Patience and Flexibility Necessary as Irma Disrupts Flower Deliveries

Oh, Mother Nature…

Like many of you, I was excited to spend this week in Palm Beach, mingling with others in the industry and soaking up knowledge at the Society of American Florists’ annual convention.

I had planned to leave a little early to catch a flight to Charlottesville, Virginia for a friend’s wedding this weekend. As soon as SAF announced the cancellation, I called American Airlines to try to change my itinerary. I had hoped to fly from my home (Tampa, Florida) to DC Wednesday or Thursday and carpool with friends. But this was a prohibitively expensive option.

It took approximately eight hours to find a new flight I could afford. During that time, my best friend searched frantically on my behalf. When all was said and done, she told me that, when the time comes, I’d better not get married during hurricane season. “It’s bad enough you’re struggling to fly out of Florida,” she said. “What if none of your out-of-state friends and family could fly in? Or if you venue got flooded?”

I took the opportunity to educate her on a few points:

a) Hurricane season runs from June to November. In other words: 50% of the year.

b) A majority of the cut flowers used in North America come from Colombia or Ecuador and arrive through Miami, so whenever a major storm hits South Florida, it could mess up weddings hundreds of miles away.

After talking to her, I did a little research to see just how important Miami International Airport is for our industry. A few quick facts from the Association of Floral Importers of Florida website:

  • Fresh-cut flowers are the number one perishable product that passes through MIA.
  • Approximately 40,000 boxes of flowers arrive at MIA daily.
  • Flowers imported through MIA represent roughly two-thirds of the flowers consumed in the U.S.
  • There are approximately 75 fresh cut flower importer companies and more than 6,000 employees in the area.

Importers announced on Thursday afternoon that they would be closed through Monday at least.

“They didn’t have a choice,” said Christine Boldt, AFIF’s executive vice president. “The trucking companies aren’t operating because, understandably, they’re trying to protect their employees and their assets. If they’re not hauling products, there’s no reason to be open.”

Despite the message of gloom and doom dominating the news, Boldt is optimistic Irma will not have a catastrophic effect on the floral industry.

“A lot of people panic, thinking the flower business will be out of commission, but logistics today are really quite good,” she said. “Flights are still coming in with flowers. We have warehouses that are very structurally sound to store them. Even in the event that they lose electricity, they have backup generators to keep the flowers fresh.”

She added that Miami is very large and that the airport and most businesses are located in Doral, safely away from any potential storm surge.

Nonetheless, for now, wholesalers are scrambling to fill retailers’ orders.

“Bad weather has created a lot of delayed flights and expected product isn’t all here,” said Bill Schodowski, owner of Beautifully Fresh in Detroit. At the same time, he said, “a lot of product is in motion earlier than it was supposed to be.”

“I’m spending a lot of time reading shipping updates and flight arrival schedules,” he said. “Hope springs eternal that this is just an exercise and the storm veers up the Atlantic and the U.S. is out of harm’s way.”

Eric Levy, owner of Hillcrest Garden in Paramus, New Jersey, echoed Schodowski’s frustrations and emphasized the importance of patience and flexibility.

“Florists have to be willing to take substitutions,” he said. “I think they also need to get ahold of brides and explain that some of the planned flowers may not be available and that they need to be able to improvise.”

Levy also urged florists to embrace Design Master color tool‘s products.

“Design Master has a line of spray dyes called ‘just for flowers’ that florists can use to change a white rose into any color they want,” he said. “It’s turning a pig into a princess, so to speak.”