If you are buying flowers for a wedding or other major occasion, or want
flowers delivered, you probably need to use a florist shop. But in our
comparison of prices, we found that for the limited range of products they
sell supermarkets and street vendors can offer tremendous savings. In our
shopping, prices at supermarkets and warehouse clubs were, on average,
36 percent lower than florists prices. Prices at street vendors were even
lower: 50 percent lower than florists.
Among florists, we found big price differences. For one dozen long-stem
red roses we found prices ranging from $13 to $60 among local shops, and
for a calla lily we found prices ranging from $2.69 to $12 per stem.
We also found big differences in the level of service provided by shops.
For example, for the quality of advice provided, some shops were rated
superior by fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers, while
others got such favorable scores from 90 percent or more of their surveyed
To order flowers delivered to a location outside the local area, you have
several options: Have a local florist contact a florist in the destination
location to arrange and deliver the order; contact and deal directly with
a florist in the destination location; or have a national florist service
get a florist in the destination location to arrange and deliver.
Sending flowers can be an act of kindness, affection, celebration, or sympathy.
But it is also, to some extent, an act of faith. Unlike many products you
buy, floral arrangements are usually created and delivered sight unseen.
Skilled florists are able to interpret your tastes (or those of the recipient),
determine whats appropriate for the occasion, and then create a work of
art that fits those needs. Of course, the best floral shops also use fresh
products that will last, deliver on time, and keep costs within your budget.
Although good florists work wonders, not-so-great florists often fall short.
Our ratings of Twin Cities area florists, shown on our Ratings Tables,
should help you make the right choice.
Although the vast majority of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported,
a substantial amount are grown in California. Thanks to air freight, flowers
growing in fields in Colombia (which produces about half the cut flowers
sold in the U.S.), Ecuador, or the Netherlands can be in your home in as
little as 48 hours.
Though there are many different arrangements, the traditional distribution
chain includes five links: grower, broker or importer, wholesaler, retailer,
and consumer. Flowers ordered through a broker are usually transported
from the grower to the wholesaler by plane or, in the case of domestically
grown flowers, in refrigerated trucks packed in wooden or cardboard crates.
The wholesaler may cut and clean the flowers before delivering them by
truck to area florists.
Inevitably, every hand that touches the flowers becomes a little greener.
It is not unusual for the markup on a fresh-cut designed floral arrangement
from grower to consumer to exceed 600 percent.
In an effort to reduce costs, the traditional distribution chain is often
short-circuited. For instance, some growers may sell directly to wholesalers
without using a broker, and some brokers sell directly to retailers.
Youll find flowers all aroundat retail florist shops, supermarkets, sidewalk
vendors, even hardware stores. The following questions will help you choose
the right type of seller:
Do you know exactly what you want to buy, or do you need help and advice?
Do you want to pick up the flowers yourself, or have them delivered locally
or to an out-of-area address?
Do you want cut flowers to arrange yourself, or for someone else to arrange
them for you?
Are you looking for a large variety of exotic and unusual flowers?
How much money do you want to spend?
How much time and interest do you have in making the best choice?
In cities, street vendors are located at many key intersections of the
business district. In the suburbs, flower vendors are near shopping areas
and along major thoroughfares. These vendors cater to the impulse buyerhand
over a few dollars and walk away with a bouquet.
Some street vendors sell only roses; others offer a variety of cut flowers
(such as carnations, daisies, and gladioli) formed into bouquets and displayed
in buckets. Potted plants and arrangements are rarely available. The quality
of the flowers can vary a great deal depending upon when and where the
vendor obtained them and when customers buy them. Street vendors who get
their flowers from the same wholesalers that supply florist shops may be
peddling several-day-old flowers. Be careful about buying on your way home
from work at the end of the day; even if the flowers were fresh from the
wholesaler in the morning, chances are they have been sitting in the sun
all day and wont last very long.
In addition to speed and convenience, street vendors have one other major
advantage: price. In our shopping, we found street vendors prices averaged
about 38 percent lower than those at supermarkets and about 50 percent
lower than those at local florists.
On the downside, however, selection is usually very limited. And, of course,
you can hardly use a street vendor to provide flower arrangements for a
wedding or to deliver flowers to a friend recuperating in a distant hospital.
