The coronavirus seemed to spell doom for flower shops across the country, but a Mother's Day surge from customers missing their moms may offer salvation

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    mother's day coronavirusMohamed Azakir/Reuters

    • Mother’s Day is the single most important holiday for flower shops, with many businesses relying on strong holiday sales to survive the summertime slowdown in demand for flowers.
    • Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, spring 2020 got off to an ominous start for florists across the United States.
    • 1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. CEO Chris McCann and BloomNation CEO and cofounder Farbod Shoraka told Business Insider that their florist partners are seeing a major uptick in spending in the run-up to Mother’s Day.
    • The National Retail Federation is projecting that flower sales on Mother’s Day will increase from $2.01 billion to $2.1 billion in 2020.
    • Despite the good news, there remain major challenges to florists and the flower industry as a whole during COVID-19, including a major downturn for growers and wholesalers, reduced staffing, and even figuring out distribution capabilities.
    • But Society of American Florists CEO Kate Penn told Busines Insider that florists are some of the “resourceful” and scrappy business owners out there: “Come rain, sleet or social distancing they’ll figure out how to get it delivered.”
    • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

    For flower shops across the United States, Mother’s Day is the most important date on the calendar.

    Millions of Americans setting out to make their moms feel special with a bright bouquet consistently ensure that the second Sunday of May is the biggest holiday in the flower business. Society of American Florists CEO Kate Penn told Busines Insider that flower shops can rake in as much as 15% of their annual sales through Mother’s Day alone.

    But this year, florists are finding that the industry’s major holiday has landed smack dab in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic. With big weddings and large-scale festivities shut down and consumers focused on stockpiling for basic necessities, the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders across the country certainly appeared to be bad news for flower shops.

    Business Insider spoke with three flower industry insiders in order to get a sense of how retail florist shops as a whole are set to fare this Mother’s Day. They spoke of an uncertain start to the spring season, followed by an outpouring of demand from consumers looking to shower their mothers and other maternal figures with appreciation. 

    flowers bouquetLindsey Wasson/Reuters

    ‘Panic mode’

    A successful Mother’s Day isn’t usually just a boon for most florists. It’s a matter of survival.

    “This holiday is so important as we then go into the summer months, which get slow in the floral industry,” Chris McCann, CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, Inc., told Business Insider. “So it’s so important for florists to have a good cash flow situation.”

    1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. is a floral and gourmet food gift company that works with a network of nearly 6,000 flower shops around the country. McCann said that his company and its flower shop partners experienced a dip in business since mid-March, with the widespread cancellation of events like weddings, conferences, and funerals.

    “We were sitting at the edge of our seats to kind of see how this would play out,” Farbod Shoraka, CEO and cofounder of online floral marketplace BloomNation, told Business Insider. BloomNation works with around 4,000 florists and flower shops.

    In addition to the impact of different states, cities, and businesses adopting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, there was the perception in the flower business that customers were more focused on essential items.

    According to Shoraka, with florists impacted by mandatory store closures and consumers going into “panic mode” to scramble for necessities like toilet paper and bottled water, flower sales “tumbled.” The 2020 spring season had all the makings of a disaster for the business.

    “That’s when we got really worried and we said, ‘Well, what’s going to happen for Mother’s Day?'” he said.

    ‘Come rain, sleet or social distancing’

    With the early spring’s wilting outlook, Mother’s Day appeared to only swell in importance for florists. But as it turns out, both McCann and Shoraka say that the flower shops they work with are seeing a surge in demand in the run-up to the holiday.

    The reason? They say consumers across the United States are thinking about their mothers — and grandmothers and other maternal figures — during the coronavirus pandemic. Many families have been separated by the virus, with no ability to celebrate together.

    As a result, consumers are looking to show their love and appreciation with flowers.

    McCann said that flowers “help customers express themselves and connect with the important people in their lives.”

    “That’s more needed now than it ever has been,” he said.

    The National Retail Federation projected that US consumers are set to spend $26.7 billion this Mother’s Day, up from $24.95 billion last year. While Americans collectively shelled out $2.01 billion for flowers for the holiday in 2019, this year they are on track to spend $2.10 billion. The NRF also polled those celebrating Mother’s Day, finding that 57% of female participants and 73% of male respondents planned on ordering a bouquet for a loved one.

    While the NRF’s numbers may indicate a slight uptick in flower spending on Mother’s Day, many florists themselves are more cautious. Penn said that her society’s April survey of florists indicate that a third of respondents said they expected an increase in sales this year. A vast majority — 96% of respondents—  said they planned to be open on Mother’s Day weekend. But running the stores during a global pandemic won’t come without issues.

    “As far as challenges, florists are operating with smaller staffs, due to staff needing to be home with kids who are out of school, or caring for loved ones, but I’ll tell you that florists are among the most resourceful and hardest working people you’ll ever meet; they’re kind of like the postal delivery folks: come rain, sleet or social distancing they’ll figure out how to get it delivered,” Penn told Business Insider

    florists flowersHerwig Prammer / Reuters

    ‘Quite the roller coaster’

    Of course, the surge in consumer demand for flowers can pose some thorny issues for flower shops still reeling from a tough spring. 

    McCann said that, for many businesses, “delivery capacity is probably not what it was last year.” He said 1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. has tried to help its florist partners “ramp up” by encouraging customers to be more flexible about receiving flower orders as early as the Friday before Mother’s Day.

    “On the flower side, it’s not so much keeping up with inventory, because supply is abundant, but it’s keeping up with distribution capabilities,” McCann said.

    Shoraka added that many flower shops that his company works with have had to “wind down” in the run-up to Mother’s Day, due to running out of inventory from sheer demand.

    “They went from being shut down completely and trying to figure out how they’re going to survive, to: ‘Hey, how do I scale up and take all this demand and help all these people express their love for Mother’s Day?'” Shoroka said. “So we’ve been on quite the roller coaster over the last 10 days.”

    That being said, while the outlook for Mother’s Day may be better than expected, things are looking considerably less rosy for many other businesses within the flower industry. Shoraka said that plenty of florists have already shut their doors thanks to the pandemic. 

    He also said that growers, wholesalers, and distributors have been hit particularly hard. So while Mother’s Day may prove to be “a happy moment for a retail florist,” the industry and its workers around the globe are still facing a major struggle.

    ‘Express love’

    Of course, whether or not the wave of Mother’s Day purchases will rescue struggling flower shops remains to be seen. Florists will still have to contend with pressures stemming from the pandemic and the overall struggles of surviving in the retail industry. But the spike in demand for Mother’s Day bouquets — amidst a springtime that saw mostly bad news for florists — indicates the role that flowers continue to play in the gift industry.

    “We’re seeing people think about their loved ones more,” Shoraka said. “Now that they’re missing certain celebrations — birthdays, anniversaries and now Mother’s Day, the expression of love is being conveyed through flowers.”

    “This year in particular, flowers are going to be so important to the public – they offer a safe and beautiful way to connect and communicate and truly make an impact on the mood of a loved one who is otherwise not accessible, due to social distancing,” McCann said.

    “I think retail florists really see that as a positive thing because of the role that we get to play in helping people to connect and express love,” he added.