From care and handling best practices to employee recruitment tools, AFE partners with florists to solve industry challenges and invest in future industry success—all of which helps their businesses thrive.
By Julie Martens Forney
Where do you find inspiration? As a business owner in a creative field, you need a steady source of innovation and market research to give you a competitive edge and positively impact your bottom line. You’ll find all that—and more—when you team up with the American Floral Endowment (AFE).
AFE is a unique industry partnership that supports the flower industry, helping florist businesses like yours build a legacy of success. For 60 years, the Endowment has been strategically serving the industry by funding cutting-edge production and care and handling research, as well as helping to develop the next generation of leaders.
Lori Wheat, AAF, a third-generation florist, is a long-time AFE supporter. “I’ve known about AFE my entire career,” she says. Wheat heads financial operations, marketing and merchandising at the family business, Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop & Garden Center in Lafayette, Colo. “I think about AFE as another support system for my business—like a trusted CPA or other professional who gives me advice.”
Research Programs Solve Problems
The Endowment is perhaps best known for funding research that improves flower and plant quality and longevity. “One example that has always stuck with me is that drip irrigation was a result of an AFE-funded research project,” says David Boulton, AAF, PFCI, owner of Flowers by George in Arlington, Va. He’s also a member of the Endowment Board of Trustees.
“Drip irrigation is used in so many ways all over the world now, whether in a greenhouse setting even along Main Street USA where drip irrigation waters hanging baskets,” he adds. “As a retail florist, I support AFE, knowing that all the good work it does on behalf of the entire floral industry will trickle down to retail florists and, eventually, consumers.”
Wheat also counts on Endowment-funded research to help her business. “I’m always surprised at how much AFE does. Just as I think of what’s keeping me up at night, AFE is working on solutions,” she says. Lafayette Florist has used AFE research for decades.
Wheat encourages retail florists to use the Endowment’s research and resources to ensure their flowers and plants are at their best. She follows the AFE Facebook page, which has links to important industry topics, including posts from the Floral Marketing Fund (floralmarketingfund.org), a separate entity that was created by Trustees of AFE in 2008, that focuses on consumer preferences and marketing research. “We’ve used information on those studies for targeting millennials and growing our sympathy business. These tools help new and established businesses,” Wheat concludes.
Looking for Labor Solutions
Currently labor shortages are impacting every size of floral business. AFE’s answer to the labor crisis? Scholarship and internship programs. By annually funding more than 30 university student scholarships and three internship programs, the Endowment helps support and train students in every area of the flower industry, including retail, production, and wholesale and allied trades. “It’s exciting to see young students interested in careers with the floral industry, at any level,” Boulton says.
Lacee Bilke, CFD, OACF, OCF, and co-owner of Madeline’s Flower Shop & Greenhouse in Edmond, Okla., counts on AFE for resources and educational info. “I really appreciate that AFE offers scholarships to students in horticulture. I think if industry members realized [everything that AFE does], they would support the organization,” she says.
Christy Staven, owner of May Flowers, a wedding-flower studio in Chattanooga, Tenn., participated in an AFE internship program, working with a retail florist. “The internship let me see behind the scenes of a flower shop and get real hands-on experience,” she says. “I also made important industry contacts, such as local wholesalers and wedding planners, which helped when I opened my shop a few years later.”
Flower business owners can also take advantage of the AFE Career Center (afecareercenter.com) to recruit top talent. Students visit the AFE Career Center to peruse job listings and post their résumés. It’s a great place to find qualified job seekers who want to work in the floral industry. New local recruitment resources have recently been added that provide already written job advertisements, job descriptions, starting and internship guides, and even materials that can be used at local career fairs about the flower industry. These new resources are downloadable and can be personalized with shop logos and contact information. It’s just one more way AFE is providing labor solution resources.
Make AFE Your Partner
AFE’s 60-year heritage includes many successes, from research breakthroughs to market research to the new AFE Career Center. But this industry organization isn’t content to dwell on past victories. Instead, its focus is future oriented, looking to solve tomorrow’s problems today.
“My father, Gene Yoshihara, was a grower, worked in wholesale and had a retail flower shop,” Wheat says. “He was always a big supporter of AFE and made sure that, even in tough times, we supported the Endowment. It was important for him to contribute, and it’s important for me to continue to contribute. Does the organization have a real impact on my bottom line? If I have the latest data that speak to today’s consumers and research that helps me keep our product at its best, that gives me a competitive edge. This translates to more sales, more loyal customers and, yes, an impact on our bottom line.”
Boulton agrees. “No matter the size of business, every dollar counts when you choose to support AFE. Whether you are a new or established business, the Endowment is a way to use your contributions wisely, so that, in the end, we have more consumers buying more plants and flowers that last longer. That should help everyone’s bottom line.”
The floral industry relies on relationships—each person’s success is collective. A grower’s success helps a wholesaler and retailer succeed. What AFE does is support the entire industry. “Every time I contribute to the Endowment, I think, ‘If I don’t support our industry, who will?’ This is my community,” Wheat says. “These are the people who care about my business and my success.”
As AFE celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2021, it marks a great time to become a partner. Consider contributing to the industry’s future success with a tax-deductible donation, or reach out with an idea for a research project. To learn how you can be part of this visionary organization dedicated to the flower industry and to take advantage of all the valuable services and resources AFE provides, visit endowment.org.