If you buy from a street vendor, use the tips below on inspecting for freshness
and quality. Since quality and prices sometimes vary substantially from
vendor to vendor, check out a few vendors to see which offer the best value.
Supermarkets and Membership Warehouse Stores
Like street vendors, supermarkets, membership warehouse stores, and other
mass merchandisers sell most of their flowers to shoppers who have not
set out to buy them. Their strategy is to take advantage of a high volume
of foot traffic to capture impulse buyers. These stores specialize in basic
cut flowers, blooming plants (especially around holidays for favorites
such as poinsettias, lilies, and mums), and green potted plants. More than
half of major supermarkets today carry floral products on a regular or
The services provided by supermarket floral departments range from basic
to full-service. Some stores display pre-made bouquets at checkout or in
the produce section. Others may have a separate service counter for flowers
as well as potted plants, custom-made corsages, and balloons. A few full-service
floral departments may offer wire services and provide flowers for weddings.
A major advantage of picking up cut flowers at a supermarket is price.
In our shopping, we found that supermarket prices averaged about 36 percent
lower than prices at traditional florists.
There is substantial price variation for the same item among different
supermarkets (sometimes even within the same chain). For example, we found
supermarket prices ranging from $9 to $36 for a dozen red roses.
Although you might not think of hardware stores as places to buy flowers,
they often carry a wide variety of potted plants and hanging baskets along
with outdoor plants and supplies.
Your neighborhood retail florist can meet almost any flower-oriented need.
Most florists offer wire service, plants and other gifts, and can service
large occasions such as weddings. Whether you are wiring an arrangement
of flowers to your parents for their anniversary or sending a bouquet as
a get-well wish to a sick friend, the retail florist can do the job.
Florists differ in what their businesses emphasize and the style of arrangements
they produce. Florists that focus on wire service business produce arrangements
with a standard wire service look to both the container and the design
of the bouquet. At the other extreme, custom design shops do little or
no wire service business, carry more unusual and exotic flowers, and produce
unique, original designs. Many specialty shops maintain files on customers
home designs and color schemes, and keep records of past orders to help
them customize a look for each purchase.
Buying a floral arrangement is buying a work of art. Youll want to find
a shop whose use of color and flower types fits your individual taste.
This applies to ordering a flower arrangement for a dinner party or a silk
flower arrangement for your living room. It may be even more important
if you are spending hundreds of dollars for a wedding or other special
occasion requiring a large number of flowers. Whatever the occasion, dont
wait until the last moment to select the florist; give yourself time to
Beyond taste, consider several factors in choosing a florist: quality of
products, variety, quality of advice, reliability and promptness, and price.
To find a shop that offers what you want, visit a few. Since most florists
sales are arranged by phone, you need to be confident that the shop you
deal with will deliver a productsight unseenwith which youll be happy.
As strange as this may seem, visiting a shop in person also ensures that
youre actually doing business with a local shop. The Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) has for several years warned that some telemarketing firms pose as
local florists by placing ads in local phone directories and on the Internet
using business names that sound like local shops. These out-of-the-area
phone banks simply act as intermediaries, sending orders to truly local
florists while hitting customers for added fees. Consumers taken in by
these companies have complained that the flowers werent delivered as ordered
or never delivered at all.
Our Ratings Tables show ratings that we collected from our surveys
of area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers)
for florist shops that received at least 10 ratings on our surveys. (For
more information on our customer survey and other research methods, click
here.) In addition, the table shows results
from our price surveys.
As you can see, many of the florists listed on our Ratings Tables received
high ratings from their surveyed customers. The comments we received about
these shops included: true artists, knowledgeable, accommodating,
dependable, and sell only the best and freshest products. But the ratings
and comments for some of the shops prove that a rose is not a rose: Consumers
often lodged complaints related to late or missing deliveries; delivery
of wrong items; poor-quality products; lousy attitudes; and delivery of
arrangements that included many fewer flowers, or lower quality flowers,
To find the right shop, consider several aspects of service, including
quality and variety of flowers sold; reliability of advice from staff;
whether the shop will deliver what it promises, on time; and prices.
