Mother's Day may be as lucrative as it is sentimental. But for those in the flower business, there's absolutely no time for tears.
Ahead of Sunday, U.S. florists expect to see a major uptick in sales. And while family members nationwide likely procrastinated, e-commerce retailers can't afford that luxury: They've been laying the groundwork for their plan of attack since this time last year, if not earlier.
That's according to Rob Apatoff, CEO of the international flower juggernaut FTD, which owns affiliated brands including ProFlowers and Shari's Berries and works with more than 40,000 florists in 150 countries. (Roughly 16,000 of those florists are based in the U.S, although FTD won't disclose specific numbers.) As it is for most flower companies, Mother's Day is the busiest time of the year for FTD, Apatoff says--"It's the Super Bowl," he quips--noting that Valentine's Day comes in second place with slightly lower demand. While men and women usually have just one valentine, any given person can have multiple mother figures to buy for, says Apatoff. That translates into multiple deliveries per single consumer.
Even so, meeting the needs of millions of customers--many of whom wait till the last minute to place their orders--is anything but easy. And businesses big and small would do well to take a cue from FTD's business strategy.
Besides logistical headaches, which Apatoff could surely write a business book about, keeping up with changing consumer demands is an exercise in endurance--even for the company's wing-footed Mercury Man. In recent years, the industry overall has seen a decline in demand for "nonessential items," for example, supplementary chocolates and stuffed animals. At FTD and 1-800-Flowers, researchers begin parsing consumer trends a year ahead of time, using what Apatoff calls "predictive modeling" to anticipate the following year's business climate.
Apatoff notes that roughly 60 percent of FTD consumers opt to upgrade their purchases ahead of delivery, across its "good," "better," "best" and "exquisite" skews, which he attributes to the fact that flowers are an "emotional purchase": "Everyone wants to be a hero," he says. FTD prices range from the more millennial end of the spectrum--a simple bouquet of roses can go for as little as $20 to $25--to luxury items like an "Arbor of Love" flower archway or tulips in a Baccarat vase that go for as much as $1,200.
Both companies look to influences in fashion design and popular culture--FTD recently launched a partnership with Vera Wang, for instance, and 1-800-Flowers is working with designer Isaac Mizrahi, a spokeswoman told Inc.--to determine what arrangements are most likely to sell big and which flowers to prioritize sourcing to their florists. This year, FTD says that lavender is in vogue, while 1-800-Flowers says it anticipates an influx of tulips, lilies, and alstroemerias. To capitalize on the popularity of TV shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, FTD's ProFlowers has also launched its own themed arrangements.
Even with predictive technology, however, flower companies can get it wrong: In cases where FTD hasn't grown sufficient flowers to fulfill a particular order, it directs users to a different item on the site. That's "the nice thing about having an online product," says Apatoff: damage control can be done relatively quickly.
Of course, just getting a bouquet of roses to Mom's doorstep is a feat. From growing to cleaning to physical delivery and even handwritten notes, the business of Mother's Day is a multitier process that often begins before the grow house. Then, there's the delivery. "Right now, FTD is like NASA headquarters," says Apatoff, referring to FTD's customer service staff, at the ready to field everything from logistical questions for orders from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to dollars and cents queries from college students.
Apatoff, naturally, pulls a lot from his past work history at Anheuser-Busch, Reebok, and Allstate--when he needed to dream up inventive ways to sell beer, sneakers, and insurance. Still, he adds that dealing in flowers requires an added sense of urgency, which is entirely new. While a defective pair of shoes can easily be sent back to the shop, a missed delivery ruins the holiday, and deters consumers from coming back to the site.
Even with analysts working far in advance, unforeseen weather conditions can similarly pose a major threat to business: Apatoff recalls that winter storm Pax, which rocked the East Coast in February 2014, prevented some Valentine's Day deliveries from being made. Still, FTD is constantly monitoring weather trends. Last year it pushed up tens of thousands of Valentine's Day orders to the 12th when it saw that the storm was imminent.
So on Sunday, as many families rejoice in the joys of motherhood, Apatoff will also be spending time with his wife and children. While he'll doubtless be spending little time resting, he still has Father's Day to look forward to.
Corrections and amplifications: An earlier version of this article misstated how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan use FTD's service. They can arrange flower deliveries to residents in the U.S.