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by Monica Humbard

Experts give sales strategies, merchandising techniques and care tips to help you increase your market share of these spring—and beyond—favorites.

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and Irises are symbols of spring, so it is not surprising that the peak sales months are New Year’s Day through Mother’s Day. But, while spring traditionally has been considered “bulb season,” technology has extended the natural blooming season for bulb flowers—offering opportunities
for expanded sales.

Modern transportation and cooling techniques have enabled growers to “force” bulbs through the cold winter, resetting their bloom cycles, explains Louise Strutner, a representative for Nurserymen’s Exchange, Inc., in Half Moon Bay, Calif., which carries a variety of potted bulb plants. She says bulb flowers will bloom as much as six months off their natural cycles. At Nurserymen’s, bulbs originating in the Northern Hemisphere are sold as potted plants during the first six months of the year, and those from the Southern Hemisphere are used during the last six months of the year.

Although most bulb plants are available year-round now, Ms. Strutner notes that consumer preference dictates what is offered to the market. Hybrid lilies and Cyclamens are strong sellers year-round while others that are technically available are grown seasonally for the U.S. market, such as daffodils and Irises.

As with bulb plants, some cut bulb flowers such as daffodils continue to remain “seasonal.” However, The Sun Valley Group, a grower/distributor of cut flowers based in Arcata, Calif., now forces some bulb flowers so that its clients can offer them outside their natural seasons.

For example, Sun Valley forces tulips. In the fall, the company’s tulips come from the Southern Hemisphere, where they naturally would be in season. Although they are now in the United States, “the bulbs think they are still in season,” explains Bruce Brady, business development manager for the company. To further expand tulip availability, Sun Valley also cultivates French and Dutch tulip bulbs. Their natural growing seasons also are different from those found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Pat McDevitt, president of Pacific Flower Shippers, a U.S. cut flower grower based in Edmonds, Wash., has some concerns about forcing bulb cut flowers. He says increased availability “takes the spark out” of the normal selling period.

However, Mr. Brady encourages retailers to consider forced cut bulb flowers because they can give customers a unique floral option in a traditionally “off” season. He says that forcing bulb flowers has allowed growers to ensure that a particular color of bulb flower is at its peak and available in large quantities for a certain holiday/promotion. For example, red, pink and white tulips have become a popular option for Valentine’s Day gift giving.

In general, Mr. Brady points out that mass-market florists aren’t merchandising cut bulb flowers year-round yet. “There is a lot of room for sales to expand,” he says.
Mr. Brady suggests that chains discuss with growers how they can personalize their floral programs with forced bulb flowers. With proper notification, a grower could produce a particular color of tulip for an exact date to accommodate a chain’s special promotion. He explains that this allows retailers to offer their customers something not found at their competitors’ stores.

As for what the consumers think about flowers out of season, Mr. Brady insists that most don’t even understand that flowers have natural growing seasons. He believes they just want flowers that are pretty and unique.

favorite bulb plants & flowers
These were the top-selling bulb plants and flowers in the United States in 2005, according to the International Flower Bulb Centre (IBC). Also included are the best-selling varieties within each group, to help you make the best buying decisions.



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