Sunny Days for Flower Sales

Any time seems to be a fine time to buy a fragrant bouquet

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Valentine's Day has always sent lovebirds flocking to the florist. Right after Cupid's departure, though, flower sales used to shrivel up. No longer. Flowers, once an ornament reserved for special occasions, have become a year- round staple on many shopping lists. Now, no better reason for buying a bouquet is needed than that the sun is shining, or that the sun is not shining. Sandy Taylor, owner of Plaza Florist & Gifts in Urbandale, Iowa, has noticed the trend. Says she: "Lots of people buy flowers on the way home from work. When we sign the card we ask, 'For what occasion?' They say, 'No | occasion.' "

Business has blossomed for dealers in floral products in recent years. U.S. retail sales of cut flowers have increased from $2.9 billion in 1981 to $3.7 billion in 1985. Revenues for FTD, the long-distance delivery network, have been growing by more than 10% annually, reaching $551 million in 1985.

For many consumers, buying flowers is no more of an extravagance than buying a loaf of bread. John Culbreth, who works in Atlanta's bureau of recreation, picks up some fresh-cut varieties while he does his shopping at the DeKalb County farmers' market. Says he: "I don't know the names of what I'm buying. I just know how they look." People are buying flowers to decorate their homes, brighten up their offices or cheer up pals. Michael Goldberg, a Chicago financial analyst, sent flowers to a college friend who had failed a test.

One reason flowers are selling fast is that they are now available in so many places besides traditional florist shops. They are sprouting in grocery stores, in malls, on street corners. The Cincinnati-based Kroger chain has put flower sections in almost 60% of its 1,351 supermarkets. At the Apache mall in Rochester, Minn., Bachman's, a prominent Minnesota florist, runs a row of well-stocked kiosks called the European Flower Markets, where customers can shop without passing through any doors. And in Miami, New York and other cities, traffic-dodging vendors hawk $2 bunches to motorists who are willing to roll down their windows.

This wide availability triggers impulse buying. Says Flor Deleo, president of the Miami Flower Exchange: "You walk into a supermarket, see the flowers, and they're attractive and inexpensive. You grab a bottle of wine for $2.99. What's $2.99 more for a nice bouquet of flowers?" Trying to cash in on impulse purchases, 7-Eleven convenience stores in South Florida sell single long-stemmed roses alongside the soft drinks and beer.

The growth in the number of customers who buy flowers frequently has given rise to a new type of store. So-called stem or bucket shops let the buyer be the florist. Each fresh-cut variety is put in a vase, and customers are left to create their own arrangements. Florist Gwen Moore has opened two bucket shops called the Blossom Broker in suburban Denver. Says she: "People can walk right into the cooler and do their own thing."

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