Our Ratings Tables report significant shop-to-shop differences in how
surveyed customers rated florists for quality of products.
Check quality yourself using the tips for selecting good flowers below.
Also check whether the florist is an accredited member of the American
Institute of Floral Designers (www.aifd.org). Accreditation indicates
that the florist has successfully completed an evaluation of flower arranging
skills, passed an open-book test, and pledged to follow the Institutes
code of ethics.
In addition, check guarantees. A responsible florist should allow you to
exchange flowers or arrangements for a replacement within 24 hours if you
are dissatisfied. Ideally, the guarantee would be written, but verbal assurances
can suffice. Discuss the guarantee before the purchase. If you are dissatisfied
with your flowers, complain to the florist promptly.
Area florists generally received their lowest customer ratings on variety.
For example, while on average 87 percent of customers rated their florists
superior on quality of products, the figure for variety was only
74 percent. As you deal with a florist, youll get a clearer picture of
whether it offers a sufficient variety of products to meet your needs.
When ordering flowers for a wedding or other major event, you may need
extensive advice from a florist. And even a modest gift might necessitate
a little guidance. In addition to advice on selection, you will want instructions
on careparticularly of potted plants. Our customer survey results will
help you find a florist that offers good advice, but youll need to judge
for yourself whether shops listen to your questions and give reasonable-sounding
answers. Remember, the better you communicate your tastes and expectations,
the better the florist can advise you.
Reliability and Promptness
If you are sending flowers in celebration of a friends birthday, you dont
want them delivered to a next-door neighbor two days late. Our customer
survey ratings on reliability and promptness can help you avoid such mishaps.
Our mystery shoppers called the companies that were evaluated in our last
full, published article and, without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK,
checked prices for a variety of arrangements, cut flowers, and potted plants.
The price comparison scores on our Ratings Tables show how each florists
prices compared to the area-wide average prices for the items it had available.
The scores are standardized to a base of $100. A score of $120 means the
florist was 20 percent more expensive than the average store for the items
it had available. Price comparison scores ranged from a low of $63 to a
high of $129. Table 1, which shows the lowest and highest prices for the
items we shopped, reveals larger percentage differences for individual
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Florists for Illustrative
Interestingly, there appears to be little relationship between what you
pay and what you get. We found several highly rated florists that have
Our price comparison scores are based on prices quoted for items picked
up at the florist. Because florists formulas for pricing local delivery
are too varied and complex to sum up in our ratings table, youll have
to ask each florist about their delivery charges.
When you need to send flowers to someone outside the Twin Cities area,
what do you do?
One option is to call a local florist and have it send the order to a florist
in the recipients location via a wire service such as FTD or Teleflora,
the two largest wire service operations. Much florist business involves
processing wire orders for delivery of flowers or plants to distant locations.
By choosing a good florist, you enhance the chances that a high-quality
product will be delivered to the right place at the right time.
It is important that the local florist accurately estimates the cost of
the arrangement you order. If the price is too low, you might not get what
you want; too high and youll be lining the pockets of the out-of-town
florist (which may return the favor to your florist on its next order in
the Twin Cities area). A knowledgeable local florist who knows the markets
in other parts of the country can advise you on what flowers would be a
good value there. Also, an established florist keeps track of its experience
with florists in other areas, thus increasing the likelihood that youll
get good quality. Often a good florist will follow up to make sure your
flowers are delivered.
If you discover a problem with what is delivered, you can complain directly
to the local florist. The more reliable the florist, the greater the chances
that the problem will be corrected quickly. Each of the major wire services
guarantees flowers ordered through its system. If there is a problem, you
can contact your florist or the wire services main office. In most cases,
a replacement will be sent.
You can also bypass Twin Cities area florists by accessing the FTD and
Teleflora online catalogs, where prices are about the same as average prices
quoted by local florists. You can use these wire services websites to
find local florists at the destination location, as you can with one of
the find-a-florist services (see below); or you can order from FTD or Teleflora,
which will in turn have flowers arranged and delivered by a florist of
its choosing at the destination location.
Florist Networks and Buying Online
Other options are find-a-florist networks, order-taking services, and direct
Find-a-florist networks provide consumers city-by-city directories of florists.
