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'It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of flowers.' Northeast Ohio florists gear up for Valentine’s Day while navigating supply chain challenges

Florists feel supply chain squeeze ahead of one of their busiest sales days of the year.

CLEVELAND — On Tuesday afternoon, Urban Orchid in Ohio City was full of the sights and smells you’d expect in a flower shop ahead of Valentine’s Day. Buckets of roses lined counters, while chocolates and other treats sat on displays.

By the looks of the flower trimmings on the ground and the bouquets ready to head out the door, an onlooker might not realize all the work and preparation that went into ensuring the necessary supplies were acquired ahead of the holiday. But for owner Jeffrey Zelmer, preparation for the rush was key, especially in the midst of supply chain challenges.

“January, February - besides Valentine’s Day - and March are our three slowest months,” Zelmer said. “So Valentine’s Day really gives us that sales push that helps carry us through to spring when we start doing weddings and there’s a lot more florals being bought to just pick up and take home.”

Zelmer said Valentine’s Day is his single busiest floral sales day of the year, with many people waiting to buy until the last minute, making their purchases on Feb. 13 or on the day itself.

But with ongoing supply chain issues, Zelmer said he’s been putting in orders far in advance to ensure he has what he needs to serve his customers.

“It used to be two years ago, we could call our wholesalers and say tomorrow I need X, Y, and Z, and it would be here,” he said. “Now, we order it a month ahead and we get a call from our folks saying, ‘well, you got five of the eight things that you ordered.’ It’s been very difficult. We always have to have a plan B in order to make sure that our customer gets what they want.”

Zelmer explained that especially in the winter, many of his flowers come from Central and South America as well as Holland. Getting the flowers from those countries to his shops requires the shipments to come through ports, which can lead to delays.

“In those countries, there’s labor shortages, so there’s difficulty getting the flowers from the farm,” he said. “Then when they come to the U.S., there’s difficulty getting them through the ports because there’s labor shortages, there’s transportation backups. It’s been very spotty what we can get in.”

With increased costs of transportation and freight charges, Zelmer said there are some price increases on flowers, but the business works to absorb those costs before they get to the customer.  

Zelmer says he feels good about his supplies and is currently well stocked heading into the holiday. He continues to track all of his orders to ensure they’re in transit.

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“It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of flowers. That, Mother’s Day, Easter,” said Curtis Mikey, owner of Room 2 Bloom Floral in Garfield Heights. “That is the obvious thing to be able to go and send to somebody that you love.”

Mikey also said he’s experienced supply chain issues at his business, and said his glassware in particular comes in from China.

“The supply chain issues mainly have been for hard goods, things like glass vases and ribbons and things like that. Not necessarily flowers,” Mikey said. “We need to substitute some things out, but either way, if it’s not in a red vase, you’re going to get a pretty arrangement of flowers in a clear glass vase.”

Heading into the holiday, Mikey emphasized the importance of ordering early to ensure that your loved one gets their flowers on time.

“If you’re going to wait until Monday morning when you’re watching Channel 3 News and figure out that it’s Valentine’s Day, you may not get that delivered during the workday where your sweetheart is going to close up the shop or leave her office at five o’clock,” he said.

Also important is supporting local businesses, rather than defaulting to third party websites. Mikey said oftentimes those companies take a large cut of the profit, leaving the customer with fewer flowers than what they paid for.

“Call somebody local, you’re going to get a much better product and you’re going to get full value for it,” he said.

Zelmer also encouraged people to order early, and shop local.

 “We try to give back to the community, we’re so appreciative when the community comes and uses us," he said. "So when you shop local, you really think you’re helping out so many more people than if you buy something from a 1-800 number floral chain.”  

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