Florists Blooming Online – Local Flower Shops Flourish On Web
Is local better? Despite better-known big-name flower marketers, some local florists are thriving online, and customers are flocking to their Web sites for convenience, value, and quality.
The Internet has changed the face of business. In the United States alone, more than two-thirds of the population uses the Web regularly, and online revenues are growing nearly three times faster than traditional sales. The flower business is no exception. Flowers are already one of the most popular online shopping categories, and roughly 90% of florists in the U.S. and Canada have some type of Web site.
“Today, an e-commerce Web site is a necessity to do business in the flower industry,” says Barry Pond, President of Jackman’s The Floral Pros in Ontario. “Online ordering is the fastest growing channel compared to phone or in-store options and appeals to a younger demographic; in other words, our future clients.” According to Walter Knoll III of Walter Knoll Florist in greater St. Louis. “Our Web site is the glue that keeps us close to our customers, guides what products are being produced, and disseminates information to our employees.”
The move to the Web is one that fits the new generation. Revolutionary sites like eBay and Amazon have changed the way we buy and sell. With flowers, it’s a big net gain for the consumer. Flower lovers can still visit a local flower shop or order flowers by phone, but the Internet offers 24/7 convenience and a host of other services. It’s not surprising that a few large floral companies have emerged. What may be surprising to some is that a handful of more established traditional florists have kept pace, carving out a niche with online customers seeking more personalized service and direct local delivery.
“The Web was a natural outgrowth of our core business,” says Baxter Phillip of Phillip’s Flower & Gifts, a third-generation florist with ten shops in the Chicago area. “We began sending floral orders electronically to fellow florists in the late Seventies. Then, we began receiving orders in electronic format from large commercial customers in the ’80s. We launched our first complete online flower shop in 1995 and haven’t looked back since.”
Walter Knoll Florist opened its first online store in the mid-1980s. Its Web site at www.wkf.com features local specials, wedding flowers, flower care tips, delivery tracking, employment information, and more. “It’s a full-fledged branch store,” explained Knoll, “where customers can find almost anything they need to know about our products and services.”
How do these more traditional local florists compete online? According to Pond, who oversees www.jackmanflowers.com, “We offer customers the best of both worlds — professionally trained florists able to serve their local needs combined with a network of skilled florists elsewhere for convenient nationwide and worldwide delivery.” “Customers love being able to see the flowers they’re sending,” explains Phillip, “the convenience of ordering online anytime day or night, and our same-day and next-day local and nationwide delivery.” Knoll adds, “We’re much more nimble than most national companies, and build our business on personal relationships instead of just marketing dollars.”
At www.viviano.com, operated by Viviano Flower Shop, headquartered in Saint Clair Shores, MI, customers especially like the wedding flowers portfolio, which includes a budget estimator, as well as the ease of being able to order online. Other online resources include sympathy flowers, event decorations, and a detailed flower library. According to Paul Viviano, CEO, “Real florists are proud of their work and go out of their way to make senders and recipients happy; this pride and diligence is hard to find in a company that merely takes the order and sends it on to the florist.” “Another benefit of local online florists,” says Viviano, ” is that you can avoid the middleman and deal directly with the shop that is designing and delivering your gift.”
“Customers have told us they like ordering with a local florist they already know and trust,” notes Phillip. “They’ve seen our work and know we stand behind it. For deliveries in our own metro area, they know we provide more direct, cost-effective service. Plus, we provide the same guaranteed nationwide delivery service as bigger companies. Many have told us about trying the big-name merchants only to come back to us. Our Web site may not be as flashy, but we think our personal service and floral experience make all the difference.”
Other services at www.phillips-flowers.com include a Free Reminder Service, a pictorial Glossary of Flowers, and a way to send Free Virtual Flowers and eCard by email to anyone on the Internet. “You simply select a flower picture or e-greeting,” says Phillip, “add your personal message, and we take care of the rest.” Phillip’s delivers tens of thousands each month at no cost to people all over the world. “We also offer flower design and decorating tips, meanings of flowers, and lots of other helpful information,” adds Phillip, “and our customers appreciate the fact that we keep all of their information private.”
Local florist Web sites may never be quite as fancy or heavily advertised as those of the big-name brands, but most use the same sophisticated encryption technology to protect customer information, and savvy Internet shoppers know they’ll often get better value and more personalized service by dealing directly with trusted local merchants.
Although the Internet is revolutionizing the face of business, florists’ fundamentals have remained the same. “It’s all about fresh flowers, design, delivery, and a commitment to customer service,” says Viviano. So, it’s no wonder that top regional and local brick-and-mortar florists are excelling online. “The best florists were around before the Web,” says Pond, “and the Web has made them even better.”
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By John E. Williams, with special thanks to Viviano Flower Shop, Walter Knoll Florist, Jackman’s Flowers, and Phillip’s Flowers Chicago