The Saturday before Mother’s Day is always the busiest sales day of the year for Kettell’s Greenhouse in Falls, Wyoming County.
And as a result, May represents the most important month for the Kettell family and most everyone else in the floral industry, from small town florists to large-scale greenhouses.
Yet for an industry that sells a product aimed to brighten someone’s day, having the bulk of revenue concentrated in one month presents significant risk.
“Mother’s Day is a big time for us, but overall 90% of our yearly revenue is realized in May. A lot of what we do boils down to the month of May,” said Daniel Kettell, whose family established the greenhouse business in 1918.
And so far, with Mother’s Day in the books, May is shaping up to be a good month for the floral industry.
Michele Brown, who operates Brown Hill Farms in Tunkhannock with her husband, Scott, had a lot riding on Mother’s Day this year. Brown expanded her pick-your-own tulip fields, planting 410,000 bulbs representing 80 different varieties across nearly 5 acres.
After last year’s pandemic restrictions limited the first season of Brown’s tulip business to drive-through sales only, Brown barely broke even with the tulip fields.
Still, last October, when Brown planted tulip bulbs in preparation for a second season – the tulips typically bloom around Mother’s Day — she gambled that 2021 would be better. The input cost to plant tulip bulbs is enormous, Brown said, making the endeavor, and the gamble, very risky.
“At the store, you can buy 10 tulip bulbs for $8, and I’m planting over 400,000 of them,” she said. “This year, with being able to operate at 75% capacity and people can walk in the fields, I’m hoping to turn a profit.”
Before Mother’s Day, Brown had every reason to be hopeful for a good year.
Season passes and advance ticket sales were strong during April, and with crowds pouring in on Mother’s Day weekend willing to pay a general admission charge plus $1 for every tulip they pick in the fields, a profit for 2021 is looking like a reality.
It’s important for the tulips to produce financially, said Brown who also operates a 15-acre sunflower field attraction in August.
“By adding the tulips, it allows us to do something in the spring to spread out the revenue,” she said. “We’re the largest tulip field in Pennsylvania, and that’s a draw.
“We intend to expand it to 1 million bulbs in five years. We think the demand is there for something like this at this time of year,” Brown said.
The consumer build-up prior to Mother’s Day wasn’t witnessed just by Brown, but across the entire floral industry as well.
Jennie Love, a Philadelphia flower farmer who is also president of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, said the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges in the industry during 2020, but last year’s Mother’s Day was still a success.
Because farms were considered essential businesses and could operate during the pandemic last year, flower growers who were able to pivot to online sales or contactless delivery avoided revenue losses, Love said.
“Demand for fresh flowers was very high in 2020 as people sought ways to cheer up themselves or those they loved,” she said. “Our farm sold out for Mother’s Day in 2020.”
Kettell said the pandemic restrictions in 2020 didn’t impact his sales, but it did alter his customer base. Typically, Kettell’s business is comprised of a split between retail and wholesale sales. In 2020, as many businesses were closed due to pandemic restriction, Kettell’s retail sales increased to 80% while the wholesale segment dropped to 20%.
Another impact of the pandemic, according to Love, is the international supply chain for flowers was disrupted due to the COVID-19 shutdown. She added that local flower farmers ramped up production this year to boost supply and lessen the shortage of flowers on the market.
Still, flower growers see many positive vibes with 2021 sales, fueled by more people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations and another round of stimulus checks building consumer optimism this spring. In a recent Society of American Florists survey about spring holidays, nearly 73% of respondents said they expected Mother’s Day sales to increase compared to 2020.
“Mother’s Day is the largest floral holiday for most florists, and we were already selling out our pre-orders, as were many other farmers and florists,” she said. “Flower demand across the board is swelling to levels I’ve never seen before. They’ve always been a great gift for mom, so I think this year will be one of the best on record for Mother’s Day sales.”
And it will likely go down as the busiest day of the year for growers such as Kettell, who closed his greenhouse on Mother’s Day after a hectic spring sales season.
The days leading up to Mother’s Day represents a period when income begins flowing into the business, he said, but prior to that the money is all going out in the form of expenses. That’s why, at the age of 71, Kettell is still motivated to work long hours without a day off to get ready for May.
So far, the extra effort appears to be worthwhile.
“Our sales have doubled over this time last year already,” he said. “We had one of our best years ever in 2020 because people wanted to get out. Even though COVID isn’t exactly over with right now, I’m expecting business to be just as strong again this year.”