The first time I ordered flowers (the occasion was my mom’s birthday), it felt like such a grown-up thing to do. It was also an expensive thing to do. I only splurged because I was living in another state at the time.
This year I was able to deliver my mom’s birthday flowers in person, but even saving on the delivery fee, I still felt like I’d overpaid for what was a lovely but nonetheless small arrangement of tulips.
If you’ve had a similar experience, or have never tried to send flowers because it seems too expensive, these insider tips can make flower buying more accessible. I talked to the owner of a local florist shop (who wished to remain anonymous) for a behind-the-scenes look at what makes flowers expensive and how you can cut the price without sacrificing quality.
What you need to know about the middlemen
If you decide to send flowers to a friend or loved one, chances are you begin the process on Google. From 1-800-Flowers to Teleflora, there are plenty of middlemen or “order gatherers” (as they’re called in the industry) looking for your business. In fact, it may seem like the order gatherers are the only option, as they dominate the first page of search results. You probably won’t even see a link for the websites of actual florists in your town.
What’s wrong with the middlemen, you might ask. After all, they offer convenience and an endless variety of beautiful arrangements to choose from. You can order and pay online, and they’ll find a florist near your recipient to create and deliver the flowers you ordered. However, it pays to cut out the middleman and order directly from a brick-and-mortars shop, even if that means you have to make a phone call to do so.
The florist I spoke to told me that order gatherers charge an extra 15 percent, plus other fees. Not only do you pay more, but you might get less than you thought. She also explained that the pictures you see online often feature all the flowers in front, whereas a bouquet is really circular. So the number of “main event” flowers (such as roses) you select will often look fuller online than in person.
Some of the lesser known order gatherers, what my florist called “rogue middlemen,” take your order and then shop around for the cheapest price. In the flower business, price is usually associated with freshness and other matters of quality. So while you may have paid $80 for what looks like a premium vase of roses for your valentine, he or she may end up receiving flowers that are already starting to wilt and may only last a few days. This is the same condition of many supermarket bouquets, which you can buy for much less than $80.
Insider’s tip: Ask for the “designer’s choice”
Remember that florists are not just business people—they’re artists and designers who love what they do. When you call a florist shop directly and ask for the designer’s choice, you can still provide guidance on the price range, color scheme, and other style elements, but the florist will work with what they have on hand and what is in season, to design a truly one-of-a-kind arrangement.
The florist I spoke with gave the example of a cymbidium orchid, a beautiful flower you’ve probably never heard of. Let’s say the flower shop ordered a certain amount of these orchids for a wedding, but didn’t use them all. When you ask for designer’s choice, the florist can include the cymbidium orchids that might otherwise go to waste, without charging you the premium price you’d pay for specifically ordering such a flower. Plus, many people, myself included, would appreciate a unique gift more than the same-old dozen roses.
Ask about the florist’s minimum
Every florist has a minimum. As an example, the florist I spoke with has a minimum of $35. That’s a lot less than the price of most bouquets online.
While it may not get you a dozen roses, if you ask for the designer’s choice, you can feel confident you’ll end up with something worthy of the occasion you’re celebrating.
Deliver the flowers yourself
Depending on the location of the person you’re sending flowers to, hand delivery may not be possible. But if it is, you can save about $10 or more, and personally inspect the quality of the bouquet.
Teddy bears are cute, balloons add cheer, and chocolate is nearly universally adored. But trust me, you don’t need to add these things to your flowers to impress the person you’re giving them to.
A beautiful arrangement of flowers on its own is quite a treat. If you absolutely want to add more, buy the extras on your own and hand deliver the flowers if possible. You’ll probably get better chocolate that way, too.
What to do if the grocery store is your only option
Maybe you’ve run out of time to order in advance, or that $35 minimum is still too high for your budget. When you want to buy flowers from the grocery store, you can still make sure you select the freshest bouquet.
My florist explained that grocery store flowers are usually already open, whereas flowers from the florist are closed. This is because the former are older and not as fresh. Still, she recommends squeezing the bottom of the bulbs lightly to determine how old they are. The tighter the bottom of the bulb is, the fresher the flower. Use this tip to find the best bouquet in the store.
In the age of minimalism, flowers can be the perfect gift—lovely and ephemeral. But when you’re young and on a tight budget, sending flowers can seem like an extravagance you can’t afford.
Once you understand what goes into the price of a quality flower arrangement, you can work the system to get a beautiful bouquet at an affordable price.