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Flower power: Here’s how to make Valentine’s Day blossom

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Friday, February 8, 2008
— On the Internet, the long-stemmed roses were arranged in a cut-glass vase decorated with a velvet ribbon. They arrive late in a cardboard box with a plain vase and no ribbon. Your girlfriend, the fussy sort, is underwhelmed.

You order a large bouquet from a business listed as a “local florist.” It arrives at your spouse’s office. She tells coworkers she’s been married to you for so long that she’s not surprised at the arrangement’s sparsity. When you insist that’s not what you ordered, she says “whatever” in a tone that conveys a martyred resignation to your defects.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Call centers

If you want to score big with flowers, we have some advice: Call your local florist.

No, this announcement was not paid for by a consortium for Janesville florists. Here are the facts; you can make up your own mind:

In the old days, floral orders were sent from city to city by telegram. It was called “Floral Telegraphic Delivery” or FTD, explained Tom Carlson of Fairview Florist, Janesville.

“As a child, I remember the guy in a cap and knickers coming out to my Dad’s store on a bicycle with a telegram with the order,” said Carlson, whose family has owned Fairview Florist since 1927.

The Internet made things more complicated. Companies such as FTD and Teleflora set up sites and so did other “order gatherers.”

Order gatherers have no flowers, no vases, no idea what old Uncle Joe might like to see in his hospital room. Order gatherers operate out of call centers that could be located any place from Texas to Timbuktu.

‘Local’ listings

Here’s what happens:

Joe or Jane Consumer does an Internet search for “Janesville florists” and gets a variety of listings including: “” or “Janesville florists, Abbott’s Florist—family owned and operated since 1970.”

Or, being traditionalists, they turn to the phone book.

They order, the order is processed and sent to a local florist.

So what’s the problem?

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish online between florists with brick-and-mortar stores and order gatherers located someplace with a more favorable tax climate.

For example, the first listing in a Google search for “Janesville florists” is a place that doesn’t exist in Janesville—or any place near here: Abbott’s Florist—family owned and operated since 1970.

When a reporter called and asked where the store was located, the operator replied “We’re just a call center.”

It’s your money

If those minor deceptions don’t bother you, consider this:

Don’t expect the bouquet that’s delivered to look like the one you ordered off of the Internet. Read the small print. It usually says something like: “The picture above is indicative of the product being delivered, and the product being delivered may not look exactly as shown.”

Rhoda Sanderson, owner of Center Way Florists, Janesville—which actually is located in Janesville—joked that if she carried all of the vases shown on the Internet, she’d be out of business.

When florists get orders from call centers, they say something like “as close as possible for the money.”

But here’s problem: Call centers take as much as 27 percent right off the top, Carlson said.

That’s off the price of the flowers. They also keep “shipping and handling” fees that run as high as $15.

So you pay $85 plus $15 shipping and handling for a large mixed bouquet and you expect a $100 worth of service and flowers.

The florist only has $58 to make good on that $100 promise.

“We really do try our best,” Sanderson said, “People really want what they’ve seen in the picture.”

Other florists agreed, saying “Our costumers are all we have; we have to make it right.”

It’s not just the florist’s loss, it’s your loss, too.

Roses are a great example.

“There’s a national price for roses and a local price,” Carlson said. “I sell a dozen roses for $55. I couldn’t make a living selling roses for that much in Chicago or New York.”

Online, a dozen roses costs between $60 and $95, without shipping and handling.

So a customer orders a dozen roses for that amount, then pays the additional shipping and handling. With one call to a florist, he could have gotten a dozen roses for a local price—$55—and a delivery fee of between $5 and $8.

From the Grower

What about services that promise you flowers “directly from the grower?”

Such services can work, but buyers should exercise caution. For example, a customer recently ordered irises to be sent to a funeral in Janesville.

Like most flowers, they were shipped before they had bloomed.

“Those irises didn’t have a spot of color on them,” said Tom Carlson of Fairview Florist. “The funeral home called me up and asked me ‘what am I supposed to do with these?’”

Another time, the flowers arrived with no greenery and had to be arranged—not the funeral director’s job.

Buyers also should be careful in the winter. Unless flowers are delivered to an office, they can languish outside until the intended recipient comes home.

Nothing says, “I love you,” like a box of frozen flowers.

Flower-shopping choices

Here are the choices for smart consumers:

-- Go to your local florist and pick out a bouquet. Put your money into flowers, not fees.

-- Go online to or Pick out a few selections and write down their names, then call a local florist with the information. Florists usually subscribe to the Teleflora or FTD and know what they carry.

“I really prefer to talk to people directly,” said Barb Lein of Barb’s Flowers, Janesville. “That way people are getting exactly what they want.”

You’ll also eliminate the “shipping and handling” fee and only pay the local shop’s delivery charge.

-- Fairview Florist has pursued a different path: They now have their own Web site,, and people can order from the site. They arrange the bouquets, so what you see is what you get.

Other local florists have Web sites to show what they carry, but you can’t order from them: Barb’s Flowers,; Centerway Floral,

Last updated: 5:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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