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Local shops load up on flowers, helpers

Andria Lee, daughter of Cindy Barns, owner of Nepstad's Flowers and Gifts, rings up a purchase for a Valentine's delivery at the store Wednesday morning in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
Sue Walter, who formerly owned a flower shop in Howard, assembles Valentine's arrangements Wednesday morning at Cherrybee's Floral and Gifts in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

Maybe they should call it Pink Friday.

Just like the Christmas season spells ringing phones, extra help and long hours for retailers, there's another day that brings much of the same for florists: Valentine's Day.

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"Valentine's Day is our biggest holiday of the season," said Dick Anderson, co-owner of Cherrybee's Floral and Gifts on Mitchell's Main Street.

Anderson, who owns the store with his wife, Betty, chuckled at a comparison between Black Friday -- the unofficial start of Christmas shopping -- and Valentine's Day, but noted there are similarities. Preparation started weeks ago, as he began estimating how much inventory he would need. Some of his orders began pouring in last week -- greens one day, carnations and daisies the next. Then, early this week, the roses.

"Thousands of roses," he said.

While younger generations are veering away from the long-stemmed mainstay, Anderson said roses are still the day's most popular item, which is why the price typically rises this time of year.

"We're using up all the nation's supply of roses for our Valentine's Day," he said of the florist industry.

Flowers began pouring in from other countries recently, too, to help meet the day's demand. Based on last year's sales, and taking into account what day of the week the holiday is on, Anderson said he ordered more than 1,500 roses.

"It's like throwing a big dinner party. Everyone is invited, but you don't know who's coming," Anderson said. "We can't overbuy, because it's a perishable item."

His normal staff of three to four people will swell to about 25 today, to handle the extra demand. Honed to a science, Anderson said the extra crew members will man their own stations -- five or six people will spend their time making arrangements, others will make deliveries, still others will answer the ever-ringing phone.

"Our phone lines just ring, ring, ring," Anderson said. "There's a lot of walk-in traffic that day."

They do what they can to pre-make flower arrangements, as well as candy bouquets, soda sweets and balloons. He said they typically work until 1 or 2 a.m. on Thursday finishing up as much as possible before the real rush begins.

"It's a lot of preparation for one day," he said. "But we have a good time. As long as your employees are happy, you're pretty good."

Mitchell's other Main Street florist, Nepstad's Flowers and Gifts, agreed Valentine's Day is one of its biggest holidays, but said Mother's Day probably takes top prize.

Cindy Barns, owner of Nepstad's, said her staff of four or five will grow to 25 or 30 people today; throughout the week, she said 10 or 12 people help prepare orders.

"People have been very good about ordering a little early," she said. "We have to bring in extra people to be able fill all the orders, wait on people out front, have extra delivery people."

While red roses remain the most popular flower for the day, Barns said her store also offers alternative tokens of affection, like candy and balloon bouquets. Over the years, she said people have occasionally tacked a personal note onto their deliveries; others opt for something funny.

"Most people just write 'Happy Valentine's,' " she said. "It just always kind of runs the same every year."

Barns and Anderson both said having the holiday on Friday typically means sales will be a bit down, compared to an early week or mid-week holiday. The National Retail Federation released a report saying 37 percent of American gift givers will buy flowers; the other most popular purchases are candy and greeting cards.

Consumers are still cautious, according to the report, unready to splurge on Valentine's Day -- but total spending is still expected to reach $17.3 billion. A 2014 Valentine's Day spending survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics said the average person plans to spend $134 on candy, cards, gifts, dinner and more for the holiday, up slightly from $131 last year.

"Valentine's Day will continue to be a popular gift-giving event, even when consumers are frugal with their budgets," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the report. "Consumers can expect Cupid's holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck."

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