Florists pay an annual or monthly fee to be listed in a particular network.
After contacting a florist network and providing destination location information,
the network will provide names, phone numbers, and Web addresses of florists
in the area that you can contact directly.
By contacting a florist in another city directly via a network, you avoid
wire service charges and Twin Cities area florist service fees. Also, you
will be dealing directly with the florist who will put together and deliver
the arrangement. On the other hand, you dont get the benefit of having
a Twin Cities area florist choose a florist with which it is familiar in
the distant city; you cant get help from your local florist or its wire
service if there are problems; and you dont get the kind of advice you
can get from a trusted local florist.
If you will be using a florist in one of the other metropolitan areas CHECKBOOK
serves, you can choose a top-rated florist by selecting that region on
our Ratings Tables.
You can also order flowers via phone or online from an order-taking service
that will have a florist located near the destination location arrange
and deliver your orderwithout even revealing the identity of the destination
florist. Order-taking companies include 1800flow-ers.com (800-356-9377)
and CoastTo-CoastFlorist.com (888-888-5459). Using one of these order-taking
companies gives you even less control of the final result than calling
a florist at the destination location and might inflate the final cost
by adding an intermediary to the transaction.
Still another option is to deal with a service that picks, arranges, and
packages flowers at a location near the grower, and ships the flowers directly
to the recipientwith no retail florist involved at either end of the transaction.
This is the approach taken by Proflowers.com.
Unless you know a lot about flowers, youll probably be dependent on your
retailer to help you pick high-quality, reasonably priced flowers. Your
florist knows what is in season, what is available, and what is fresh,
but a few general rules will help you exercise some independent judgment.
Look at the color, form, and trim of cut flowers. Avoid flowers that are
wilted or bruised, have blemishes, or are losing petals. Buds should be
fairly tight, a flowers color should be vivid, and the base of the stem
should be firm and neatly cut, free of dirt and slime.
If you are buying from a street vendor, try to buy early in the day to
increase the likelihood that the flowers havent been sitting in the sun
too long. Also check to be sure the water in the buckets is clear.
If you are ordering an arrangement over the phone, think about how to describe
what you wantsize and shape, colors, and how you plan to use the arrangement.
If ordering for a large occasion, visit the florist shop. Ask to see examples
of its work and for references from customers who have placed similar orders.
Place the order far enough in advance so that the florist can specially
order any flowers you request.
Several hints on keeping prices down:
Flower prices are a product of supply and demand, so you will pay extra
for popular flowers at a holiday time. Consider something less popular.
Buying stems and using a vase from home will reduce your costs.
The simple look of a single flower can be elegant and save you a lot of
money (unless you buy a very exotic stem).
If possible, pick up the flowers yourself, rather than having them delivered.
Organizations with helpful websites for consumers include the California
Cut Flower Commission (www.ccfc.org) and the Society of American Florists
1. Always start with a very clean, well-scrubbed vase.
2. Flower stems should be re-cut with a sharp knife or with scissors designed
for cutting flowers. Avoid using dull scissors, as they may crush capillaries
that carry water to the bloom.
3. Remove any leaves or foliage that will be below the water line in the
vase. This helps prevent algae and bacteria from growing and blocking up
4. Put the flowers in water immediately after re-cutting. Change water daily
or if it becomes cloudy. Warm water will help open blooms that havent
fully opened; use cool water to preserve flowers that have fully opened.
5. Using a flower nutrient/preservative in the water can help prolong a
flowers life. These additives, available at most florist shops, kill bacteria
and feed the flower.
6. Keep flowers in a cool place away from heating vents and direct sunlight.
Warm, moving air will cause flowers to lose water faster than they can
take it up.
7. Keep flowers away from fruit. Ethylene gas, released by fruit, accelerates
ripening of flowers.
8. You can extend the life of an arrangement by dismantling it every two
or three days and re-cutting the stems. If a stem is wilting, you can even
insert a wire down the center of the bloom to act as an internal splint.
Also, older flowers should be discarded to keep the arrangement fresh looking.
9. You can rejuvenate silk flowers by blowing the dust off them. You can
use the low, cool setting of a hair dryer.