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Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs, San Francisco Vendor: Florist Website: Nancy Liu Chin Designs About Me: A San Francisco native, Nancy graduated from the University of California - Berkeley's Haas Business School where she studied finance and marketing. Beyond running her floral studio, Nancy is a huge fan of Top Chef, loves to travel to exotic locations, is an avid reader of contemporary fiction and considers herself on Team Edward (Twilight fan!), entertains friends in her loft style home in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and can be found at SF Giant's home games. Nancy and her husband, Kevin are a dynamic pair and can be frequently seen walking their white Bichon Frisee, Chin Chin around the city and lounging at cafes sipping Italian sodas.
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A couple days ago, I started to answer Lisa’s question on the cost of peonies, writing about Perceived Value and Pricing.

Today’s issue centers around why local grocery stores and warehouse stores are able to carry flowers at or below wholesale. For the answer, I have consulted the wonderfully talented, Amy Marella of Hidden Garden, for insight. There are several issues going on:

1) Bulk Quantities - Flushing
It is not uncommon to find Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Costco with a wide assortment of flowers. These wholesale warehouses and grocery chains buy their flowers in “bulk” and/or buy flowers that are “flushing” from the growers. I had never heard this term before Amy used it. Amy was kind enough to help define the term. “Flushing” occurs when flowers are coming in great abundance and the grower is willing to get rid of them quickly/cheaply because they have a very large quantity.

Amy states, “this is not to say that the flowers at these locations might not be perfect, but they are not hand picked by the buyers”. Given that - each week these outlets have differing stock. There is never a guarantee of what you might see at your local grocery store like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Safeway. These large corporations have the buying power to purchase in “bulk” therefore offering consumers much lower prices than a local floral shop who doesn’t buy in the quantities that a large, national grocery store could.

2) Precision - Pre Orders
As a floral designer who specializes in weddings, often a proposal is set months, weeks in advance. I don’t have the luxury to “randomly” select flowers for my wedding clients. Amy and I both realize that we have to “pre order” our flowers. And we assume the florist in this question probably pre ordered the peonies way in advance. I prefer to write my orders with about 2 weeks. Sometimes I have to give a month notice. Pre ordering ensures that the “exact” flower to the color and to the stem count is ordered. Floral designers all want the right amount of flowers and the best blooms, though often there is no guarantee because flowers are natural and perishable products. You can’t just go get a peony whenever you want.

Given that floral designers are ordering in advance, you don’t get a price break. In many instances, a florist actually pays a slightly higher premium to guarantee that the flowers they need for a wedding are EXACTLY what they want.

Amy’s company, The Hidden Garden, does exactly the same thing. She says, they ” might cost a little more across the board, but with that comes peace of mind for the bride”. Obviously, considering floral designers want to deliver what a client ordered, you can’t just take a chance that the right quantity, color or flower will just “show” up at the market. So banking on a Whole Foods for your wedding flowers is not a good way to go. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the peonies that a floral designer can get with the price of flowers at a local grocery store bcause you can’t get it consistently in the color, quantities and quality.

A floral designer, especially one who is doing a bridal bouquet, cannot afford to put their hopes into finding a random “special”. I also agree with Amy and many other floral designers that you want to select the best. You want to find the best “bunch” amongst the entire bulk order.

3) Hand Crafted
Finally, and probably the most important thing. I can’t imagine comparing a finished beautiful hand crafted bouquet with a bunch of peonies. They just aren’t the same. One is a work of art. One is just a bunch of flowers.

Would you go to a restaurant like Florio (see their lovely menu below - yummy) which has a wonderful Rib Eye steak and frites for $62 for two, and expect to pay $11.99 a pound as sold at Whole Foods for a rib eye?

*

Florio Classics

Totten Inlet Mediterranean Mussels steamed in White Wine, Garlic,
Thyme & Mirepoix, Lemon Aioli 13.50

Le Hamburger:
House Ground Chuck served open faced on Grilled Batard
with Caramelized Onions 14.

Fulton Valley Roasted Chicken,
Caramelized Summer Squash, Spring Onions & Garlic,
Roasted Poultry Jus
for one/ 24 or two/ 46.25

Hanger Steak Frites, Sauce Bearnaise 27.25

Bone-in Rib Eye Steak a la Bearnaise for Two,
Pommes Frites & Sauteed Spinach 65.25

*

You can go to Whole Foods and get all the ingredients for a cake or you can buy a beautiful one in their bakery. A finished, hand made item is not the price of its parts.

