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For Florists, Roses A Nerve-Racking Business Around Valentines Day


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rachel Martin. Two-hundred million - that's how many roses Americans will buy this Valentine's Day weekend. It's quite a logistical challenge for flower shops, getting these millions of roses to bloom and arrive at the same time. Stacey Vanek Smith of our Planet Money team tells us how they do it.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Jan Ooms is the owner of Roses and Blooms, a flower shop in Manhattan.

So how much is a dozen roses on February 14?

JAN OOMS: It's about $80.

SMITH: And how much is it on February 15?

OOMS: It's $48.

SMITH: That's almost double.

OOMS: That's almost double, yes.

SMITH: Part of the reason for the high price is, of course, demand - lots of procrastinators getting last-minute flowers. But part of the price reflects just how challenging it is for Ooms to get enough perfect red roses.

OOMS: If we make a big mistake with Valentine's Day, it would us cost so much money that we would not be able to make it back up for the rest of the year.

SMITH: The planning starts in November. Ooms figured he could sell 25,000 roses this year. Rather than dealing with a flower wholesaler, Ooms contacted a farm in Ecuador directly.


OOMS: Hey, Juan. How are you?

SMITH: Juan is Juan Torrey(ph) with Cannon Volley Farms.

OOMS: So everything is OK with the roses then? We're still on schedule?

JUAN TORREY: Yeah. Everything is OK with the production now.

SMITH: This call was in early January and they checked in every week. But the problem with roses is that things can go bad very quickly. A few weeks later I traveled to Ecuador.

TORREY: Right now we are looking at the red roses.

SMITH: Juan Torey - the guy on the phone - showed me around the farm. It's high up in the Andes Mountains. Millions of rosebuds are covered with little black mesh socks to protect them from cold and from sunburns. Torrey was worried.

TORREY: I'm not sure that the roses will bloom in time. It depends a lot on the weather.

SMITH: It's all a matter of timing. You want to harvest a rose when the bud is perfect, not too open, not too closed. But you also have to harvest before February 6 in order to get the rose shipped off for Valentine's Day. There's not much wiggle room. Torrey has all sorts of tricks - potassium, hormones - to speed up or slow down the roses.

You can make the flowers bloom four days later or four days earlier?

TORREY: Yes, yes, yes. More than four days, it will be a disaster, yes.

SMITH: In 2010 there was a warm winter and the roses opened a week early. Torrey sold what he could at less than half price and threw the rest away. This year, Torrey has the opposite problem. The weather is chilly, and the buds aren't open enough. As we're talking, a cold wind starts to blow. Workers run along the sides of the greenhouse, rolling down the white plastic walls to keep the flowers warmer.

So is it going to rain? I heard rumbling.

TORREY: Yeah, maybe. Yeah.

SMITH: Is that good or bad?

TORREY: Yeah, that's not good.

SMITH: Last week I contacted Torrey to check on the roses. They had to pick them a day late, but they got them on the plane. And this part surprised me. They don't use a giant cargo plane. The roses fly the same way we do - on a commercial flight. Amy Stewart is the author of "Flower Confidential."

AMY STEWART: If you fly out of Quito or you fly out of Bogota, there's going to be boxes of roses alongside your suitcase in the passenger jet.

SMITH: And that's another thing that makes the flower business so risky. The roses can get bumped if people check too much luggage. There's always the possibility of bad weather and flight delays. This week, though, Jan Ooms lucked out.

OOMS: Good morning. How are you?

SMITH: Good. How are you doing?

OOMS: Good.

SMITH: It's 6:30 in the morning, and Ooms is at his shop to meet his roses. They arrived at JFK at 2 A.M. Now, here they are, stacked in boxes in the middle of his shop.

Do you get nervous before you open up the boxes of roses before you see them?

OOMS: I always am, yes.

SMITH: Although Ooms has solved all the logistical hurdles, he still doesn't know what the flowers look like. Did they wilt? Did they freeze? Were they ripped apart by customs agents looking for drugs? That happens.

What do you think?

OOMS: They look good. They look really, really good. So I'm a happy guy.

SMITH: And if Ooms is a happy guy, that hopefully means lots of happy couples.

KEN STERM: How much - are they just all the same price?

SMITH: Ken Sterm(ph) is getting flowers for his wife. He's a little shocked by the $80 price tag, but he says nothing but roses will do for Valentine's Day.

STERM: Yeah, you have to. If you bring home anything else you're seen a cheapskate.

SMITH: And now, the final step for the roses - getting delivered to Sterm's wife. He really hopes she'll like them.

STERM: So I might get, oh, they're beautiful. That beautiful kind of embellishment. That's what I'm looking for.

SMITH: That's what you're hoping for from your wife?

STERM: I am.

SMITH: The beautiful?

STERM: Yes, exactly.

SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.