Growing With the Times

In business almost 50 years, Villere’s Florist is finding new ways to compete in a changing marketplace.
Roger Villere, owner of Villere’s Florist (locations in Metairie and Covington), runs a $3 million a year business that was rated one of the top 100 florists in the country.

In a 2016 Retail and Marketing Association survey, 53 percent of women respondents said they would end their relationship if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day.

So get the candy hearts, champagne flutes, chocolate-filled hearts, glittery bling, candlelit dinners and roses, roses, roses because it’s Valentine’s Day!

In the United States, this day of starry-eyed bliss is a $13 billion industry, with the average consumer spending $163 on their true love; a big part of that amount is spent on flowers.

Domestically, $403 million is spent on flowers, and an annual 198 million roses are produced for just this romantic holiday alone. Those that don’t have a significant other, but love flowers, are not alone. Six percent of men and 14 percent of women buy flowers for themselves.

In total, 25 percent of adults buy flowers or plants for Valentine’s Day, making flowers the fourth-most purchased Valentine’s Day gift after candy, cards and dining out.

“Valentine’s is our biggest day,” said Roger Villere Jr., owner of Villere’s Florist, a family-owned floral business. “Mother’s Day is our biggest week, and Christmas is our biggest month.”

There is no doubt how big this holiday is for this family-owned business. Villere needs to rent two additional refrigerator trucks to hold inventory, he hires police to keep traffic flowing around their Metairie location on Martin Berman Avenue, and adds 100 more workers and 45 more delivery drivers to create and deliver all the floral gifts of romantic passion.

“That week we work from 6 a.m. to midnight,” he said. “And yet it’s not a very profitable day. It’s a lot of gross but very little net, not even close, but we love doing it. We always go the extra mile to make our clients happy.”

Villere’s Florist started in 1969. Villere was 19 years old and Donna, his wife, was 18. The couple married in April and used money received as wedding gifts to get their floral business off the ground.

“The first year we grossed $14,000,” he said. “It took us five years to make enough money to pay us a salary. It was $25 per week, then $50, then $75 and so on.”

Now the business makes more than $3 million per year and is rated one of the top 100 florists in the country by Teleflora Florist.

“In my day, the dream was to be a stay-at home-mom,” said Donna Villere. “I did help out as much as I could when we started, and I was proud to have my husband take such good care of our family. The world has changed since then and I am very happy that this business offered me so much. I could work and still be there for my children. I am very happy we started this business.”

Roger Villere’s love of plants began at an early age, and he shared it with his grandparents, who always had large gardens. In particular, he learned from his grandmother: “She could take a pencil, put it in the ground and it would grow.”

When he was in seventh grade, Villere began growing orchids, which he sold to local florists. In high school he worked at Scheinuk Florists. (Many New Orleanians may remember this florist on St. Charles for its Easter display. Every spring, the business featured a tableau that included a wooden bunny church, city hall, a barn, a miniature Scheinuk Florist building and lots and lots of live bunnies.)

Villere now has two locations, one in Covington, and his approximately 7,000-square-foot location in Metairie, which includes a 3,000-square-foot cooler — bigger than most florists’ shops. He has 40 employees, 11 of whom are family, and seven trucks that each make 100 deliveries per day.

LEFT- Villere (right) started the company when he was only 19. RIGHT- Villere has two locations, one in Covington,
and his approximately 7,000-square-foot location in Metairie, which includes a 3,000-square-foot cooler — bigger than most florists’ shops.  Photos courtesy of Villere Florist and Jeff Johnston

He carries everything from single fresh-cut flowers to elaborate floral arrangements.

“We are proud of our designers and 95 percent of our business is our arrangements,” he said “They can take anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours to make. We do a lot of weddings and Carnival balls. We did [Gov. Bobby] Jindal’s inauguration, and we do all kinds of parties and movie sets all over Louisiana, but funerals are the biggest part of our business.”

His shop designed a speedboat for Al Copeland’s funeral and a sheriff’s badge for Harry Lee’s. He bristles when obituaries suggest donations in lieu of flowers.

“I go nuts when I see that,” he said. “Sending flowers is such a good way to express how you feel about the loved one. It just looks pathetic not to have flowers. And I sometime wondered if they really do give donations. Flowers express so much.”

According to the Society of American Florists, the U.S. floral industry includes fresh-cut flowers, cut cultivated greens, potted flowering plants, foliage plants and bedding/garden plants, making floriculture the third-largest U.S. agricultural crop. The industry consists of more than 60,000 small businesses, such as growers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors and importers.

But all is not blooming in flowers. With their ability to buy in bulk, supermarket chains are undercutting the smaller traditional florist. The internet also continues to take a bigger part of sales, forcing some florists to close their doors.

“Fifteen years ago there were 40,000 florists, 30,000 10 years ago, and now there’s perhaps 15,000,” Villere said. “Because of the internet and grocery stores, it’s really cutting into business. It’s doing what box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot did to nurseries.”

According to an estimate by IBIS World, single owners operate 60 percent of florists with no employees. Of those that have employees, 27.7 percent have less than five and only 0.9 percent employ 20 or more.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for floral designers is expected to decline by 9 percent annually from 2010 to 2020.  This decline is attributed specifically to a decreased demand for elaborate floral decorations with the shift toward buying loose fresh-cut flowers from grocery and general merchandise stores.

