Care & Handling

Branch Out With New Products in the New Year

People grumble about losing office time to attend conventions, but industry shows help you see what’s “in” and trendy in the coming season(s), learn new trade tricks, and reconnect with old friends. Of course, flower shows have lots of gorgeous eye candy to enjoy. My favourite industry event is the Society of American Florists’ annual convention because it hosts the Outstanding Varieties Competition, which is essentially the Academy Awards of the floral world. (Alas, this year’s competition was cancelled in the 11th hour—coinciding with press time—due to Hurricane Irma.)

Here’s how it works. Growers and importers are invited to enter products into the competition with 24 stems of any flower variety or three of the same flowering plants of any variety they choose to showcase. Number of entries per company is unlimited, but all product displayed must be available in commercial production (no test varieties allowed).

Chrysal America provides care and handling product, so everything is treated in one of three solutions: gerbera vases are filled with Professional Gerbera pills; vases of alstroemeria, tulips, lilies, callas, freesia, etc., are filled with Bulb T-bags; and all other vases are filled with Professional 2 holding solution.

Action starts a few days prior to the convention’s kick-off reception. Volunteers unpack vases, set up Dosatron pumps, lower the room temperature to 18C, and start processing flowers. Slowly, the hotel ballroom starts to transform with vases of resplendent flowers. By day three, it’s time to lay down the red carpet!

Judges enter the sealed-off room to evaluate and score entries within categories of flowers. They do not compare entries against each other, but rather they evaluate flowers using a checklist of characteristics that determine quality, such as stem strength, bloom size, opening success and shape, amount of blooms per stem, foliage quality, color clarity, vase longevity, and lack of disease issues. The highest-scoring entry for each category receives a “Best in Class” ribbon and is highlighted in the centre of the room.

The ballroom is open throughout the convention for attendees to peruse, take photos, and cast a vote for the People’s Choice honour. The idea is that florists soak in the beautiful array of new and—as the name suggests—outstanding product, which they can use in their businesses to wow customers. Each entry includes an information sheet with the variety name, grower, and key attributes. Growers tend to hang out in the room to mingle with wholesalers and retailers, as do I. What always emerges: conversations about likes and dislikes, thorniness, vase life, difficulties in rehydrating blooms, etc.

To me, it’s so invigorating to see the latest and greatest flowers on the market. The majesty of a room filled with premium flowers is an image that stays in my mind long after the convention is over.

What motivates you to reach out of your comfort zone with new products? The extended display period of the Outstanding Varieties Competition also gives attendees time to visit and revisit the displays to assess how well flowers open and hold their shape and colour as blooms mature.

What makes a variety “outstanding”? Well, it depends on your point of view. Growers are most interested in high productivity, stem length, and disease resistance. Importers love those varieties that withstand long transit and still perform once re-hydrated. Wholesalers love the variety they last sold, and retailers love the colours and varieties featured on Pinterest, The Knot, or Instagram.

This year, I challenge you to branch out from your old standbys. Ask your wholesaler for recommendations of cutting-edge products. Or take a trip to a farm to ask growers what’s getting them excited. Some new and intriguing flowers will inject flair into your designs and get your customers enthused too.

Gay Smith
Gay Smith is the technical consulting manager for Chrysal USA.
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