What Ever Happened To Flowers Canada?
Do you remember Flowers Canada Retail?
The national floriculture organization quietly slipped off the radar several years ago.
Industry players have since fed a few guesses into the rumour mill as to what happened.
Concerns bubbled up about leadership and finances, while the “Voice of Canadian Floriculture since 1897” remained silent.
We’ve gone dormant…Jeff Waters, President
The once-flourishing association for retailers held its last annual meeting five years ago, stopped its floral design school about three years ago, hasn’t charged its members dues or paid its small staff in at least three years, and ceased offering accreditation several years ago, according to Executive Director Arman Patel and President of the Board Jeff Waters.
“We’ve gone dormant just because there hasn’t been anything to talk about and there’s nothing we can help them (members) with — because we haven’t had the resources,” Waters told Canadian Florist via phone. “We didn’t message that to our members. Point the responsibility to me.”
Waters and Patel lamented how it seems that no one else wanted to help keep the nonprofit, mostly volunteer-run association afloat.
“I’m stuck with the cheque right now,” said Walters, a fifth-generation flower person in Toronto who started with Flowers Canada about 20 years ago as a board member for the Ontario region. “It kind of lands on your lap. In the old days, they used to have elections and have two, three, four people run for president of the national boards. Then interest started to dwindle. The reason I’m still doing it is I have a valued interest in making sure the retailers succeed.”
I’m kind of stuck here … I would have liked to have transitioned off much earlier.Arman Patel, Executive Director
“It kind of fell upon me,” Patel said. “I’m kind of stuck here a little bit while they’re dealing with the transition. I would have liked to have transitioned off much earlier.”
The Flowers Canada Retail website doesn’t give a clear picture of the unraveled organization. It has rarely been updated in the last several years, including an outdated board members list and documents from 2011.
Patel blames a lack of funding for it all.
“The age-old problem with Flowers Canada and the notion of governance is you’re expecting a Fortune 500 experience with the budget of a corner store,” Patel said. “It really is a financial issue.”
Dollars and Sense
As Canada’s retail floral industry began to decline, so too did the association, Patel and Waters said.
“The florist business has been shrinking quite rapidly in Canada,” Patel said. “That’s the blunt reality. The marketplace has shrunk intensely in the last five, six, seven years.”
Patel could recall a time when he knew of 45 or 50 flower distributors in Canada. Now, fewer than 10 of those have survived, he said.
The age-old problem with Flowers Canada and the notion of governance is you’re expecting a Fortune 500 experience with the budget of a corner store. It really is a financial issue.Patel
“Most of the good florists that were around 30 years ago are not here,” Waters concurred. “This is an industry that’s been going on the downtick for at least the last 10 years. Unless they’re into the event business, which has really picked up, or unless they do weddings or funeral work, a lot of these flower shops starve. All of the overhead costs have gone through the roof, and the talent stream is dwindling because there’s too much (work) involved for too little money.”
Waters also blames wire services for taking direct business, consolidations on funeral homes, and chain stores selling garden supplies for helping tear down local florists.
“It’s a whole bunch of little things nibbling at the pie,” Waters said.
Thus, pinching pennies meant that many former Flowers Canada Retail members dropped their budgets for traveling to conferences and paying $300-a-year membership fees.
“This association is down the list as far as survival,” Waters said.
Once packed with 200 people in attendance, the last annual meeting only drew 70 or so. Flowers Canada Retail started losing money on its conventions, design school, and other services it offered.
“I said, ‘We have to go virtual. We can’t bleed it dry,’” Waters recalled. “I had to be the bad dog on that. I was always extremely fiscally responsible.”
Perhaps that’s what’s kept them out of debt and with about $50,000 to $70,000 left in the organization’s bank account, Patel said.
But skeptical outside eyes have questioned the organization’s finances, including Patel’s salary.
And to that, Patel responded, “These are silly rumours.”
We have to go virtual. We can’t bleed it dry. I had to be the bad dog on that. I was always extremely fiscally responsible.Waters
A Modest Martyr
The association has never received federal funding and relies mainly on volunteers to function, he said. One to three people have been on the payroll at different times, Waters said.
And Patel said his salary as executive director was $48,000 to $50,000 a year, which he doesn’t consider hefty. Before that, he was taking smaller payments for consulting.
But once the organization started falling on hard times, he said he only cashed cheques maybe half the time, and he hasn’t received any money from Flowers Canada in the last year or so.
So he views himself as a modest martyr of sorts, far from taking advantage of the association, he said.
“He’s getting underpaid,” Waters concurred. “Sometimes he doesn’t pay himself.”
What Has Been Happening?
Although no one is being charged for membership, Waters said there are about 150 former members still allowed access to Flowers Canada Retail’s program perks until the end of this year.
Those perks, all listed on FlowersCanada.org, include group health and life insurance, a fuel savings program, a car discount, and a credit card program.
“The office is still open,” Patel said. “People are still communicating and dealing with members. Activity is still pretty vibrant.”
Patel admits that if he could do it again, he’d probably communicate what was happening more thoroughly to members, particularly about membership dissolving.
“The message went out through the regional meetings that that happened,” Patel said. “I wouldn’t say every Flowers Canada member knows what’s going on, but the key regional members know and still get together.”
On the other hand, one of Patel’s prouder moments has been continuing to offer shops legal help, such as dealing with identity fraud or handling auditing from the Canada Revenue Agency.