“We also have seen our deliveries to hospitals drop,” said Villere. “Now you are in and out so quickly it really doesn’t seem worth bringing flowers. Plus if the patient is really sick, you can’t bring flowers into ICU because of bacteria. Also, funerals and wakes are shorter. It used to be the notice would be in the paper for a few days.”

However, Villere is finding ways to compete. His business embraces the internet and has a strong social media presence. They do about 100 orders per day that come from their website and have 13,000 followers on Facebook.

“We also give good service,” said Villere. “We are open seven days a week and offer extended hours with a range of delivery times. We deliver twice a day and cover the entire metro area and more.”

Sixty percent of florist shops in the U.S. are operated by single owners with no employees. Villere’s Florist has 40 employees, 11 of whom are famiy. 

Larry Katz, owner of Dot’s Diner and a longtime client, appreciates all that Villere provides.

“I’ve used them for my business and my personal needs for years,” he said. “Whether it’s for a happy or sad occasion, I’ve always used Villere’s. They always come through and it’s always been beautiful.”

Villere says he sells more roses than other flowers, but he gets all kinds of blooms from all over the world. He works with floral brokers who find the best flowers and the best ways to ship those flowers to him.

“We get roses from Ecuador, carnations from Colombia, mums and pom poms from Mexico, tulips from Holland, and tropicals from Hawaii and Jamaica.

Florist Michael J. Skaff, who developed the International Floral Distributor’s Flower Trends Forecast 2017, predicts muted colors will be hot this year. He thinks it’s because there is so much unrest in the world. He also sees the continuance of the consumers’ desire to bring nature inside their home.

“With technology and our fast-paced lives, people want to bring the natural world and natural materials into their home more than ever,” Skaff said.

He also sees a jungle-inspired look with an emphasis on sophisticated tropical flowers and foliage this year; Villere agrees.

“I’m seeing a lot of new varieties of orchids,” he said. “Also, breeders are always developing varieties that are smaller or larger and those that last longer or ship better.”

Villere’s floral designs are changing as well. His designers will still create the traditional and the Victorian arrangements, but they are also doing more modern designs such as a birthday cake made out of flowers.

Sadly, a trend that’s been rising for years is how few local flowers Villere can purchase. He recalled that at one time florists could find wonderful chrysanthemums in Ponchatoula.

“But land is so valuable now,” he said. “Families are letting their farms go. Max, the owner of Scheinuk’s, used to have a place that went from Airline Highway to River Road. It had 12 greenhouses on it. I used to work out there when I was younger. But when he died they sold it. It’s now a trucking company.”

What does the future hold for Villere and his business?  He says he will always be involved with flowers and will continue his lifetime love affair with orchids.

“But you know you’re going to have to ask the kids about the future,” he said. “In a couple of years I’ll be visiting botanical gardens all over the world. There’s a great one in Canada, the Butchart Gardens. It’s located near Victoria on Vancouver Island. Yes, I have a lot of gardens to see.”

Big Business in Buds

• $104.8 billion Value of the global floral trade industry

• $26.6 billion Annual U.S. spending on floral products

• $7.5 billion Total value of cut flower sales

• 80 Percent of flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from other countries

• 16,182 Total number of florist establishments in the U.S.

• $322,331 Average annual sales per florist shop

• 83,208 Total number of people employed in the floral industry    

• 530 Total number of wholesale florists in the U.S.

• 6,948 Total number of floriculture growers in the U.S.

• 36 Percent of flower purchases are used for home decorations

• 45 Percent of all flowers grown for sale are discarded before they are ever sold    

Source: Statistic Brain

Flowers Remain a Favorite

• 65% of Americans feel special when receiving flowers.

• 60% of Americans believe a gift of flowers has a special meaning unlike any other gift.
• 77% of Americans perceive those who give flowers to be thoughtful.
• 70% of Americans say the color of flowers adds to the impact of the gift.
• 69% of Americans say the sight and smell of flowers can improve their mood.
Source Society of American Florists Omnibus Survey in 2015

Valentine’s Day — Fun Facts

• Teachers receive the most Valentine’s cards, followed by children, mothers and wives. Children between the ages of 6 and 10 exchange more than 650 million Valentine cards a year.

• Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day in the late 1800s.

• A kiss on Valentine’s Day is considered to bring good luck all year.

• The symbol of the ribbon, which often adorns modern-day Valentines, is rooted in the Middle Ages. When knights competed in tournaments, their sweethearts often gave them ribbons for good luck.

• Lace is often used on Valentine decorations. The word “lace” comes from the Latin “laques,” meaning “to snare or net,” as in to catch a person’s heart.

• Valentine’s Day may have been named after the priest Valentine of Rome, who refused to follow Claudius II’s ban on Christianity. Legends about him state that while he was imprisoned, children would pass him notes through the jail window. Before he was killed on February 14, he wrote one last note to the jailer’s daughter with whom he had fallen in love and signed it “From Your Valentine.”

Source: Ipsos-Insight Floral Trends



Categories: The Magazine