Down to the Wire
Written by Amanda Ryder
Maximizing Your Wire Service
In the floral industry, customers have come to rely on
the fact that they can walk into a flower shop and within a day or two,
send flowers to a loved one across provincial borders, out of the
country and even overseas. For many florists, wire services have been a
part of their business since the day they opened their doors.
We talked to a number of successful Canadian florists, who use a range of both large and small wire services, to see what they are doing to make sure they get the most out of their wire service.
Use the Services Provided by the Wire Service
As technology evolves, wire services have kept up with the times by providing florists with more programs and services. Rick Evans, of Evans Florist in Moose Jaw, Sask., says one of the big benefits from belonging to two large wire services is the fact that they can provide florists with an online presence. “We use the Internet site and that’s a big plus because we really don’t have the time to constantly update it. It gives us exposure 24 hours a day,” says Evans. He also takes advantage of the service that allows him to directly solicit previous customers on birthdays or to notify them of in-store sales. “It’s a good way to keep in touch with the customer.”
And both small- and large-sized florists can take advantage of the added benefits. At Tidy’s Flowers in Toronto, president Jim Lye says they make use of a 24-hour answering service because it’s “a way to have the phone tended to 24 hours a day.” Lye says they also use the images provided by the wire services and put them online for customers to see. “It allows us to choose the products and arrangements and put them on our website,” he said. “It gives us another place to get orders.”
Limit Your Dependency on Wire Services
Lou LaVenia, owner of Rosette Fleuriste in LaSalle, Que., says florists should try to monitor how much they rely on wire services. “It’s only a service, if it’s going to be your complete business then the percentage you’re going to make is minute.” At his shop, they see wire services as a way to balance their stock. He dedicates 80 per cent of his inventory to everyday business and uses the rest for wire orders. LaVenia views wire service profits as extra money, which he can use to facilitate extra employees. One thing he emphasizes is that “if the order is not there, then don’t take it.”
Beverley Woodburn of New Westminster Floral Company in New Westminster, B.C., is a member of one of the smaller wire services available to Canadians and echoed this idea. At her shop, they view their wire service as a way to serve their customers who want to send flowers long distances. “For a small store, the incoming [flow of orders] isn’t important but the outgoing is. I want to serve the people coming into our store,” says Woodburn. She says there can be very little profit in filling orders so the shop doesn’t try to attract extra orders. When receiving orders, a florist has to cover the cost of flowers, arrange the design, fill to value, pay the delivery and sacrifice between 20 to 30 per cent of the order to the wire service and sending florist. As a rule, Woodburn says for the average florist, the wire service should never make up more than 10 to 20 per cent of the business. “If you try to run half of your business on 73 per cent of the income, plus membership costs, it’s very hard to bring home any money.”
Develop a Strategy
At Trites Flower Shop in Fredricton, N.B., general manager Wade Bryden says when they send orders, they try to use shops similar to Trites. “We tend to find places that go the extra mile like we do, people that are service oriented.” They keep track of the shops that they deal with and make note of how the transaction went.
When taking an order, Bryden tries to ensure that his staff asks the customer for more than just a second choice. He understands that the filling choice may not have the exact container or blooms the customer has requested. Bryden tries to get a sense of “look and feel” the customer is requesting and a list of
possible flowers so he can pass this on to the filling florist. By doing this, Bryden says that it places the onus not just on the filling florist, but also on the person taking the order.
When Rosette Fleuriste sends out wire orders to big customers or new clients, LaVenia says they try to make the order really nice. “If you have a $200 order going out, put $250 worth of product in it and market yourself.”
Woodburn of New Westminster Floral Company says that although filling orders can cut into a florist’s profit, there are ways florists can benefit by filling orders. She says the first way is that because flowers are a perishable product, filling orders is a way to use up extra stock. It’s also an opportunity, as LaVenia says, to market to the recipient. “If that person becomes a customer, then you have the opportunity to send orders for them,” she says.
Now that you know how to maximize the wire services, here’s a look at the options available to florists, in order of when they were first established.
Wire Service Overview
FTD is an international wire service that began in 1910. Since it’s early beginnings as a wire service, the company has evolved to include a number of programs that help florists run their shop from day to day.
“In today’s competitive landscape, FTD is diligently working to offer products and services to florists in Canada that will change the way they do business,” says Michael Soenen, FTD President and CEO.
Two such products offered in Canada are the FTD Flower Exchange and FTD Mercury Point of Sale. FTD Flower Exchange gives florists an option to purchase flowers 24/7 online, and FTD Mercury Point of Sales gives florists a way to efficiently manage their business.
Member florists can also join the world of e-commerce through FTD Florists Online. The service helps florists get their business on the Internet via a website, exposing the shop to a host of potential online customers.
In addition to these benefits, the wire service provides florists with national advertising. “We have also secured co-op advertising opportunities with the NHL for florists in Canada – this is a unique advertising vehicle that touches consumers all season long,” says Soenen.
