New Hampshire florists see demand bloom despite event cancellations

Proms and weddings are on hold, but they’re optimistic about 2021
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Annie Covey is a floral designer at Shirley’s Flowers and Sweets in Nashua. (Photo by Sheryl Rich-Kern)

To measure the yearning for human connection, look to trends in the flower industry.

When businesses shut down at the beginning of lockdowns, floral shop owners anticipated wilting sales. In March, “If we got one or two orders a day, we felt lucky,” said Jordan Hewson, owner of Designed Gardens Flower Studio in North Conway.

But then Mother’s Day hit and many florists found they couldn’t keep up with demand.

“It was unbelievable,” Hewson said. “I had to shut down my website because I couldn’t take a single more order.”

Up to 75% of businesses polled by The Society of American Florists reported increased sales on Mother’s Day this year, despite the pandemic, according to a press release published May 21.

“We’re really encouraged to see that spending increased, despite the many potential obstacles – financial, logistical – that could have driven floral spending on gifts downward,” said Society of American Florists (SAF) CEO Kate Penn.

Shirley Wrenn of Shirley’s Flowers and Sweets in Nashua recently added a third vehicle to keep up with demand. “We have been crazy, crazy, crazy,” she said, with Mother’s Day orders extending two weeks beyond May 10.

Mood elevators

Amid a backdrop of chaos and sorrow, sending floral arrangements with pops of color is a simple way for cooped-up friends to express support and solidarity as they adjust to the norms of social distancing.

Flowers are natural mood elevators, a fact that behavioral research from Rutgers University in New Jersey confirms. The study measured participants’ reactions to gifts of flowers against gifts of candles or fruit baskets, and only flowers elicited authentic smiles. This is all the more notable in time of coronavirus because these types of grins show up in the crow’s feet or laugh lines area of the face and are discernible behind a mask.

More people are also seeking blossoms native to the area, said researcher Kaitlyn Orde at the University of New Hampshire’s Sideman Lab.

The number of farms producing field-grown cut flowers in New Hampshire climbed from 64 to 101 farms, an increase of about 60%, in the decade from 2007 to 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Cut flowers are an increasingly important specialty crop in the state,” said Orde, “and [the spike] illustrates that consumer demand is strong for regionally-grown flowers.”

Despite the lack of special events, Bob Cote of wholesaler Baystate Farm Direct Flowers in Bedford says business has been brisk. However, the continued postponement of large gatherings for funerals and nuptials is not hardy news for florists powering through less than ideal conditions. “Weddings are our bread and butter for the summer,” Cote said.

Floral shops, like other retailers, are adjusting their operations to address customers’ hesitancy to browse in their aisles. In addition to offering delivery and curbside pickup, Hewson encourages people to visit her open-air greenhouse where she transferred many of her ancillary gift items. She also posted that same inventory on a revamped website.

“We’re still using that [the greenhouse and the website] for people who don’t feel comfortable coming into the store,” she said. “Being inventive is what got us through.”

Catalysts for compassion

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‘We have been crazy, crazy, crazy’ busy, says Shirley Wrenn of Shirley’s Flowers and Sweets in Nashua, who recently added a third vehicle to keep up with demand for flowers. (Photo by Sheryl Rich-Kern)

Community well-wishers also helped merchants withstand the pandemic’s aftermath. One customer started what Hewson calls a “flower chain.”

In April, Maryanne Jackson of North Conway purchased 20 table-sized bouquets of friezes, roses and greenery from Hewson with a note wishing people “joy and color,” asking them to support small businesses and consider paying forward the gift. Many of the recipients heeded the suggestion and called Hewson’s shop for more orders.

“It was a real Easter bunny, Christmas elf, tooth fairy kind of opportunity for us,” said Jackson.

That investment of kindness restored the dreariness of March, generating enough revenues to maintain Hewson’s cash flow.

With the Mother’s Day rush behind them, florists are mixed on what the future will hold.

Pandemics don’t have silver linings, but they’re catalysts for compassion. Aimee Godbout of the family-owned Jacques Flowers in Manchester, said she expects sales to drop off during summer, but she’s seen an uptick in customers placing orders outside of special occasions.

“There’s the everyday ‘I miss you,’” as people choose flowers for parents they’re unable to visit, a neighbor who can’t get out of the house or the local nursing staff, she said.

“Right now there’s a lot of ugliness happening in the world,” said Godbout. Working at a flower shop provides contrast. “Every time you pick up the phone, it’s someone calling to be nice.”

Wrenn, of Shirley’s Flowers, has noticed that requests are grander and more intricate. Instead of ordering simple bouquets to honor birthdays, customers want floral cakes dotted with lavender blooms and candles. Or they request novelties: flower arrangements designed to resemble mermaids, unicorns or cats.

Meanwhile, proms and graduations are canceled. Godbout said her company normally sets up the stages to honor these milestones, but “all that business is gone.”

Offsetting a potential summer slump is Godbout’s garden shop. Springtime has pollinated a kinship for plants and with people spending more time at home, even those without a green thumb are taking up the horticulture hobby to cultivate a backyard escape.

In the last week or so, Godbout has arranged phone or video consultations from brides who rescheduled or are starting to plan their ceremonies for 2021.

Many of the more than 400,000 vendors that support the $74 billion wedding industry are small mom-and-pop shops. Stay-at-home orders hit them hard. Hewson says about 80% of custom orders for weddings were canceled this year. She expects a quiet summer, but then a rush to squeeze in the 2020 postponements with the brides and grooms of 2021.

“It’s almost like we’re taking this time to really prepare for how intense the wedding season is going to be 2021,” she said.

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