Careers for your Characters - Florist

A few years ago, another writer wanted to write a character who was a florist and she put out a call asking if anyone could tell her about the business. Since one of my focuses is interesting careers, I thought I'd include here the information I shared with her. It's been a number of years (we won't go into how many) since I worked as a florist, and I imagine some things have changed, but I'm also sure a lot hasn't.

This would be a great job for a character if he or she needs to be out and about at various times during the day, so let's talk about the details of the job. 

The biggest part of the florist's business is funerals. The florist who gets the order for the "family flowers" (the casket spray is always ordered by the family) is the main florist for the funeral. (You need to be properly solemn when dealing with the family, of course.) Being the main florist mean it's this florist's responsibility to get all the flowers from the funeral home to the cemetery. That means you're there at the back door, waiting for the funeral to end. As soon as the mourners have left the main room, the funeral director opens the back door, you race in, load everything into the van, and race off to the cemetery, usually with your emergency flashers on, to set it up before the funeral cortège gets there. Cops tend to look the other way if you speed a bit because they know what's going on. Ideally, you should be unloaded and be gone before the cortège arrives. If you meet the cortège on the way back, you would, of course, pull over to show the proper respect. There was one occasion when the florist had an accident en route--slick roads (people are so nice though that they took the flowers to the cemetery.)

Also, I had an experience I'll never forget. I used to deliver flowers to one of the mortuaries and, if it was late in the day, the garage door that I usually went in was closed. One of the guys said, "Go through this door when the garage is closed." The first time I did, I found myself in a small room, a sizable bouquet in each hand. Against the opposite wall was a body on a gurney with a sheet pulled up chest high. Now I'd been doing that job for a couple of years and mortuaries didn't bug me at all (I even lived next door in a house owned by the mortician), but some primitive emotion kicked in. I sidled around the wall to the door that led to the slumber room, the reptilian core of my brain convinced that the body would reach out and grab me. I NEVER did that again. I always went through the garage even if I had to open it.

Another time, we had orders for special flowers for the casket spray. They guy's wife had died, and he wanted something really unique, so he spent a lot of money and his order included Birds of Paradise among other things. These were not flowers we carried regularly, so they were a special order. And they didn't come in in time. We did the best we could, but it wasn't what he ordered, and I'm sure the boss took a loss on that one.

Funerals are also where you'll use the flowers that are "older" because they're at their prime and you want them fully opened so they show at their best. (For other occasions, you want most of the flowers still at the bud stage so the enjoyment lasts longer.)

Holiday seasons:
  While it's lovely to get flowers for no reason, a florist can't live on that kind of business. Events are what keep them going, so below I've listed the common occasions that prompt folks to send flowers.

The big holiday is Mother's Day. It's huge. Way more than Valentines Day. You can easily put in 12-hour days, and they often hire extra help to drive the delivery van.

Thanksgiving you do a lot of centerpieces. At Christmas, it's wreaths and centerpieces. Weddings year round, but June and July tend to be thicker with them. Hospitals all the time. Church flowers in the winter (in summer, people tend to pull from their garden.) Potted Easter Lilies at Easter.

What can go wrong?
One of the problems involved in delivery is catching folks at home. Back then, we had a threshold. Any order over a certain amount, we delivered without a fee, but I think a lot of the florists now charge extra for deliveries. Once, after I delivered flowers, I backed into a low, brick wall. A section of the wall fell over. Fortunately the customer wasn't upset (it had happened before.)

Another time, the delivery was out of town and it was winter. After an extended search, I found the place and then promptly got stuck in the snow. The search probably wouldn't happen today. They probably have at least a TomTom to help the drivers. You really did learn to find addresses though. That's a skill I still use.

If an arrangement includes roses and they don't all open as they're supposed to, you get complaints. Some roses smell more than others and some open prettier than others. That's why I love yellow roses. They always seem to have more scent than the other colors and open beautifully. Our standard colors were white, red, pink, and yellow. White is always popular for weddings, and a lot of times we'd also get coral, and "sterling" (lavender.)

It's probably one of the industries where you really don't get that many complaints, because except for funerals, it's a feel-good industry. 

The competition:
And florists are generally friendly with the other shops in town. They loan flowers back and forth if one comes up short (usually that's caused by a large funeral order.) I could, however, easily envision a grudge starting between two shops, which could get quite nasty as they compete for business. (Just a thought.)

Florists often employ one or two high school kids part-time. It's cheap labor and they can easily be trained to do simple bouquets.

Custon made or FTD?
Most arrangements are custom made. People will sometimes order specific flowers to be included or excluded (FREX, some people associate carnations with funerals so don't want them in other arrangements.) FTD is the big association that allows you to go to your local florist but get the flowers delivered anywhere in the country. Most flower shops are members. Before the internet, the orders were always done by phone from one florist to the other, but I'm not sure if that's changed. With FTD, you can pick the arrangement you want from pictures and what's delivered should match the picture (but may vary--they specify that on the website). For custom orders, the customer will often just say how much they want to spend and leave the choice of what to make to the florist.

