After a notable dip in sales, florists now are finding their product in short supply.
This Sunday will be a Mother's Day like no other. With restaurants closed and stay-at-home orders in place, there'll be no brunches or large family gatherings. For the local flower industry, though, Mother's Day is as busy as ever.
Like many other businesses, flower shops have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. Some have temporarily closed. But small florists and larger companies alike say their Mother's Day delivery slots filled up earlier and faster than usual this year.
"People are stuck at home ... They want to have something beautiful coming into the house," says Tobie Whitman, the owner of Little Acre Flowers in D.C. Whitman says after a sharp downturn in March, their delivery business has been increasing since Easter, including subscriptions for their recurring delivery service.
Jeanne Ha, the owner of Park Florist in Takoma Park, is also very busy now. For the past few weeks, they've had limited staff on site. "This week, we brought everyone in," she says.
Still, any uptick in delivery orders probably won't be enough to blunt the loss of revenue from weddings and other large events that have been canceled because of the pandemic.
"Our events business has been totally decimated. I'd say that's about [a] 100% drop. We did our last Bat Mitzvah the first week of March," Whitman says.
Beyond a change in volume, some florists are also seeing a change in where the orders are coming from. UrbanStems, an e-commerce startup that delivers nationwide but has roots in D.C., typically delivers loads of arrangements to office buildings downtown. These days, they're seeing more orders come from residential neighborhoods, according to CEO Seth Goldman.
And while customers are still placing orders, filling them during the pandemic hasn't been without its challenges.
Supply Chain Disruptions
Both Park Florist and UrbanStems rely largely on international farms to get their flowers, but the pandemic disrupted that supply chain.
The U.S. is the world's top importer of flowers, with the majority of shipments coming from Colombia followed, distantly, by countries like Ecuador and the Netherlands.
There have been high-profile stories about growers in the Netherlands destroying millions of tulips shortly after lockdowns set in and demand plummeted. Growers also tend to rely on commercial flights to transport their goods. With air travel way down, some companies have struggled to get their usual shipments.
"You're having more substitutions. So you order a pink rose and it may come a little bit more peach-colored," Goldman says, "Every week is a bit of a fire drill to meet customer demand ... For the most part, our customers have actually been very understanding as long as we are doing our part to productively communicate."
Kinks in the international supply chain are also affecting local growers.
Werner Jansen, the general manager of Bloomia — a flower farm in King George, Va. — says this has boosted his business. Bloomia is one of the largest growers of tulips on the East Coast and supplies much of its product to large retailers like Whole Foods. He's noticed some stores are now leaning more on local suppliers to fill out their stock.
"There was a higher demand for domestic flowers," Jansen says, "That kind of changed our opportunity window."
Whitman's store, Little Acres, has always been 100% locally sourced, so she hasn't been dealing with shipping issues. But she has noticed more competition for local blooms.
"We have longstanding relationships with a lot of the growers in the area, so we're okay, but, you know, that was kind of a learning curve for us," Whitman says, adding, "This might be an amazing thing for the local flower movement."
As they try to keep business running smoothly during uncertain times, florists, wholesalers and farms have all been taking safety precautions to protect their staff — spacing out work stations for the floral designers, providing masks and hand sanitizer, and cleaning daily.
Some of these precautions have made operations a little different. Whitman's business has six permanent employees, but they usually rely on a stable of freelancers who come in around major holidays.
"We say we have a surge capacity when it's Mother's Day or Valentines Day, but we aren't able to have that surge right now because of safety precautions," Whitman says.
UrbanStems has temporarily suspended same-day delivery, which relies on bike messengers. For now, they're using services like FedEx to ship orders, but Goldman says the company is making plans to resume same-day service.
Jansen, from the Bloomia farm, says the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster, for him and the entire industry. His business dipped for two or three weeks as the pandemic set in, but then orders started to pick back up.
"The general public figured out buying toilet paper and food in cans is not ... bringing that much joy," he says.