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Sympathy Reimagined

Sympathy Reimagined

Flowers have long comforted the grieving. But during a pandemic, they mean so much more.

Design and photo by Cristin Kasprzak Porch & Prairie
Design and photo by Ralph Giordano, AIFD, CFD, FSMD Giordano’s Floral Creations
Design and photo by Gary Wells, AIFD, CFD Premiere Designs
Design and photo by Lori Himes, AIFD, CFD
Abloom, Ltd. Flowers & Events
Design and photo by Meri Wagner Florals

It’s a well-known credo in this industry that flowers often convey what words cannot. This is especially true during times of bereavement. But imagine for a moment not being able to hug a family member or friend during a loved-one’s passing, let alone gather to commemorate them. Can you imagine how much more a beautiful standing spray or lovely garden basket would mean during this time?

With strict limitations in place as a result of COVID-19, the sympathy flower business has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of large church services, gravesite gatherings or celebrations of life. They’re now replaced, largely, by phone calls, Zoom video chats or very limited gatherings—creating a new norm for funeral homes as well as sympathy florists.

Flowers now carry even more meaning to those who are grieving, sending crucial messages of love and support at a time when it cannot be done in person.

For Gary Wells, AIFD, CFD, of Premiere Designs in Hudsonville, Mich., 80 percent of his business is typically sympathy work, but there’s nothing typical about this year. “In the past, I would do three to five family pieces per service, on average,” he says. “Now, when there is only a two-hour visitation and limited people, I have families put all the money together and order a single large spray.”

His advice for other sympathy florists seeing a downturn during the pandemic is to customize. “Make it personal,” Wells recommends. “Design a piece around the deceased’s hobby, a picture or even a piece of clothing.”

At Giordano’s Floral Creations, in Fort Pierce, Fla., sympathy work also composes a large part of the overall business. Owner Ralph Giordano, AIFD, CFD, FSMD, says he’s actually seen an uptick in business since the pandemic struck.

“More small fresh floral designs and live plants are being sent to the home rather than immediate-family pieces,” Giordano explains, a fourth-generation florist with years of expertise in the sympathy flower business. He says that smaller, more intimate family gatherings at a funeral home seem to be the way of the future. He added that working with a local funeral home and becoming their in-house florist is key.

For Cristin Kasprzak, who owns Porch & Prairie, a seasonal flower farm and full-service design studio on the outskirts of Lovelady, Texas, this year has presented a whole new personal perspective on sympathy work. “After my grandmother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer on Mother’s Day this year, she passed away within a few short weeks,” she shares. “I’d never designed sympathy flowers and, honestly, had always referred any inquiries to other local florists. However, I knew the time had come for me to get out of my comfort zone and honor my grandmother in the only way I knew how to—through flowers”

After sharing her personal story, as well as photos of the beautiful heart-shaped wreath Kasprzak designed for her grandmother’s online funeral (above), inquiries for sympathy work started flowing in weekly. “Now, sympathy work has become some of the most meaningful in my business this year,” Kasprzak says.

Lori Himes, AIFD, CFD, of Abloom, Ltd. Flowers & Events in Walkersville, Md., agrees with Giordano. “We found that letting funeral directors do the sales while they meet with the families coordinating all the other parts helped us increase our average sale and serve more families,” she shares. Himes and her husband, Todd, have owned Abloom since 1992. “We give a discounted price to the funeral homes we service regularly, and it is well worth it.”

Himes says that due to COVID restrictions, memorial services for cremations were put on hold, and floral orders slowed considerably due to these postponements. “However,” she adds, “we are seeing more requests for plants, some even as rentals for services to surround the casket or for memorial setting while others are being incorporated into designs with fresh flowers.”

Despite the lull in orders—in part due to her area just entering Phase 3 of reopening at press time in early September—Himes remains optimistic. “Owning a business is hard, and at times, not what I expected, but I love what I do, and I still love this industry.”

Design and photo by Meri Wagner Florals
Design and photo by Ruby Reds Floral & Garden
Design and photo by Randi Reifel, TMF and Chelsea Valdez Floral Designs by Randi
Six Tips for Maintaining or Growing Your Sympathy Flower Business During COVID-19

From Rio Roses/Equiflor

While nothing can replace a warm hug or a gathering of loved ones to offer comfort, flowers can send an important message of love and support. To that end, there are many ways you, as a florist, can assist those in such delicate situations, and by doing so, maintain a strong sympathy flower business.

1. Network with funeral directors. Perhaps the most important thing you can do right now is reach out to funeral directors in your area and discover their needs. Are they holding memorial services in person or at a distance? Are they televising more services these days? How are they helping families, and how can you assist them? Based on what you discover, create and provide materials that they can share with their customers about your products and services.

2. Offer a variety of designs. Many customers choose traditional designs for memorials or funeral services, such as crosses, wreaths and the like. However, there are those customers who would prefer arrangements with a bit more creative flair. Be sure to offer designs that appeal to customers with traditional as well as more contemporary tastes.

3. Customize arrangements to make them more personal. When you discuss sympathy flowers with customers, ask them about the deceased to find out what made them special. Did they have a favorite flower, color or hobby? What was their occupation? By incorporating as much as possible about each person into your designs, you’ll provide a unique way for grieving family and friends to remember their loved ones.

4. Showcase collections for impact. When designing arrangements for a memorial service or funeral, create a collection. A themed collection makes more impact, particularly if the service is shared remotely. An example would be a casket spray, an easel-mounted wreath and two table arrangements all with the same flower types and colors.

5. Suggest options to “In lieu of flowers….” The growing practice of people requesting something other than flowers has undoubtedly cut into the sympathy flower business in most areas. Often, when customers feel unsure about what to send to a service, they choose to send nothing at all. It’s essential to educate your customers about the power of flowers to provide comfort, peace and calmness at such a difficult time. Provide this information on your website, and create marketing materials that you can give them when they come to your shop—as well as to the funeral homes with which you work (or want to work).

6. Create distinctive sympathy arrangements for homes. So many people won’t be able to visit with the bereaved, and flowers can provide much-needed comfort and expressions of love from a distance. Show your customers as many options as possible for sympathy flowers that are appropriate to be delivered to homes so they can choose something personal and meaningful.

Use these tips to assist those providing the services as well as those who may not be able to attend. You’ll be doing something that genuinely helps in such a difficult time.

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