ANNAPOLIS The surge of Internet buying has swept up Valentine’s Day shoppers, and many Maryland florists say they must log on or get left behind.
With holiday websites selling everything from candy and flowers to lingerie and special weekend trips, florists who depend on large earnings from their Feb. 14 flower and gift sales are setting up their own websites or linking with established ones.
“Anybody who thinks the Internet is not going to change their business is crazy,” said Bruce Steinhardt, owner of Frederick Florist Ltd. in Frederick. “They should get their businesses out of the 19th century.”
Maryland companies are now competing with websites for the business of the Internet-savvy shopper who can buy not just flowers, but Valentine gifts, such as romantic books and CDs from the special Valentine’s Day section of the Barnes and Noble website.
And they face competition from Internet shopping trailblazer Amazon.com, which added candy and flower selections to the array of books and musical selections offered on their site.
If the huge number of national floral websites isn’t enough, buyers can find a host of more unique options for the holiday from smaller websites.
While browsing on www.happyvalentinesday.com, shoppers can get free love advice from Dr. Gilda Carle. At www.singingvalentines.com customers can recruit barbershop quartets from around the country to serenade their loved ones.
To keep from getting locked out of the love business, Maryland florists have gone on-line to hawk their wares as well.
“Fifteen percent of our business traffic comes (over the Internet) now,” said Tracy Callahan, owner of Bethesda Florist, who has had a website for one year. “People like to do business that way.”
The Flower Cart in Baltimore receives up to 10 gift orders a day via the shop’s 18-month-old website, according to shop owner John Fogarty. Information on the business’s phone line even provides the web address and buying possibilities for listeners on hold.
Some business owners, however, say lack of a website hasn’t hurt their Valentine business.
“We still have a lot of people walking in our store and buying,” said Melissa Burley, manager of Cherry Lane Florist in Laurel. “There’s enough business to spread around.”
“I don’t think the Internet has hurt my business at all,” said Shelly Snyder, owner of Shelly’s Flower Box in Annapolis. “This is still the most romantic florist in Annapolis. I hear customers complaining that they don’t get what they pay for when they order (on the Internet).”
Having a website helps with overseas orders, but it hasn’t helped as much locally, said Alenoosh Bedrosian, with Colesville Floral Designs in Silver Spring. Bedrosian said the flower shop has received several orders from people in Japan and Germany via its 15-month-old website, but the orders are not rolling in, as steadily as they’d hoped.
The Internet will change the face of business, but florists don’t necessarily need to have their own website to get on board, Steinhardt said.
For years, florists have linked themselves with floral providers, such as FTD or 1-800-FLOWERS. Both of these servers allow patrons to hear a list of recommended florists by region or state.
Now, the national flower providers offer similar options on their websites, and Steinhardt suggests registering a flower shop with them or similar groups. Steinhardt has linked his shop to a website by FlowerLink.
Other shop owners, like Charlotte Patterson, advise florists to hook up now before they begin to lose business. Patterson, owner of Flower Basket in Salisbury, said she would have a website up after the holiday season ends.
“I think the Internet is going to change the way florists do business,” she said. “I think it’s going to change the whole world.”