“One of the best things we do—but few people use it—is from a tax standpoint, we work through the audit issues when people get audited with the CRA,” Patel said. “We’ve always had success with it.”
[Arman Patel] has done a good job. Better people are too expensive.Waters
Patel also said he has recruited several new board members ready to join the team.
“We ran the association for a period of time and we did a great job,” Patel said. “It needs new blood to take it to the next level.”
Waters, president for the last few years, wants to stay on in a lesser capacity and understands Patel’s exhaustion.
“He’s done a good job under the circumstances,” Waters said. “Better people are too expensive. We both kind of got left there on an island. It’s spit and glue. I’ve done my part.”
New Plans Revealed
Patel and Waters stripped down Flowers Canada Retail and have been rebuilding it, but it’s been a slow process.
“I believe there needs to be an association looking out for the interest of the industry, but it has gone through so much upheaval in the last decade,” he said. “The biggest challenge is the industry itself. We have market conditions that are difficult. The businesses that are doing well are very business-oriented and business-focused.”
So, that’s where Flowers Canada Retail plans to shift its focus for its revamp.
It’s on the QT and been kind of quiet for some time because they want to come out with a bang.Patel
The next evolution of Flowers Canada Retail will be all about the bottom dollar, focusing on how shops can increase sales, reduce costs, and hold onto their market share. Of course, dues will return, but it’s not clear what they’ll be yet.
Patel looks forward to sharing the results from an assessment of the florist retail business that he contracted out. He hopes it will give shops insight to the realities of the business and the keys to success.
“The transition we are making is to go from your typical trade association with programs and so forth into a business association where you’re actually giving business advice,” Patel said. “We’re trying to make the transition to business-oriented services to help them get more money.”
Plus, plans are in place to launch “a number of new programs,” Patel said. “It’s on the QT and been kind of quiet for some time because they want to come out with a bang.”
Their biggest project and No. 1 priority has been three years in the works, and Waters predicts membership will see a substantial increase quickly when they launch it late this summer.
“It’s a program, technology, that will really help retailers be found,” Waters said. “We think we really got a tiger by the tail. Most wholesalers will want to be involved in it. It benefits the industry in general. If it goes correctly, it’ll be stupid not to be a part of it. I’m hoping this thing gets multiplied or duplicated all across the world.”
The new florist search engine of sorts could upset those who are taking advantage of wiring orders and skimming a profit as the middleman, instead helping consumers order directly from the filler florist.
“People will be upset who are ‘opportunists,’” Waters explained. “The problem with the flower business is it’s open to be milked. There are people with a 700-square-foot little office with 20 websites and all they do is take orders and send them to people. Technology has really changed the world. A lot of these guys on Google pretend and are making millions.”
But this new technology could help change that by making it easier to directly connect the consumer to the filler.
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before …
“If I can accomplish fighting for the filler, we will have a very lucrative industry people will want to be a part of,” Waters said. “I’m fighting for the filler. The florist is the one who is supposed to make the money—the guy who actually does the work, not the guy who puts up websites. We really hope it’s going to be something.”
Additionally, the organization’s website will get a new look, perhaps by the summer, and it may introduce a fresh publication, Patel said.
New services will employ market area experts to teach flower shop owners and managers how to calculate true margins, costs and procurement options —overseas versus onshore and local purchasing, and taxation, Patel said. Also, Flowers Canada Retail could help florists create a succession plan to sell their business instead of closing it, Waters said.
Another idea in the works is an online design school.
As for the manpower behind the new plans?
“They’re calling on favours from partners they’ve worked with in the past, distributors who have been part of Flowers Canada along the way,” Patel said.
Because it all comes back to funding.
Looking Back: The History of the Retailers’ and Growers’ Split
The growers, distributors, and retailers split into two separate associations, Flowers Canada Growers and Flowers Canada Retail, several years ago. Flowers Canada Retail’s Executive Director Arman Patel calls the division his proudest accomplishment to date since he first came on as a consultant many years ago.
“If the split didn’t happen, the association would have probably imploded,” Patel told Canadian Florist during a recent phone interview. “The grower sector requires a lot of effort on research and trade issues, for example, that don’t affect the retail sector.”
Patel was in the floral software business at the time and was hired to consult Flowers Canada Retail to help it get more market share.
“As we got into it (the job), we saw an organization flawed in its structure,” Patel recalled. “You had a variety of members and everybody pays dues and we only dealt with the retail side and saw that 90 percent of its efforts went to the growers and grower initiatives. Does a retailer care about pesticide research? I was approached by the board to look at the retail needs, so we came up with a proposal.”
The proposal took more than two years to establish, laying out the new idea that retailer dues should go to retail needs, while growers’ dues should support grower needs.
“It was an enormous challenge to get done,” Patel said. “We had a lot of hiccups along the way, and now it’s smooth sailing for the retailers. The board cleaned up its old junk with the growers, its old baggage, and now they have an open slate to go where they need to go.”
Waters, who was on the board when the decision to split was made, elaborated that the growers have pressing political issues to address and need government assistance for their own agenda.
“The growers have other needs that they don’t need retailers to understand,” Waters said. “The separation between growers and retailers made perfect sense because they have different issues.”
The growers group could not be reached for comment, but it appears to be active and is partnered with a long list of government and other groups, according to its website.