Teleflora is an international wire service that began with only a small handful of florists in 1934. Tom Butler, chairman of Teleflora, says the network has a membership of over 1,800 Canadian florists and describes this as “the number one benefit we bring.” In order to best serve this network of florists, the company has maintained a strong presence in Canada and takes pride in the fact that the company is staffed by Canadians familiar with the domestic market. “Over the years, the constant has been an office for customer service in Canada. We’ve always had one,” says Butler. “Through this, we are really able to give specialized service.”
In order to keep member florists up-to-date on the latest technology, Teleflora has expanded to become more than just a wire service. Teleflora florists have access to Teleflora’s credit card program, technology and point-of-sale programs as well as the organization’s Internet program. Teleflora’s eFlorist program hosts and updates member websites and helps retailers maintain a presence on the web. “It allows the florists to be on the Internet in a cost effective way,” says Butler.
The BBrooks fine flowers network began in the U.S. in 1997 by Barbera Brooks. The niche wire service is made of an international network of high-end florists. In order to become a member of the network, florists must submit photographs and references to the company and they select qualified florists to become a part of the service.
There are no membership fees or monthly fees involved with the service. Under the commission structure, the filling florist receives 72 per cent and the sending florist receives 16 per cent if they place the order online, or 10 per cent if it is faxed or e-mailed. Brooks says this difference covers the extra administration fees that arise when the order isn’t submitted online through the Pollinator, the network’s web-based order entry system.
The network provides a fee-based e-commerce site for member florists and BBrooks features member designs on the website. Brooks says one of the main benefits of the network is the fact that the florists are all dealing with the same level of clientele. When a high-end florist sends an order, they know another high-end florist will fill it. “It’s a consortium of great florists and you can be assured the quality is there.”
Floracom is a Canadian-based wire service that operates via a call centre. It began in 1999. Whenever a member florist has an order to send out anywhere in the world, the florist can call into the centre and they take care of it. Guy Laurin is the founder and president of the wire service and says members can join the service even if they already belong to another.
Laurin says when a member calls the centre, the administration and paperwork is done on the spot and florists are billed and paid once a month. The florist can communicate with the call centre as if they were talking directly to the filling florist. Laurin says if the filling florist does not have on hand what the sending florist asked for, the call centre will call another filling florist to fill the order. “We control the quality of what’s going on by being the middleman”, says Laurin.
One way florists can maximize the wire service is to use the benefits the program offers. Laurin says the wire service is “really computerized and really quick.” Floracom has a credit card program and the service also supports members with publicity and leave behinds.
Blossoms Network is a Canadian wire service that began in 2000. Owner Peter Plumley says only independent retail florists or multi-shopped florists are eligible for membership. The monthly fee rate is $25 and the wire service offers an incoming order rebate of $4 per order. The service offers a clearinghouse fee of five per cent.
Plumley says Blossoms Network allows florists to choose whatever works for them. Florist can send orders electronically through the POS system by e-mail, fax or through the website. When florists become members of the network, they get a preferred rate with both FloristWare and Elite Ribbon printers. Florists also gain access to Florist Geeks, an advisory panel that’s available to address questions about computers, printer problems or advertising and marketing. When it comes to getting the most out of the service, Plumley encourages florists to contact them for advice at any time and says they are flexible when it comes to dealing with different shops. One example is that they realize some florists are less busy at various points during the year. Plumley says that if they only have one or two orders that month, then Blossoms Network will waive their monthly fee.
BloomNet is a wire service that started in 2003 and is comprised of independent florists and 1-800-FLOWERS franchise stores. Mark Nance, president of BloomNet says the wire service charges florists based on the number of orders that are received through the network. Using this model, small shops pay less than bigger shops.
Most recently, Nance says the network has been moving to incorporate more technology into the service. They now have virtual service and technology teams located across the U.S. and have expanded on services such as BloomNet’s digital directory. Lisa Carmichael, vice president of marketing and business development, says the directory allows florists to find other florists online. Florists have the ability to control what goes into their ads and Carmichael says the directory has been “very widely received.” Another new addition is the BloomLinks system, which allows the member florist to integrate technology from a number of point-of-sale systems into the BloomNet technology.
When it comes to using the BloomNet wire service, Nance says florists can optimize the system by keeping track of their own financial records. He says BloomNet florists should really utilize the services like the digital directory and “talk to the wire service about any concerns or questions.”
ClearRoot caters to full-service florists and was introduced in 2006 by owner Jeff Richman. The Canadian-based service requires no membership or software fees and works on a pay-per-use model. The network is digital and florists must have a computer and Internet connection in order to become a member. Retail florists can enrol online via the clearRoot website and download clearRoot’s rootWire software system. This is where the florist can either send or receive orders and can control what shop details are listed in the software’s florist directory. Florists are billed through electronic funds transfer and the bill cycle runs twice a month.
Richman says that because clearRoot is still growing, the wire service offers a unique benefit to retail florists. “It’s very easy for our florists to talk with any member of our team, one-on-one,” says Richman. “It’s not very often that florists’ suggestions can go from concept, to debate, to integration in a matter of months. We want our members to be involved.” The clearRoot website provides florists with the ability to chat live with clearRoot staff. Richman says the company is also partnering with other companies so that it can provide members with special promotions.