For the happiest of times and the saddest of times, flowers say what we can’t always put in to words. Weddings, new babies, birthdays and romance are celebrated with flowers. Floral arrangements convey our concern and sympathy during illnesses and funerals. On a daily basis, plants and flowers enliven workplaces for customers and employees alike. And nothing beats flowers for getting you out of the doghouse after a major faux pas.
Saying it with flowers has never gone out of style, although the Valley’s florists will tell you the styles and even some of the flowers are different.
Pam Fuller, who has owned Bloomers of Harlingen since 1992, is the incoming president of the Texas State Florists Association. “The business has changed a lot since mass marketers (such as groceries) began selling flowers,” Fuller said. Florists work closely with funeral homes, too, and “the biggest change is the number of cremations.” That means no casket sprays and no flowers at the grave. Addressing that issue, Fuller said TSFA has just taped a video “In Lieu of Flowers” which suggests living plants, such as a dish garden or potted plant, as appropriate memorial gifts to the bereaved family.
Fuller has four Texas Master Florists on her Bloomers staff, which customers appreciate. “They rely on us to create something special for them,” she said. In accord with another widespread change, Bloomers is not affiliated with a national flower order firm like FTD. Instead, Fuller said out of town customers find them through the Texas Florists network.
Bloomers recently relocated and expanded to offer jewelry and other gifts which can be attached to floral arrangements. An additional benefit of the new shop is having Valley Baptist Medical Center two blocks away. The hospital’s only restriction on flowers is they can’t be delivered to the ICU and CCU.
“We do a lot of seasonal bouquets, but the busiest time of the year is between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Fuller said. Mother’s Day and graduation perk up sales in May, although February is without a doubt the strongest sales month. And year-round, flowers say love, even when you aren’t in the doghouse.
Brenda Guerra and her mother Consuelo Guerra purchased a home décor business in 2006, acquired a new flower cooler in the process and opened Special Flowers on East Pecan in McAllen. “During the first year, the local floral wholesalers educated us. I didn’t know anything about flowers, and I learned so much from them,” Guerra recalled. One vendor even coached her on the correct number of Valentine’s Day roses the new business would sell.
Then the Guerras were asked to provide the flowers for a wedding. The word of mouth business from those arrangements and bouquets put them on the path to becoming wedding specialists, couture florists.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else now. I think it’s fate,” Guerra said. She has focused on floral design. “We started going to wedding shows. I take classes, travel and keep up to date with floral trends.” Travel included a recent trip to Maui carrying Special Flowers’ bouquets for a pre-wedding photography session.
The current trends in wedding flowers do not adhere to traditional wedding color schemes or time of year, according to Guerra. “The trend is to bring your personality out in your event, details that identifies the couple’s story. I see a lot of color blocks and neutrals, especially all white.” She opened a wedding showroom adjacent to the floral production shop in February, long after the home décor segment of the business had closed.
“I like exotic and unique flowers,” Guerra said, and she has photographs that demonstrate her talent for making show-stopping arrangements. She has created fabulous peacock arrangements in red and in white as ‘statement pieces’ for wedding receptions and added fresh flowers for a 3-D effect on floral paintings.
Not only brides crave unique arrangements. “I have a regular clientele who calls and give me a price range. They allow us to design for them,” said Guerra, who buys flowers grown in Holland, Ecuador and around the world. Special Flowers is still in the Teleflora network, as “a marketing strategy rather a significant source of customers.”
Does this business owner have a flower preference for the bouquets she herself receives? Guerra sighed: no one sends flowers to a woman who owns a florist shop.
Sue DeBrooke applied her nursery experience to commercial offices when she started Tropical Gardens 30 years ago. “When people see beautiful plants in a business, they appreciate the attention your business pays to details,” she said. DeBrooke supplies living plants to banks, dealerships and hotels, and keeps them looking beautiful by watering, cleaning and fertilizing them. Her guaranteed maintenance program replaces plants as necessary. The interiorscaping business also has a color program featuring bromeliads, tropical plants that can produce yellow, burgundy or orange flowers. Orchids are another option.
“Where we make the biggest difference is in office buildings. The greenery stands out and adds visual relief,” DeBrooke said. She recently installed Hawaiian palms, dracaenas and a mixture of low profile plants at Boggus Motors-Harlingen. The positive response from the sales staff was instantaneous.
Some national companies, from restaurant chains to banks, require live plants as part of their décor, DeBrooke added. She sees live plants as a way to finish a beautiful space. For example, The Pearl on South Padre continues to enhance the topical ambiance by adding more plants from Tropical Gardens.
Across the Valley most florist shops are family owned, like City Flower Shop in Mission. Gloria Guerra runs the shop with her father Pablo and her nieces. Their business has changed too, dropping the Bride from the name. Like many others, City Flower no longer takes third party orders (Teleflora or FTD).
“People just call you now,” Guerra said. “We’re a family business and our customers are local.”
May cover story by Eileen Mattei