Bottom line: Higher costs come with being selective. It’s part of the artistry of floral designers. If you want to deliver the best, you order the best ingredients from the get go. And you simply cannot compare a commodity with something that is a finished, hand crafted, and custom made design.

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12 Responses to “Ask Nancy: $12.99 for Peonies Part Two”

1.
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Guest
miss bliss

I like this post! I’ve been to weddings that the flowers were not what the bride planned on… orange rather than ivory and rose. And bouquets that were smaller than the average throw away freebie and were made of filler flowers for a full figured bride and bridesmaid… Just because the bride thought that grocery store cheap was a good idea…
Sometimes the cheap flowers work… but it’s definitely risky.

 
2.
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Tia

Hmm…I don’t know. If you live in a big city, you will definitely have a flower wholesale district and can just do your own flowers for a fraction of the price. Example: florist quoted my friend $300 for her bouquet. She did the exact one she wanted, all beautiful garden roses, for $20. If you’re not in a big city, you can usually go to the local Whole Foods (or its equivalent) and sometimes the florists there are very talented. Another friend used this for her wedding and the arrangements were gorgeous, very imaginative with beautiful unusual flowers. Also for 1/3 or 1/4 of a price of other area florists. Working with wholesalers or grocery store florists, you can still order what you want in advance and you really pay more than 50% less. I guess it just depends on whether you are a buy-it-off-the-rack, pay full sticker price kind of person or whether you are into looking for alternatives.

 
3.
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Heidi

Love yet another great post about pricing from you. Nancy, I wish everyone of my Brides would read and understand this. The bouquet pictured above cannot be compaired with a DIY or suppermarket floral arrangement. It takes a proffesional florist to create something this beautiful, and one that will not wilt and fall apart just after the ceremony.

 
4.
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Member
Mrs. Mouse (message)  4,774 posts, Honey bee

This is a great post! (And what a gorgeous bouquet–definitely a work of art and worth every penny.)

 
5.
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Member
LisaM (message)  160 posts, Blushing bee

I do agree with Heidi. Florists can really make a big difference thus creating a work of art.

 
6.
ETwedding
Member
ETwedding (message)  301 posts, Helper bee

I don’t know. Reading this series has made me think that she is just trying to defend a dying profession. Like GM or Ford and their gas guzzlers. Florists need to adapt to the current economic climate. I just can’t justify the expense of something that will die within 2 days - thus, am going the DIY route. I’m sorry if this is harsh.

 
7.
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Guest
Christine

Nancy,

Excellent explanation.
Sadly, not everyone will get it. To them I say, be happy with your DIY but don’t expect a professional designer to price match.

 
8.
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Elle

I’m with ETwedding…sorry to sound harsh, but the whole premise of this post is kind of strange. People who don’t want to pay full price don’t “get it.” Um, yeah. I do get it. I can order the exact same flowers direct from the wholesaler, and put them in a vase. For 1/4 of the price. Which means I’m saving way over 1k, which I can then use to do other things with.

Flowers are great, really, I love them. But no matter how much you pay or who puts them together, they die after a few days. If someone has a few thousand to throw into disposable decorations that’s fantastic — “to them I say, be happy with your pricey and temporary decor.” For the rest of us who are planning weddings in a recession without moneybag parents, we’ll DIY or whatever and our weddings can still be absolutely gorgeous.

There are tons of tips on the web for brides who want to DIY flowers…A Practical Wedding, IndieBride, FiftyFlowers, and other sites have resources for those who don’t necessarily buy into the idea that you must have super expensive design in order to have great flowers at your wedding. Each person gets to shop around and make their own choices, no need to be pressured by vendors who want to justify their own existence.

 
9.
rzblna
Member
rzblna (message)  303 posts, Helper bee

Now, I don’t think the commenters are being quite fair. Very simple arrangements can be DIY’ed, but if you’ve tried to make anything more complicated, like the bouquet pictured, or a tall vase arrangement, you would know how difficult they are to put together. You’re paying for the florist’s eye and skill, just like with a photographer.

Not everyone can afford highly paid florists, but there are florists in nearly every price range– well, except for the super tight budget, in which case DIY may be the only option. If all you want is a simple arrangement that can be tossed in a vase, then maybe DIY is your best option (understanding that you’ll be responsible for the hassle of transporting, setting up, and making sure they don’t wilt). But hopefully the florist adds more value than putting a supermarket arrangement in a vase.

