state, she said.

"If I do that, I lose control of what the arrangement looks like," she said.

Rather than relying more on her own fleet of vehicles, Jones said her 20-year-old shop relies on an independent contractor to make deliveries for her.

"I'm using him more, because there's no wear and tear on my vehicle," Jones said, noting that her shop still makes the deliveries to Arbutus and Catonsville.

Any dips in deliveries or business that florists have had in recent years cannot only be attributed to rising gas prices, Riedel said.

"The flower business in general has seen decreases in this economy," she said. "People still have to cut back on expenses."

With people pinching pennies, that means fewer arrangements are sent to funerals and viewings and fewer bouquets are sent as birthday gifts and get-well gifts, Riedel said.

Holidays, like next month'sMother's Day, remain a strong time for business, Riedel and Matthew agreed.

"The holidays are very strong. We've actually had increases," Riddle said.

"Holidays, people don't usually hold back at all, like Valentine's Day andMother's Day, because everyone has a mom," Matthew said.

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