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Why pre-buy matters more than ever

14th January 2022

Wholesalers … the men and women who make it possible for florists to stock their shops at the best prices, at the right time and with the right product.

It is a harsh world. Silly o’clock hours, tiny margins - we’re talking 3 to 15% depending on product and time of year - and they are dealing with millions of stems every week to be checked, often pre-conditioned and then distributed to thousands of locations … all at the same time!

But as we discovered from the first of our Wholesale Panel digital meet ups they are also dedicated, determined and above all totally focussed on getting the job right come what may.

For Valentine’s 2022 that is proving harder than ever. Not just because of the whole global demand for flowers all on one day but because of rising gas prices which has resulted in reduced supply and higher prices, horrendous transport costs … we’re talking 6 times higher!! … and staff shortages from flower farm to cash and carry as Omicron impacts everywhere.

We asked five different wholesalers* the same questions and pretty much they agreed on the key points. Pre-order is essential, not a sales ploy, prices are as tight as they can get them; many are absorbing the uplifts or tweaking their margins to make it realistic for their customers and, given some growers aren’t even prepared to give a pre-order price, whilst no one has a working crystal ball, the chances of any major price drop as we get closer to the 14th is highly unlikely.

But they are also optimistic. If florists get their act together and take advantage of what they are doing and what is possible then there is no reason why VD ’22 shouldn’t be a good one. It may not break records … being on a Monday can always skew the figures although again, in this strange new world of ours, who knows … but it needn’t be a disaster either!

Read on to see what they said

What's really going out out there?

Q: Our pre-write research shows some Dutch rose growers going cold (i.e., ceasing production because of gas costs) whilst others are dropping some colours in favour of making sure there is more red. There are reduced flights from Kenya and South America, and with the latter seeing increased demand from the USA, means there is less for Europe. Add in rising transport costs and Covid amongst farm workers which is already causing delaying picking and packing how do you think it will pan out.

“It’s like a perfect storm, reckons Chris Wolfe of Southeast Flowers in Ashford, Kent. We’ve been hit by everything and anything and now the world is saying cop this. It’s not impossible but it’s a challenge and why we really need florists to get their orders in ASAP. Not to make us money but to make sure we can get and deliver what they want.”

For John Davidson of Tom Brown it certainly feels different this year and he’s already been advised delivery times due to changing flight schedules may be changed. It won’t affect his customers but will mean he and his team will have to double jump to hit all the slots and adjust their systems to fit.

Over in Holland Merel van den Burg of FlorismartDirect is facing exactly the same challenges and although they have, like all our panel, placed a pre-order they will now be monitoring daily to make sure they can keep up with demand.

Meanwhile Danni Handsley of Van Vliet said that whilst they are also prepared, they are also cautious about supply as even if growers drop other colours to focus on red it won’t necessarily mean extra supply.

For Eddy Deighan at FleuraMetz, it’s been conflicting stories. “Some wholesalers and importers are full of doom and gloom, others highly confident. We’re in the confident camp and pre-bought our flowers and booked air space months ago but we know there are still challenges ahead so it’s an everyday watch, monitor and reassess as needed situation “

Pre-order … an essential not a game

Q: Some florists are saying the pressure by wholesalers to pre-order is just a sales tactic and that prices will drop nearer the day. What say you?

As John explained the purpose of pre-ordering isn’t to be super cheap but to know the price in advance and be able to plan and promote confidently while Chris was far blunter when she said, “All this last minute/winging it is daft, the first wave of stock with fixed prices and plane space is it … it will not, and cannot be repeated, it will just get worse from there on in!”

And that applies to wholesalers as well as Danni explained. “If we had crystal balls that worked we’d be laughing. We don’t want to let anyone down and we understand the risk but we cannot guess what a florist wants nor can we run the risk of being left with stock … our margins are simply too small. We will have a few extra but our ordering will be based on our pre-orders, as it has been for years, not taking a chance.”

And as Merel pointed out there’s the worldwide situation to take into account as well. “We don’t push anyone, it’s their choice but given places like Dubai and Russia are prepared to pay much higher prices our feeling is that if you are happy with your Pre-order prices and you can work with them, place your order now or run the risk of not getting them at all or paying a lot more than you need to.”

Because all our panel agree that there is no expectation that prices are going to suddenly drop … possibly the reverse. The fact that John can’t get pre-order pricing on some lines indicates that growers are holding firm and believe the auction will be high. Great for wholesalers who can make a bit more money but no good for florists who have set their charges.

A view shared by Eddy who reckons the only way they may come down locally would be if wholesalers have surplus stock they want to clear out last minute. However, as he pointed out that is a huge risk and given supply is on target to be less, highly unlikely too – it’s far more likely they’ll be sold at a premium because there will be so little about. “Given this year is shaping up to be like no other my advice is if you haven’t ordered now do it ASAP or run the risk of compromising on your rose of choice or being disappointed as we simply can’t guarantee it this year.”

Pricing … shock horror or normal?

Q: There’s a lot of ‘noise’ about horrendous rose pricing and ergo high prices to consumers. Is it that bad or is this social media chatter?

John, who was a finance man in his past life, has done the analysis and reckons that whilst prices are higher than 2021, the South American is on a par with 2020 so not as horrendous as some florists may be thinking or moaning about on Facebook.

