Blum Wholesale Florists plants seeds for growth

Mary Kay Blum, vice president and owner of Blum Wholesale Florist, checks products for a retail Floral Shop order.

Mary Kay Blum, vice president and owner of Blum Wholesale Florist, checks products for a retail Floral Shop order.

For Pete and Mary Kay Blum, owners of Blum Wholesale Florists, this Valentine’s Day is already looking rosier.

Valentine’s Day will fall on Monday, which is not the best day for flower sales, according to an American Floral Endowment Tracking Study. Still, that’s better than last year, when Valentine’s Day fell on Sunday, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in flower sales across the country and for the Blums.

Valentine’s Day – a sales day driven by men who tend to procrastinate – is the most stressful of all the holidays, said Mary Kay Blum, vice president of Blum Wholesale Florists in Colorado Springs.

“There are so many variables that can go wrong,” she said.

The Blums hope for as few “variables” as possible this year, given that sales for Valentine’s Day represent 13 percent of their annual revenues of $1.2 million.

So, since December, the couple and their six full-time and five part-time employees have been in high gear placing orders, talking to California and South American growers and trying to predict this year’s Valentine’s Day volume.

The Blums expect to receive 20,000 roses – that’s 1,660 dozen – by Feb. 9 to stock their 110 retail flower shop customers across Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas.

The Blums bought the wholesale flower shop in 2008. They had previously owned real estate firms in Oregon and wanted something a little more resilient to the down economy, they said. Flowers are a $32.5 billion industry. And while people bought smaller floral arrangements in 2009 and 2010, they were still buying, according to the Association of Floral Importers.

“People are always getting married, babies are always being born,” Mary Kay Blum said.

The flower business, however, is more complicated than it might seem.

The Blums had to get quickly acquainted with the 1,500 rose varieties, the 80 varieties of alstroemeria and the hundreds of different types of flowers they buy from about 15 growers in South America, 15 in California and a few more growers on the western slopes of Colorado.

“We bought the company and the next day we started in with Mother’s Day shipments and orders and it was absolutely insane,” Mary Kay Blum said. “We were asking ourselves, what did we just do?”

There’s also plenty of competition, said Pete Blum, president of Blum Wholesale Florists.

In Colorado Springs alone, there are three wholesale florists; Denver is home to four more.

Also, wholesale houses have recently been challenged by grocery stores that buy their own flowers direct from growers as well as online services that ship flowers directly to customers, cutting out retailers and wholesalers, Pete Blum said.

To stay competitive, the couple expanded their business into the Denver market and surrounding states; they also upgraded their online inventory. In December, the Blums finally saw some positive signs with a bump in holiday sales over last year.

“Overall, I’m optimistic, cautious, but optimistic – I think we can have a better year,” Pete Blum said. “It’s a hard business. It’s demanding.”

It’s a business that can be turned upside down by whichever flower happens to be featured in bridal magazines, not to mention weather patterns.

Last year, just weeks before Mother’s Day, a volcano eruption in Iceland grounded European flights and prompted the international market to make a grab for flowers from South America, which typically supplies the U.S.

“It’s just amazing, I’m here in the high desert of Colorado and an Icelandic volcano is keeping me up at night,” Mary Kay Blum said.

That’s why she’s on the phone daily with growers, checking in on this year’s Valentine’s Day roses.

By the end of January, the delicate flowers had been cut at their South American farms and were making their way through border inspections. It’s all very nerve-wracking. At any moment the flowers could be turned away because of a stowaway gnat or tree frog in the packing, Mary Kay Blum said.

The flowers will “sleep” at a cool 38 degrees until they arrive at the company’s 4,000-square-foot warehouse where they will get a drink and re-hydrate. A crew working weekends in preparation for the big day will put the flowers on trucks for overnight delivery, where florists have coolers of vases decorated and loaded with accent flowers.

Sixty percent of the Valentine’s Day customers will be men and 28 percent of them will wait until Valentine’s Day to place their order.

“It’s crazy,” Mary Kay Blum said, sighing.