Walking down 28th, between 6th and 7th avenues, you find yourself in a time warp — caught between the old and the new. Bundles of tulip and geranium are sold amidst an influx of new constructs rising thirty stories above. At street level this is still the flower market of New York: apretty amazing, if not also slightly crazy group of people buying and selling world class stems from all over the globe.
Before 2008, at its height, the market had over 60 wholesalers, generating 9 billion here in the US. As a florist then, a price tag of 750.00 for a foyer arrangement wasn’t at all shocking. Today this landscape is a vastly changing one.
That same market consist now of just around a dozen vendors while yearly revenue sits nearer to 5.7 billion. Iconic florists, classically trained and respected, are now outnumbered by a new breed of designer: the hobbyist. The post-recession world gave people who lost their jobs a chance to redirect into a career they could love. Naturally, “florists” with an affinity for burlap, who operated out of their kitchen, began popping up like weeds. This trend threatened an entrenched industry, because as it is finding out- a strong instagram following is stronger than brick and mortar.
To be running a profitable floral business, retail or wholesale, in 2016 means either: you are an absolute rockstar or an enviable lessee of rent stabalization. As a former shop owner, my value proposition was a balanced mix of both. With a florist’s average earnings before taxes being 3.2%, margins are razor thin and demand that today’s florists opt for niche products or remain undistinguished and rather replaceable. I was personally afforded blinders for the imbalances of this new market – insulated to some extent but also ignorant by choice: spending energy comparing my overhead to the hobbyist’s was an inefficient use of valuable and billable time. But for the many others who are weathering this industry’s changing wind, delusionmay not prove an effective and sustainable revenue solution.
Florists, who have served as the gate keepers of this ossified industry are now experiencing the pinch. When barriers to entry are low, margins simply cannot be high. In the next few years the global flower market is going to see a complete innovation in the way that people interact with it.While flower shop counts continue to decline at about 2% since 2009, floral E-commerce markets have risen steadily by 2% and are expected to spike with 7% growth this year alone. For a market that has not seen significant behavioral change since Jim McCann introduced wire services in 1986 (1800-Flowers), we can expect industry wide innovation with focuses on promoting localizled supply. For the consumer and those who embrace change, this is no doubt an exciting time — but also a defining one.