On a hot Friday afternoon in April, business inside Roxie’s Florist was booming. Within the gray walls of the store, the entire staff cut a colorful array of flowers, greenery and bows. Sherri Pass, a Roxie employee, hastily arranged a funeral arrangement, hoping to finish before dark.
“We just thought this week maybe things were starting to slow down a bit, but the weekend hit,” Pass said. “We have two casket sprays and a small wedding in addition to funeral work, which makes them even busier.”
Local florists in the Burlington area, including Roxie’s, are seeing increased demand as events resume. However, the surge in business has left the florist industry facing a major supply shortage.
Longtime Roxie employee Wendy Grady said the pandemic hasn’t diminished demand, it has diminished supply.
“We’re having more and more difficulty getting all the flowers we want, getting the plants we want, and getting materials like vases and baskets,” Grady said. “COVID affected the flower industry because there weren’t as many people planting flowers, there weren’t as many people harvesting the flowers, and they planted fewer flowers.”
Local florists order their flowers, plants and other materials mainly from wholesalers or farmers.
Carolyn Renfrow, secretary and treasurer of Cyn-Mar Wholesale Florist & Greenhouse located in Pine Level, North Carolina, said many of their flowers and supplies come from outside the United States. Fresh-cut flowers and plants are grown in South America, while baskets and pots are imported from China.
Renfrow said the industry’s reliance on imported floral materials has made acquiring these items now more difficult than in the pre-pandemic past.
“With Ecuador and these other countries where things were shut down for so long, people were out of work and they couldn’t replant,” Renfrow said. “We are currently seeing a great shortage of cut flowers. It’s really hard to get and the prices have really gone up.
The shortage is impacting florists locally, Renfrow said, as wholesalers may no longer be able to supply all the flowers or materials florists may need.
“You order something, and it might take six weeks to get it, or it might take two months — you never know,” Renfrow said. “And if I don’t have it, chances are another wholesaler doesn’t. There is just a shortage at all levels.
Several local florists receive products from the same suppliers and wholesalers, which makes the shortage even more difficult. Filo’s Creation Florist owner Filo Sousa-Rosa said another supply issue stems from the time and communication required to fulfill international flower orders.
“We have to place orders months in advance and as the orders come in we think, ‘OK, I’m going to need 500 more roses or 250 more,'” Sousa said. Rose. “[Vendors] must be prepared to accept our large orders as they have to order from South America where most of these flowers come from.
In an attempt to overcome the shortage of international growers, florists at Filo and Roxie tried to source locally grown flowers and fresh-cut flowers from California.
The decrease in the floral offer also responds to the growing demand.
“Business has increased, and I just think it’s because in tough times people send flowers and plants,” Renfrow said. “They make you happy.”
After more than a year of quarantine and limited interactions with family and friends, people want to reconnect, and part of expressing that missed connection is through flowers, according to Sousa-Rosa.
She also said that this year’s Valentine’s Day and Easter sales were among the highest on record.
The recent increase in weddings – as many have been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic – is also responsible for the surge in floral demand. Grady said Roxie had to fulfill three wedding orders in one day because weddings were previously paid for and scheduled on different dates but were all renewed for the same day.
At Roxie’s Florist, Pass often assembles wedding floral arrangements and said “weddings are something that definitely picked up again, for sure, because there was nothing anyone could do last year.”
Funerals also contribute to the pressure on the supply of florists.
“Last year, people weren’t buying flowers to put on their relatives’ graves,” Sousa-Rosa said. “But this year, everyone started putting flowers on the graves of their parents or loved ones.”
The increase in funeral flower arrangements, Grady said, is linked to the pandemic. As of April 9, there have been 252 COVID-related deaths in Alamance County since the pandemic began, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“There’s no doubt we’ve done a lot of funeral flowers, and they’re still coming.” said Grady.
Roxie’s Florist was one of the few local florists to remain open throughout the pandemic. Grady said she immediately applied for North Carolina State Essential Business and Operation designation, and it took a few days to get a response and certification that her business was considered a essential and that it was therefore not necessary to cease its activities.
“We haven’t lost any business,” Grady said. “Unfortunately there have been many more funerals where we have provided flowers – lots of ‘get well’, lots of ‘thinking of you’, lots of ‘happy birthday’. We have kept busy.
Grady said managing the supply issue while trying to please customers has been a challenge.
“We really have a hard time talking [customers] through an order and let them know what I might need to change,” Grady said. “A lot of people want exactly what they see in a photo and sometimes it’s very difficult.
Some customer orders and planned floral arrangements need to be adjusted. Grady said Roxie used her “professional skill” to make the necessary changes.
“Some people want something very specific — maybe it was a specific pink rose they wanted — and you can’t do that. We had to come up with something different,” Grady said. just that I can convince them to get something to enjoy longer than a cut flower arrangement if this shortage prevails.”
In some cases, florists can’t do much if they don’t have the exact flower, color, or plant that a customer wants.
“You do it with what you have, and if you don’t have it, you don’t have it,” Sousa-Rosa said. “There is nothing we can do.”
Looking ahead, Mother’s Day is less than a month away, and local flower wholesalers and florists are worried about how the supply shortage will affect one of their busiest holidays.
“With the cut flowers, we will see that [shortage] through the summer, and it’s not going to get much better until the fall, which is going to be a challenge,” Renfrow said. “Especially with Mother’s Day coming up, I think it’s going to be a challenge to get through the summer.”
Grady hopes the increased demand will encourage a bigger supply for the coming season.
“I tell my sales people all the time, ‘but I need this, but I need that’, so I hope they understand that it’s okay to get things, don’t hold back no, get them, because there are other people like me who need those plants or those flowers,” Grady said.