When it comes to intensity of color and complexity of construction, it’s hard to surpass a flower. However, the Chippewa Valley’s florists do just that, when they artfully array these marvels of nature. Then, when they adorn a bride, a church, or a reception hall with floral arrangements, the effect is all the more moving because the medium of petals and leaves is so fleeting. It’s like a Louvre that lasts for a day.
However, there are challenges that those outside the business might not consider. There’s Pinterest, the website where brides, photographers, and florists post photos of the ultimate bouquets and wedding arrangements, forcing Valley florists to match the best of the best. The vicissitudes of weather also confound these Valley businesses. Consider moving delicate bouquets in high winds and rain. Additionally, flowers can freeze during winter weddings and wilt during the summer. Plus, more weddings are held outdoors nowadays, forever ratcheting up the challenge of delivering perfect, fleeting flowers.
Whereas the flowers are ephemeral, what does linger is the effect the florists have on the Chippewa Valley, enriching our lives with beauty and employing many people. Plus, as wedding parties tend to grow larger, that’s more flowers and more business for the Valley.
Brent Douglas Flowers
Wisconsin weather isn’t the only thing that complicates situating the perfect floral arrangement at a Valley wedding. Florida’s and California’s weather are also in play as California is the top producer of flowers, and Miami is a major hub for processing flowers from out of country.
Brent D. Stelzer, owner/designer at Brent Douglas Flowers, said, “We like to place our flower orders at least one month in advance to guarantee we will get items, but when we can’t, weather is often the biggest culprit. California weather is always affecting what we can get on a regular basis, and when (Hurrucane) Irma hit Florida, we had to make a few wedding changes for a couple weeks.”
When Florida and California can’t deliver, Douglas has to make a quick call.
“If anything is unavailable, we discuss options right away with the couple to find the best replacement. Couples always understand that we can’t control nature.”
Weddings comprise 15 percent of Douglas’s business, and he dispenses as much data as possible to the impending couple, as couples are increasingly informed consumers.
“The more we can give examples, the better a couple can envision their big day. We often offer a free example bouquet a few months prior to their wedding. We also include a picture of each flower on the quote and give a detailed list of flowers used, with how many stems in each bouquet. Many florists simply list what flowers will be used and a price and never specify how many stems are used. Without such information, we feel that is very hard for a couple to really understand what they are buying.”
Douglas had done weddings from under a hundred dollars up into the thousands, but averages between $1,000 and $3,000 with centerpieces. However, all that work and all those stems can be undone by a single puff.
“Rain is often thought of as the biggest worry for an outdoor wedding. However, I feel it makes great memories and great photo opportunities. The most overlooked problem is wind. One random gust can destroy hours of setup.”
So, how does Douglas plan for uncertainty?
“Always plan for the windiest day, make sure items are secure, and you will be fine.”
Weather isn’t the only confounding factor.
“When pieces such as arch flowers for an outdoor wedding are too big to fit in a car, we have to design them on site. On-site installation always adds extra time.”
Emotive insertions can also add time.
“Often couples have a deceased parent and we have made flowers out of clothing or personal items.”
The popular Pinterest can have a couple pining for flowers that aren’t feasible.
“Pinterest is a large factor in decision-making. Couples often see a picture and fall in love with certain flowers that may be out of season or out of budget.”
This is where a knowledge of flowers can save the day.
“If they fall in love with a look, a florist can often create it with other flowers. Also, the options on Pinterest are not the only ideas florists can do. We encourage couples to get ideas, but always keep an open mind. If you do that, they could be the new trendsetter on Pinterest by trying something new and different!”
Too many cooks in the kitchen can also complicate the choices.
“Capturing the needs and wants of all parties involved can be the most challenging. When meeting with couples, we often meet with their parents, siblings or friends as well. Sometimes there are huge differences in the thoughts of colors, flower types, and design style. Then throw in the factor of who is paying the bill, and things can become quite interesting.”
What can grease the skids are long-standing relationships.
“Now that we have been in business for many years, we have become the florist for many families. We have done flowers for a new baby, then their prom flowers, and now a wedding. We love working with a couple on their wedding and seeing their lives evolve and then seeing their family grow.”