Where do the flowers come from? Are they billed or do they come COD?
Florists have regular suppliers, so they bill the account. We always got our order in on Tuesday, so it was an intense day, because yes, you do need to get them into water immediately. You learn how to treat each type of flower. FREX, rose stems are recut (to give them a fresh cut) on a slant. Mum stems are crushed. You have to know each type because they'll suck up water best if they're handled correctly. They come in large boxes, and ours came by bus. If you're in a cold weather climate, you pick them up as quickly as possible in the winter because of the low temperatures.

What are the usual types of flowers stocked by the florist?
 Chrysanthemums are big. They're a versatile flower. Lots of different types: pom mums, spider mums, football mums, daisy mums. Miniature roses and miniature carnations (you see them a lot going to the hospital for new babies). Irises, tulips, and daffodils in the spring. Lilies, especially at Easter but also for funerals. Gerber daisies. Seafoam. Stephanotis. We'd also have greenery to add to the arrangements. Leather or asparagus fern for roses. Baby's breath. Eucalyptus for exotic arrangements. One other flower we carried all the time was gladiolas.  They're used a lot in funeral and grand opening arrangements because they add a lot of size at a reasonable cost. There was actually a gladiola farmer in our area, so when they were in season, we had black glads. Gorgeous flowers. "Black" flowers are actually a very rich, very dark purple and are my favorite color of flower. I have both black tulips and irises in my back yard. (Haven't been able to find a source of black glads.)

Exotics would be the Birds of Paradise and calla lilies.

Potted plants as well (mums, daylilies, cyclamen, hydrangea etc) Also  green plants. I don't know if terrariums are still big. They were once. A full service florist will also have silk arrangements.

Around Prom time, orchids and gardenias (my favorite--they smell so good). Homecoming, football mums. The miniature roses and carnations also make nice corsages.

For Grand Openings, large flashy bouquets are the norm.

Mylar ballons are also a standard in the industry now.

Oh, and when you've worked there for a while, people walk in and comment about how wonderful it smells, but sadly, you can't smell it anymore.

A typical day:
First thing we did was check the obituaries. I know. It sounds morbid, but that way you're ready when the calls for flowers start to come in and you know which mortuary is handling the funeral. We'd cut out that section of the paper and post it by the main phone so the information was at hand when you got a call. I don't know how they handle it now that so many city papers charge and so many people don't put in an obit. Maybe they check the website for the local funeral parlors, or maybe the funeral parlors send them emails.

If there's a funeral that day, you make whatever floral arrangements you didn't make the day before and deliver them to the mortuary. You do try to stay on top of those and some may have been delivered the day before, especially if there was a viewing. 

If there's a wedding, you make those flowers and deliver them. Wedding flowers can be an intense job if it's a large wedding. Everything has to be just right and this is one event that can come back and bite you if you screw up.

If there's none of that, you look at the orders that need to be delivered that day. One of the things I always liked about the business is that it was so varied. You could get out of the shop a couple of times a day to run the deliveries. There's almost always a couple of runs to the hospital. Either get well flowers or bouquets for new mothers.

Phone work is also a constant. People often call in with their orders (so you have multiple phone lines). In the old days, we'd bill them, but I'm sure now it's probably done by credit card. Often they don't really know what they want so you'll walk them through it. The season often dictates what you sell: spring bouquets vs fall colors. You also write the card for them if they order over the phone.

If it's a dead sort of day, you make silk arrangements or you might redo the display window. Lots of opportunity to be creative. You also might dust, including dusting/polishing the green foliage on potted plants.

About once a week, you water the plants. You'd also clean out the cooler once a week. We had a display cooler with a backroom. That way all your best flowers are there to be seen, but the ones past their prime (that you'd use for funerals) aren't on display. The ones that are really past their prime, you throw out. Potted plants past their flowering time are often given to the employees. Oh, and potted plants usually are delivered by a local supplier and the best ones end up at florists. Secondary grade go to other stores. (Just as truly prime beef goes to restaurants and not-so-prime goes to the grocery stores. Yeah, I know what they advertise. It ain't so.)

The art of the florist
One thing that might be handy to know is the art of arrangements. You want pleasing proportions. There's a geometry to floral arrangements, but styles change even in this industry, so I recommend visiting the FTD website to spark ideas. Youtube is also a great resource and you'll discover that floral arrangements aren't that hard.

If you've had an interesting job and would like to contribute to Careers for Characters, drop by here. Links to other careers already featured are there as well.   


  1. LOVE this post. It was very interesting and informative. I can handle most things, I'm kind of morbid. However, coffins scare the crap out of me. There doesn't have to be anyone in it. Surprisingly, dead bodies don't freak me out. I guess I'm just weird.

  2. And I have to wonder, Alexis, how you would know that dead bodies don't scare you but coffins do. (Most folks, I think, have only seen dead bodies in coffins.)

  3. Thanks! There's a lot there I didn't know!

  4. Well, things have changed some, and I might add you have much sweeter memories than I do of the floral industry. I owned and managed a shop for ten years. My blood pressure rose, my hair fell out and other "fun" stress related issues. It has wonderful moments, but it is also incredibly physical and stressful. I'd never do it again, but I still love designing. Now however, I do it when I want. For years I absolutely hated the holidays, especially Valentine's Day. Great post. Brought back lots of memories, good as well as the bad. I think you hit on the main points.