Yes, Naomi has gone up by around 40p a stem on everyday pricing but there are good reasons (see our news story) plus there is no rule that says you have to triple up the price, just make sure you don’t lose it … see our Minding the Margin feature.

Some of the best pre-order prices have been as low as 89p for a decent Colombian Freedom but you needed to commit back in September/October last year … and yes, we know of many florists who did and are now laughing all the way to the bank on their standard £60 rose hand tied.

Now, other than one wholesaler who has Madam Red at 89p, at the time of going to press (14.01.22) you’re looking at anything between £1 and 1.55 for Freedom depending on if it’s Colombian or Ecuadorian and 50 or 60cm whilst Naomi could cost anything between £2.30 and £3.

Kenyan/African roses are cheaper but pre-order prices are very limited, if available at all as many growers are convinced the market will be strong and will simply send straight to auction.

Bottom line is that prices are rising every day so again if you haven’t ordered do it now. You can always limit the number of orders you take based on previous years orders … tricky we know but do-able … but you could lose a fortune if you don’t have your buying prices sorted out and then take a big hit buying high because you have to honour the orders.

Which rose to buy?

When it comes to varieties Freedom is again leading the way. This beautiful tulip shaped rose … which started life as Bloody Mary and was changed to Freedom after the 9/11 bombings … is strong, firm and a deep red.

Some florists don’t like the shape but it works well in terms of vase life and look. The only downside is that is been picked up by all the big online players like Marks and Spencer, Waitrose et al who are selling them at silly low prices so you need to make sure your bouquets look that extra bit special by adding non-boring foliage or twigs to make the volume.

Naomi is still considered the numero uno luxury rose but with limited availability it is commanding a higher price.

Our personal favourite on the recommended list … you should see how the Editor raves about this one … is Explorer. Long strong, no thorns and a beautiful red colour, it is gorgeous and decently priced … at the moment!

Other names the panel mentioned were Dutch grown Con Amore, Red Eagle and Ever Red, Rhodos from Kenya and of course the luxurious hearts … premium but fabulous!!

Be positive not negative and go for it!

Q: Wholesalers are the key link between grower and florist. You know more of what’s going on than anyone. Given the oddity of this year what advice would you give to a florist on how to make the most of it.

If there was one overriding feeling it way that the scaremongering on social media is being taken a bit too far. None of the panel deny this one will be harder in some ways and all acknowledge Monday isn’t the best day but that doesn’t mean florists should give up or change their ways as Merel from FlorismartDirect explained.

“Valentine's will happen, it always does! It always comes very late but it’s mostly men ordering and we all know how that works! Advice for florists? Do not be afraid to ask the right price. I personally think that everyone is scaring everyone off a bit and it’s getting a bit negative. And I think you either do red roses or not, that’s your choice, like Bloomsbury Flowers, you stand for something and then work with it. And I really think it’s important to give your bouquets attractive names, like The One – it really works and use your social media cleverly … make a video, be unique and don’t be too serious.”

Whilst Chris of Southeast Flowers reckons it will be hard, she certainly doesn’t think it will be impossible. Hard not so much in terms of effort – the fact there is a Sunday to prep … heck be open for sales … is a joy in her opinion. No, the hardest part will be getting the prices right in a way that makes profit but doesn’t cheese off customers. And why, as a wholesaler she has a double role. “It certainly isn’t going to be impossible, just perhaps different and why I see my role as not just getting the flowers but offering my customers help and advice on pricing and design ideas and if needed moral support.”

Over at van Vliet Danni says: “I guess not just focussing on red roses, try to be creative and offer other flowers people could give to their loved ones. Other than that, look at your pricing. The days you could simply say ‘my selling price is x2 or x3 my buying price are gone … don’t work on % but work on the margin you need and desire to make a healthy profit.

Oh yes and really keep in touch with your wholesaler and as soon as you know what you want tell us. You may not want to put all your eggs in one basket but often a better relationship with one or two suppliers pays dividends at peak periods rather than shopping around 11 months of the year for the best prices.”

For FleuraMetz the fact their order volumes are already exceeding last year indicates that there is a lot of optimism out there but it isn’t just roses as Eddy explained. “We’re seeing big demand for all sorts of varieties as florists and consumers realise there are many different ways to say I Love You with flowers.

Advice? Really, I can’t say it enough how important it is to order ASAP. Only this week we’ve heard flights are being cancelled or diverted to the US market. We’re OK … our space is reserved but it just emphasises how vulnerable the market is to changes. This isn’t sales spiel - all wholesalers could make a lot more money on late purchases – assuming they can get them – and are probably like us cutting the margin to help our customers but we don’t want anyone let down and why we are all pushing ordering now.”

And the final word from John at Tom Brown who reminds us that this is just one day and the same conversations have been going on for years!

“I think we have to remember we have the same conversations most years, weekends are not as good as weekdays, Mondays are not as good as Thursdays etc etc. Buy the product you are happy with - why change on the peak period? - use the supplier you are comfortable – why change on a peak period? - and be happy to achieve the profit you need rather than getting hung up on ‘I must treble’ etc. Remember it’s just one day – no business should hang on one day. The real key to a successful business is “are you busy on the Tuesday after Valentines?”

Chris Wolfe

Danni Handlsey

Eddy Deighan

John Davidson

Merel van den Burg

If you’d like to be part of The Florist Magazine Wholesale Panel please email Caroline and she’ll add you to the list! The more the merrier as far as we’re concerned.


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