“This is a slow time of year, but still we’ve been busy anyway,” says Ray Le Du, standing in his Manhattan flower shop, Blue Water Flowers, trimming a shipment of tulips just in from the Netherlands. A glass-door cooler by the entrance is filled with velvety red charm peonies—a best-seller even at $12 a stem, says the florist, who almost lost his business during the recession when law firms, hotels, and other big clients stopped calling.
Le Du credits the uptick in orders to BloomNation, an online marketplace where customers can order arrangements from a network of independent florists. Shops such as Blue Water pay BloomNation a 10 percent fee for every sale. In exchange, BloomNation builds a store within its own website for each florist, dispatching a photographer to take pictures of sample arrangements. It also gives businesses tools to collect and analyze their sales data, including contact and order information for past customers.
BloomNation’s 10 percent cut is less than half what 1-800-Flowers. com, Teleflora, and FTD charge florists to process orders through their websites and call centers. These so-called wire services dominate the cut flower business, which has annual sales in the $7 billion to $8 billion range, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Like fast-food franchises, Teleflora and 1-800-Flowers.com offer a standard menu of arrangements and require florists to sign contracts that commit them to buy certain types of flowers and vases and use design templates to build bouquets.