Avalon European Floral
Avalon European Floral, like other Valley flower shops, is run like an old-school business. Call them and you won’t have to select one, then two, then one, and then forget what that last question was and have to begin again. People answer their phone, and their customer service just begins there, as a phone call begins by them listening so that they tailor floral arrangements for their customers. That’s especially key for a wedding, where Avalon Floral has arranged flowers from $200 to $25,000.
Sandy O’Connell, owner, said, “We meet expectations by listening to their desires.”
Weddings comprise about 20 percent of Avalon’s business, and it’s a fifth that has considerable challenges.
O’Connell said, “When it comes to suppliers delivering needed flowers, weather and natural disasters can play big part.”
Openings are narrow, as wedding dates don’t change and set-up has to happen the day before or the day of the wedding.
“It gets tricky when the venue is not set up on time. We have to keep flowers from freezing in winter and relocate outdoor weddings due to rain. That means moving a natural, living product.”
However, in the end, whatever the weather, it’s worth it for O’Connell and her staff.
“We get to make their visions come to life.”
Eevy Ivy Over Flower Shop
Vicki Nelson, the owner of Eevy Ivy Over Flower Shop in Chippewa Falls, also contends with the vagaries of weather and terrain.
Nelson said, “Venues can be at barns, which sometime involve carrying the flowers a long distance in mud across fields. We even had a wedding during a snowstorm: We barely made it up the hill to the church. So, far no tornados!”
Over-the-horizon events can also interfere.
“Usually we have plenty of vendors for wedding flowers, but when the hurricanes and volcanoes were in play this year, we had a few close calls. In the end, we were able to get in all the flowers we ordered.”
You might think that once the flowers are in place for the wedding itself, a florist’s work is done, but it doesn’t work that way.
“We try to do whatever a bride requests, such as moving the flowers from the church to the venue, adding grandma’s brooch into the bouquet, or putting the centerpieces in pumpkins. After the wedding, we have a custom frame so we can frame the artificial long-lasting wedding bouquets that we also make.”
Weddings comprise about 10 percent of Eevy Ivy’s business and costs range considerably, depending upon how many comprise the wedding party and whether the party taps into Eevy Ivy’s large assortment of jewelry and gifts, but brides’ bouquets average about $150 and boutonnières cost $10. The cost of centerpieces is largely determined by their size.
However, it isn’t weather or terrain that’s Nelson’s biggest concern, but meeting the bride’s expectations.
“The most challenging part of doing wedding flowers for me is to make sure we have the bride’s vision of what she wants for her wedding flowers. What works best for us in meeting the brides’ expectations is talking and talking. We strive to make sure that we understand what their vision is and what their budget to stay in that budget.”
Listening has worked for Nelson, as she’s been in business for nearly a quarter century.
Eau Claire Floral
Genny Hay, owner and designer at Eau Claire Floral on Brackett Avenue, also hopes that weather will cooperate rather than confound.
“With outdoor weddings, you want it to not be raining or too hot, as flowers will wilt super fast.”
However, the flowers themselves have to cooperate, which requires impeccable timing.
“You can’t always get flowers to open at the right time you want and look exactly like they do on Pinterest. Timing is key.”
Hay’s reception flowers range from $300 to $3,000, and she also does vase rentals and fresh garlands. Weddings comprise about 15 percent of her business, but it’s a 15 percent she loves.
“I have been in the flower business since I was 13, and I love to do wedding florals, to help brides complete their vision of their special day.”
Since weddings are a commencement of a new, shared life, Hay also likes to see what frequently follows.
“I enjoy when they come back, both brides and grooms, to buy flowers later on and I get to hear how they’re doing and if they’re having babies, etc. That’s always fun!”
Hay’s repeat business with the couples comes from being frank up front.
“What works is being upfront and honest about availability and pricing from the initial meeting.”
It is said of postal carriers that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The same can be said of the Valley’s florists, but you have to add “…hurricanes of Florida and gusts of wind and the promise of Pinterest perfection.”