The state of the floral industry was the topic of the Ellison International Floriculture Chair Distinguished Lecture Series held recently in College Station, featuring guest speaker Drew Gruenberg, chief operating officer for the Society of American Florists, SAF.
Charlie Hall, Ph.D., professor and Ellison Chair in International Floriculture for Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Horticulture and coordinator for the event, welcomed Gruenberg as someone who has had a major impact on the floral industry.
“When you think about the Declaration of Independence, you often think of John Hancock and his signature. And when you think of the floral industry, you think of Drew Gruenberg. He’s had a major impact here,” said Hall.
Gruenberg will retire in December after a 38-year career at SAF, the national trade association representing all segments of the U.S. floral industry. He began his career as a writer and editor, climbed the ladder and finished as chief operating officer. During the lecture, Gruenberg discussed the basics of marketing and advocacy for the floral industry and the strategic planning of the SAF.
State of the floral industry
In a survey conducted by SAF comparing 2016 to 2018, the total wholesale value of flowers was up 9% to $4.6 billion, and the number of producers had also increased by 8%.
A major factor in the way the floral industry has evolved has to do with, like other industries, what is true today that was not true 10 years ago, he said. Ten years ago, Instagram was not around. Amazon was, but its influences changed from a novel idea to normalcy, and Uber and Lyft had not been established.
Flower subscription services now exist. Millennials make up 70 million of the population whereas boomers make up 40 million, he explained. The millennial influence has a big effect on what and how things are sold.
Studio and event florists became the fastest-growing segment of the market, and online buying became the fastest-growing category for retailers.
“Through the years, the number of retail florists has dropped and SAF memberships dropped, but the numbers are now stabilizing,” he said. “The loss in retailers is fewer, and the trend of the decrease is looking better.”
The total spending on flowers is looking good and has a projected growth of a 4% increase by 2023.
“We want to be exactly what growth-minded professionals need when they need it,” he said.
SAF makes vows to the industry
He explained the plans for SAF through their vows to the industry.
“The SAF board has made a vow to initiate the change needed to ensure our organization’s relevancy,” Gruenberg said.
They made a vow to challenge tradition and the status quo by thinking boldly and being open to new ideas; to use data to understand current and future needs; to be open to having tough conversations regarding disruptors in the industry; and to think beyond individual biases and motives.
“Our mission is to get a rigorous understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing SAF and the industry.”
The industry faces challenges with labor, from trucking industry shortages to an aging workforce. Many businesses/entrepreneurs are struggling to find help. Developing a career path for ambitious new hires is a high-priority point for development moving forward.
Competition remains a constant threat to businesses as rising costs for health care, costs of goods and freight and understanding new technologies represent other challenges.
But, there are also opportunities to be had.
“Brick and mortar stores are alive and well,” he said. “Some say Amazon killed brick and mortar, but Amazon is actually adding storefronts. They are trying to make it better.”
The experience economy is key. Nostalgia being the key product, businesses have to orchestrate events that embrace memory, he explained.
“Businesses must consider what they can do offline that cannot be done online to create experiences that are so important to floral industries,” Gruenberg said.
The plant craze has also benefited the industry.
“With millennials, plants are like the new pets,” he said. “Thirty-seven percent of millennials grow plants and herbs indoors and fulfill their desire to feel closer to nature.”
Localvores are also influencing the industry, Gruenberg said. Those with a desire to keep it local and embrace the farm-to-table movement are also big drivers in the floral industry.
“This group truly appreciates a story behind the product,” he said.
SAF will be creating training resources to help orchestrate a pipeline for talented individuals to succeed in the industry. An online training portal with certifications and shared experiences will assist in an upward career progression for the industry, businesses and employee retention.
Embracing digital delivery will be critical. And educational, regional gathering/webinars will provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning. SAF will be looking into local marketing resources, intel about competitive forces, technology options, consumer preferences and new business opportunities.
“Despite the challenges, this is a good time to be selling flowers,” he said. “Consumer preferences are evolving, and competition is stiff, but it is there.”