Mother Nature sent many small retailers scrambling on one of the biggest sales days of the year.
Heavy winds and snow on Wednesday dealt a big blow to florists and other Valentine's Day retailers, which saw declines in walk-in business and treacherous delivery conditions on their most important day of the year.
For many florists, chocolatiers, and other small retailers, Valentine's Day can serve as a make-or-break day. A strong Feb. 14 can boost the bottom line for the year, while slower-than-usual sales cut into profits.
"I think realistically this is a very emotional-impulse holiday," said Chuck Clas, owner of Harold F. Clas Florists, which is based in Albany, N.Y. "I think I will feel it. I would expect to have sales down 40 to 50 percent" for the day.
The treacherous weather in Albany littered the ground with up to three inches of snow every hour. Clas said he believes the weather on Tuesday and Wednesday limited the amount of orders received, which could cut into annual revenue anywhere between 6 and 10 percent, he estimated.
Clas had to call all his drivers in at 1 p.m., after roads worsened and became too hazardous. He said his experienced drivers were complaining of the conditions that included windshields fogging up and icy roads. Fortunately, he had not reported any injuries or accidents with only a couple drivers still out on the road.
New York experienced its first significant snowfall of the season, which led Elan Flowers' owner Michael Davis to spend the hectic day sending out two vehicles and multiple walkers throughout the city.
"The vehicles were much more difficult than the walkers," Davis said, noting that the company was eventually able to make most of its deliveries. "The roads were horrible."
The strategy most of these flower companies employed Wednesday was simple: try, try again. If and when that failed, many took to the phones for damage control. In Clas' case, when he had his drivers return to the shop, their day did not end. He had them on the phones calling everyone who placed an order. The idea was to salvage as many customers as the company could.
Clas said he lost four or five customers that placed orders on Wednesday, but many just seem "disappointed -- not in me, but in the weather."
Other florists who have stayed on the roads still had to deal with some offices -- where many people send flowers to -- closed because of the weather. Ken Wheeler, owner of Hughie's 12th St. Florists, based in Cleveland, also had people on the phones calling alternate numbers or the number of the person who placed the order.
It's not all gloom and doom stories from florists around the Midwest, however. In Chicago, the weather was cold and windy, but the flowers have not wilted, and the drivers have delivered them to the chosen loved one according to Maryla Zarnecki, owner of Flowers by Arrangement. "It is not a crisis," she said. "Just a simple winter."