Behind the scenes of Valentine’s Day

  • Wed Feb 5th, 2014 2:11pm

By Jim Davis <i>HBJ Editor</i>

The doorbell rings and the roses arrive.

If all goes as planned, no one knows about the work that went into making that happen.

For Stadium Flowers in Everett, and for most florists, Valentine’s Day is the busiest single day of the year, followed closely by Mother’s Day.

Months of planning go on behind the scenes to bring orchids from Thailand and Singapore, roses from Ecuador and lilies and tulips from around the Northwest.

And to make sure those flowers are delivered fresh to your loved ones on time.

“Mother’s Day is busy, but Valentine’s Day requires a bit more orchestration,” said Adam Van Winkle, vice president of the family-owned Stadium Flowers.

One of the reasons is where the holiday lands on the calendar. In February, growers around the world are experiencing some of the lowest light levels of the year. What florists like Stadium Flowers can get and how much they can get can be a problem without proper planning.

“If you call at the last minute there are times you can’t get a certain product and we obviously need those to fulfill orders,” Van Winkle said.

Stadium Flowers has been in Van Winkle’s family for three generations. Dorrie and Elaine Ransick, Van Winkle’s grandparents, bought the store on Broadway in 1947 when it was a small grocery.

When Safeway opened a half block away in 1960 and supermarkets started popping up around the country, the Ransicks changed their focus to selling flowers. It turned out to be the right move.

Now, Stadium Flowers has two retail locations, the store on Broadway and another in Lynnwood, a wholesale business that buys directly from growers and sells to smaller florists around the Puget Sound area, and a wedding studio where brides and grooms can plan their nuptials.

The business is owned by Cheryl and Spark Van Winkle. Adam is their son. It employs nearly 50 people.

Planning for Valentine’s Day started about six months ago when Stadium Flowers placed orders for non-perishables: vases, ribbons, cards and chocolates, Van Winkle said.

In December, the company decided on its package deal. In previous years, the company has created deals where people can order flowers to be accompanied by massages, movie tickets and dinner reservations. This year, the company is pairing flowers with earrings.

That required the company to comb through historical sales orders to have enough earrings on hand without having too much stock after the holiday.

At the beginning of the year, Stadium Flowers started receiving the non-perishables at its warehouse near the Snohomish River. Employees started going through the boxes to test out the vases.

In the past, they’ve received vases that they wouldn’t send to their customers, vases that are too brittle, some where the paint flakes off and even ones that can’t hold water.

“What you order and what you get isn’t always the same thing,” Van Winkle said.

About a month before Valentine’s Day, the business places orders for hundreds of thousands of flowers. People behind the scenes start taking photos of Valentine’s Day displays to appear on the website.

In the last week of January, a crew heads to the Olympic Peninsula with a five-ton truck to gather the hardy greens to go with each bouquets, mostly huckleberry and salal. Eucalyptus is shipped in from California. The greens keep in refrigeration units at the warehouse.

All of the designers gear up in late January doing as much prep work as possible, tying ribbons and sticking cards to the vases.

About a week from Valentine’s Day, Stadium Flowers starts receiving lilies and other flowers that take time to properly open. Designers start finishing bouquets and orders start stacking up.

The roses arrive three days before the holiday.

A couple of years ago, Stadium Flowers had a problem with the roses, Van Winkle said. Growers are supposed to check the flowers before they’re shipped.

That year, Stadium Flowers received its shipment of roses and found they were infested with botrytis, a kind of fungus.

“When you open the box and everything is dead, it’s the a-ha moment,” Van Winkle said. The business has enough contacts in the industry that it was able to scramble to get enough last-minute roses. But it took considerable juggling of the staff’s time.

“It’s like cooking all the cheeseburgers and there’s no cheese,” Van Winkle said.

Every year, the business hires about 40 drivers to help deliver more than 1,000 orders on Valentine’s morning. The same extra hands are used for Mother’s Day.

With routes ranging from all over Snohomish County to Seattle and the east side and as far south to Renton, it again takes careful planning to make sure the flowers arrive on time.

The business gets about 100 orders for same-day delivery on the morning of Valentine’s Day. If it’s local enough, they can deliver with orders coming as late as 1 to 2 p.m. With all hands on deck, it’s a time for employees, including seasonal and part-time, to catch up with each other.

“The week running up to it we have catered meals for lunch and dinner,” Van Winkle said. “We’re asking for a lot from our staff.”