Coronavirus

“The power of flowers is very strong,” Roanoke florist says ahead of Mother’s Day impacted by coronavirus pandemic

Digital Originals

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Mother’s Day is this weekend and for anyone who thought florists would shut down for coronavirus, they may have been surprised to see delivery drivers out this week.

According to George Clements, owner of George’s Flowers in Roanoke, the store’s Mother’s Day business is on par as of Thursday, May 7, but based on the store’s above-average performance this Easter, he expects the Mother’s Day business will end up surpassing last year’s performance, as well. In fact, despite voluntarily trimmed hours among several employees at the start of the pandemic, George says all staff members returned to full-time by Easter.

Furthermore, when the outbreak did strike, employees had proactively researched health guidelines to protect themselves from the spread of the virus. They keep their distance within the store, they wipe down surfaces, wash their hands, etc.

“Currently, we’re on par to be equal with last year, although we can tell from orders that came in early and the way business has been ramping up each day, we know we are going to exceed last year’s just as we did exceed Easter business over previous Easter holidays. We feel that was due to the fact that we were offering delivery, touchless delivery, and curbside pickup during this time. We found a lot of people wanting to connect with their families, their loved ones, their friends by sending flowers. So we had a busier Easter than normal, so we were anticipating that Mother’s Day would be busier and so far it has been right through today.”

George Clements, Owner / George’s Flowers

Prior to the pandemic, George says 60% of the store’s business was conducted over the phone, 30% online, and 10% from walk-ins. Therefore, the store’s primary changes in customer interaction involved closing the storefront and replacing it with curbside pickup, offering touch-free delivery, and sanitizing vases before they leave the store or the van.

“We’ve had nursing homes that we deliver to all the time. Some of those have stopped any type of delivery to their residents and some have implemented procedures where they take the flowers and they keep them in a separate room for 24 hours before they give them to the person with them also wiping the vase down or the container down. You can’t really wipe flowers down and you can’t apply any sort of disinfectant in them without typically damaging the flowers. In most instances, we do drop off things. We have tried to limit… we are very close to Carilion Clinic and we deliver there. Typically, most of the time, we are there three to six times per day. During the pandemic, we immediately implemented that we would only go once per day and that would be at a prescribed time of the day — noon. That was to try to limit our delivery people’s exposure. When we deliver to Carilion, we are delivering to a central place. We are delivering to the front of the hospital.”

George Clements, Owner / George’s Flowers

As for the customers George’s Flowers serves, according to George, before the virus, hospitals and nursing homes accounted for approximately 15% of the stores business, but facilities’ shifting decisions about whether deliveries are banned or simply need to be sanitized has caused that number to fluctuate a bit.

Meanwhile, products for sympathy occasions — which previously accounted for 30-35% of the store’s business — have dropped a little, but now they can be delivered directly to the homes of those grieving rather than to a funeral home or a church, George says.

In addition, due to coronavirus cancellations, the store has been unable to provide decorations for longstanding events such as weddings, graduations, corporate events, etc.

However, the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic posed toward George’s Flowers extended beyond Roanoke, beyond Virginia, and even beyond the U.S.

Perhaps the biggest challenge George discussed was the effect of this worldwide pandemic on his supply chain, from growers letting their farmhands go to the tightened restrictions on international transportation. Since many of the store’s suppliers for flowers and plants are either outside the country or on the other side of it, George says there are fields worth of beautiful flowers that are more likely to end up in compost than in Mother’s Day bouquets this year.

“Clearly, everybody should understand at this point that this is a worldwide problem. One of the things that it could begin impacting immediately were that a lot of our flowers come from outside of the country. They come from South America, Central America, the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, and also the state of California. So we would start experiencing growers who had to let go of farm hands, greenhouse workers. Then there’s sort of a collapse with transportation of those flowers.

“… The one thing that people need to also realize is that no one told the flowers about this pandemic that was coming up, so the flowers kept growing. Everything was already planted, so there are lots of fields of flowers that will not be making it to Mom’s this year.”

George Clements, Owner / George’s Flowers

However, thanks to proactive planning, access to wholesale sourcing, and collaboration with other members of the flower industry, George says that business has remained steady and he anticipates it will pick back up once Virginia reopens.

“Things have improved since then and because we were proactive in sourcing our product very early and knew what was coming up, we’ve been lucky and we’ve got great, beautiful product. It’s very fresh.”

George Clements, Owner / George’s Flowers

In addition to safety measures and proactive coordination with suppliers, George says another new business model that resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak — a business model that he plans to continue even after the pandemic passes — is Sunday deliveries. According to George, the store only offered Sunday deliveries for pre-ordered funeral arrangements before the coronavirus outbreak, but after seeing the difference a flower delivery makes during these stressful times, he intends to keep offering additional hours on Sunday.

The first Sunday the store offered deliveries, George himself made the deliveries and he took a bouquet to a woman on her birthday.

“I knew I had made the right decision in doing some of those Sunday deliveries that day because hearing someone say ‘it’s my birthday and I didn’t think I was going to see anybody,’ and you see tears of joy on their face,” said George.

Nevertheless, George’s Flowers did not go completely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In George’s words, “the power of flowers is very strong,” and the store continues to share life and color with the Roanoke community, whether through a Mother’s Day bouquet or a virtual graduation ceremony.

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