I don’t think it’s fair to accuse expensive florists as if they were somehow scamming people — they charge as much as the market will pay for their services.

As for the fact that flowers are “temporary,” you could say the same thing about a dress you only wear for one day, or the food you serve to your guests, or heck, having a wedding at all.

 
10.
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MANDY

Well to comment on the post and to give all of the brides a bit of insight into the daily life of a real life floral designer…

Point 1)I would like to say that it is not only the bouquet you are paying for, but also the physical location that you walk into to be able to discuss your details (we all have to pay rent/mortgage), consultation time to discuss exactly what it is you desire for your day, the flower orderer who had to prebook your beautiful blooms, the delivery driver who had to pick them up from the source or else the freight to have it delivered in a cold refrigerated truck to ensure proper temp regulation, (remember the van payment and gas that takes as well), the floral food solution that goes into the fresh water to preserve and enhance the longevity of the blooms to make sure they are in premium condition on your wedding day, for the designer that takes the time to select the perfect blooms (note: florist usually order at least two bunches when they only need one and select only the best blooms out of both bunches) and use their design skills and education (most of us travel to seminars all over the country for continuing education - travel expense is not free), then we usually wrap the bouquet in nice satin ribbon and finish it off with some sort of pin detail and then it is put into a vase (cleaned and filled with more solution) until it is labeled properly and given a look over by the owner to ensure that it is exactly what was ordered. At that point, the bouquet is transported to your wedding site and placed in appropriate conditions until it is time for pictures to begin. Is this it? Oh no, remember that when you order from a reputable florist, you have the guarantee that your bouquet will be perfect, or replaced. Believe me, on your wedding day, peace of mind is priceless.

Point 2) A reputable florist usually has some sort of professional education in the business and takes their profession very seriously. For instance: It is possible for you to go the the grocer and pick out hydrangea blooms for your centerpieces. After you get the blooms home they begin to wilt..OH NO! What do you do then? Do you drive back to the store and try to return them…right, no refunds or exchanges - they can’t guarantee where you put them - you could have left them in the car for two hours. Is there a secret to bringing those hydrangeas back to life..YES! There are several techniques and tips to try….do you think I am going to share those? OH NO! That is part of my expertise…that is why you trust in a professional floral designer and that is why you must pay them for their education and experience.

Point 3) If all you desire is a pre-pack grocer bouquet to drop in a vase, then you might as well let your Aunt and Bridesmaids do the dirty work…oh, but make sure its done before your nail appointments, and make sure that your groom’s brother knows where to put them on the day of the wedding…and that when they tump over in his car that he can halfway stick them back in the way that you did. Remember that all of these beautiful pictures you see in magazines and on television are created by professionals and there are some very complicated designs that will crumble if not designed with the proper mechanics. Believe it or not - bouts and corsages can sometimes be the most intricate of mechanics - good luck with those!

All in all to say that after all of the exhausting work is done and you enjoy your wedding day, then remember that all of the centerpieces must be gathered back up, all bouquet vases must be found, and the entire venue cleaned up and left in the condition which you found it.

I have taught many floral design classes and the main comment after each class from the students is that they leave the class with more appreciation for the “art” of floral design. It is more that just sticking a few fresh flowers in a vase. There are principles and elements of design, not simply just because “it looks good.”

 
11.
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Nancy Liu Chin

I absolutely want people to feel like they can voice their concern.

It’s up to all of us to find a way to bridge this “gap”.

Thank you to everyone that we can discuss this.

There is no right or wrong position and I thank Lisa for opening the dialogue.

Because this has sparked so much attention, I want to know, what else are brides thinking when it comes to flowers? What confuses you?

As for floral designers, what issues do you face that need to be addressed?

Let’s be a little more transparent.

 
12.
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Sherry

I stopped calling myself a “florist” a long time ago. I think we should all be called” floral designers” and gain some respect for the art we are creating.

 

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Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs, San Francisco Vendor: Florist Website: Nancy Liu Chin Designs About Me: A San Francisco native, Nancy graduated from the University of California - Berkeley's Haas Business School where she studied finance and marketing. Beyond running her floral studio, Nancy is a huge fan of Top Chef, loves to travel to exotic locations, is an avid reader of contemporary fiction and considers herself on Team Edward (Twilight fan!), entertains friends in her loft style home in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and can be found at SF Giant's home games. Nancy and her husband, Kevin are a dynamic pair and can be frequently seen walking their white Bichon Frisee, Chin Chin around the city and lounging at cafes sipping Italian sodas.
 
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