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Monday, March 23, 2009

Flowers Are Useless

You can’t live in a flower. You cannot hop into a flower and take the kids to school. You can’t – with certain exceptions – EAT a flower. And, unless you happen to be Polynesian, you cannot WEAR a flower.

But for as long as we human beings have been what we laughingly call “civilized,” flowers have been a part of our lives.

Consider the paintings on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. They often depict both Pharoahs and Common Folk smelling lotus blossoms. Look at the inventory of grave goods from an archaeological dig and, chances are, you’ll find “Remnants Of Flowers” listed along with the necklaces, and axe heads and sandals. The little Inca Children that were brutally sacrificed on a mountaintop in the Andes a thousand years ago had flowers tucked into their woolen clothing.

And flowers maintain their place in today’s diverse “modern” society.

Can anyone ever forget the throngs of mourners lining the streets of London, tossing flower bouquets as Diana’s hearse carried her to her last resting place?

Consider the joyous look on the face of a beauty pageant winner, as she receives the celebratory bouquet of roses? Would it be the same with a necklace of iPods?

What about the guy on his first date that shyly hands his friend an inexpensive pink carnation? Would anyone suggest that he should have given her a One Dollar Bill instead?

What, then, is so remarkable about flowers? Why were they an integral part of all ancient societies? And why do they remain a part of the high-tech, fast-paced lives of today?

Simply put, flowers help us deal with situations that we do not understand, and all-too-often cannot control. And they do it in a way that no other item, whether made by God or by man, ever could… or ever will.

And maybe that’s not so useless, after all!

Monday, March 9, 2009

ProFlowers: Bargain or Rip Off?

Here is a link to Florist Detective regarding ProFlowers.

It kinda says it all!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

How We Do Valentine's Day

Sometimes I chat with executives in other industries. When I do, I often pose the following challenge: "You know, 12 months in advance, that in a three day period, your sales will increase by over 100 times. You have no limitations other than profitability in planning for this sales increase. You can hire anybody you wish. Because your products are perishable, you cannot build any products ahead of time, and put them in inventory. At least 50% of the products that you offer for sale have no sales history. You must supply all your customers during this three day period with products and services that meet or exceed your company's normal quality standards. Could you do it?"

Most executives think about this for a bit and slowly shake their heads, "NO."

But that's what we do at The Flower Hut EVERY VALENTINE'S WEEK!

So I thought it might be interesting to tell you a bit about how this all happens.

First, after every Valentine's Day, we do a "post mortem" analysis. We document everything that we did, haw we did it, and how it worked. We pay particular attention to things that we did RIGHT (so we can do those again) as well as what we did WRONG (so we can figure out what we did wrong and decide how to fix it.)

Starting just after Christmas, we do a forecast of expected sales volume. We rely on data from previous years (we have a 20 year data base to draw from.) Usually, Wednesday and Thursday Valentines are the most active. Friday, surprisingly is not all that active. (Why? Friday is also "date night" and many frugal guys opt for a fancy dinner(only) rather than dinner AND flowers.

Based on this sales forecast -- fine tuned by our sense of how the economy is going -- in early January we enter our orders with our grower-direct suppliers. We schedule the orders for air freight delivery starting about six days before Valentine's Day. Fragile flowers (like roses and lilies) get delivered later. Robust flowers like carnations and mums arrive earlier.

We reserve a 45 foot refrigerated trailer to be delivered about a week before Valentine's Day. Also, we start recruiting contract drivers to help us handle the delivery overload. Usually, about 30% to 50% of our contract drivers are returnees from previous years. The rest are "rookies." As each new driver is recruited, he/she is assigned a start time for the 13th and the 14th. We also recruit a dispatcher whose function is to make sure that every driver has an optimum quantity of products, that every order is complete, that all products are in perfect condition, and that each driver has flower carriers, a map, delivery instructions and other delivery aids.

We also recruit additional staff. We seldom bring in temporary designers (it is VERY difficult to find designers that meet our standards.) However, we usually have openings for computer order entry personnel, telephone personnel, and general shop work.

In mid-January, our Valentine's website goes "up." Soon, we start to see Valentine's orders appearing. We track these very carefully as they help us "fine tune" our sales (and raw materials) ordering projections.

We categorize our products as being for either "standard" or "custom." A standard product is one that we make on a "production line." Examples would include a DZ RED roses in a vase (ALWAYS a best seller) and featured FTD and Teleflora Valentine's designs. Custom products are anything other than standard. Examples might include a vase of stargazer lilies, 11 red and 1 white roses, etc.

As orders come in, we check them for completeness and accuracy. We do not accept orders with time limits during Feb 13 or 14. We also do not accept orders containing multiple balloons -- this is a potential safety hazard!

Meanwhile, the refrigerated trailer is filled with tables to hold our products. We set aside specific areas for "standard" products. We also set aside areas for the 13th and 14th where "custom" products are placed alphabetically.

Starting a day or two before the delivery date, we start grouping orders geographically. We do this so that a driver will not have to go from one side of the city to the other in order to complete a delivery load. Instead, we try to group orders together so that -- as much as is possible -- all the orders on a load will be in the same general geographic area.

Starting in the afternoon before the 13th, the dispatcher and assistant(s) begin staging orders. They do this by taking a geographic group, putting cards on all the products, and putting them in the same area of the trailer. This often continues until late in the PM.

The next morning, the dispatcher and assistants arrive at about 7 AM. We load the Flower Hut driver's vehicles first so that when the drivers arrive at 8 AM, they are ready to go. At that time, we print a delivery log from our computer.

Contract drivers arrive at 9AM and continue to arrive at 15 minute intervals. Each driver receives flower carriers and his load of flowers, and a printed log.

The above is complicated by last-minute orders and last minute changes.

As each driver completes his run, he turns in the log, reports on any delivery issues, and is issued another load of flowers.

A comprehensive set of instructions guides the drivers and dispatcher in the event of a mis-delivery. The most common causes for a mis-delivery are: incorrect address and nobody home (and no practical place to leave the flowers.)

Starting late afternoon on the 13th, and continuing until fairly late that evening, we repeat the staging process. The next morning, the process repeats.

How well does it work?

This year, we had just ONE mis-delivery, and that was dealt with by the close of day.

OK just 11 months until NEXT Valentine's Day!