As Lawmakers Share Memories, Flowers Adorn Sen. McCain’s Desk

Mary Westbrookon: August 29, 2018In: Floral Industry NewsNo Comments


McCain Desk

People magazine noted that the late senator’s desk was draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses this week.

As lawmakers rose in the Capitol this week to share memories of their colleague Sen. John McCain, flowers played an important and prominent role in the healing. ABC News and People magazine> were among many news outlets to note that the late senator’s desk was draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses.

Through McCain’s website, his family has also encouraged mourners to send flowers to local VA hospitals

Public memorials that included flowers could also be seen this week in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Vietnam, where McCain was held for more than five years as a prisoner of war. McCain died Aug. 25. Memorials and services are being held this week in Arizona, Washington, D.C., and in Maryland, at the U.S. Naval Academy. Look for coverage of those services and how flowers helped the gathered celebrate the senator’s life next week.

Will You Soon Have To Pay Sales Tax On Every Online Purchase?

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Repost by Hillcrest Garden, Inc. | SAF by Nina Totenberg

A person in Miami searches the Internet for sales. A case relating to whether all Internet purchases will be subject to sales taxes is heard Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Going into Tuesday's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, it looked as though the court was headed toward reversing a 50-year-old decision that barred states from collecting taxes on out-of-state purchases.

But after the arguments, it looked as though a court majority just might preserve the status quo, and that would be a huge victory for online sellers.

The case presents a multibillion-dollar dispute, and the outcome will directly affect consumers, cash-strapped states and companies large and small.

On one side are states, almost all of them with sales taxes. And on the other are online companies. In this case, retailers like Wayfair, Overstock and Newegg. They point out that they, like many other successful online companies, are already paying state sales taxes in an increasing number of states, often because they now have warehouses or stores in many places.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito and perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts all indicated that it might be best to leave the status quo — and the court's precedents — in place, and to leave Congress to deal with the problem of online taxation.

That's despite every justice seeming to concede that the court had been wrong in 1967 and 1992, when it barred sellers from collecting taxes on out-of-state sales.

But back then, there was no Internet.

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, at age 30, started selling books online out of his garage in Seattle, he had no idea that Amazon would become the online behemoth it is today.

"What's actually happened over the last four years, you know, I'm the most surprised person on the planet," Bezos told NPR in 1999.

So perhaps the Supreme Court can be forgiven for being less prescient in 1967 when it ruled that states didn't have to collect sales taxes on out-of-state purchases, unless the seller had a brick-and-mortar presence within the state's borders.


Why Amazon Supports an Online Sales-Tax Bill

By 1992, the justices were getting a little uneasy, in light of the growth of catalog sales. But they reaffirmed the sales tax decision nonetheless.

Then what followed was the online commerce explosion and states began to feel the pinch in terms of lost revenue from sales taxes and mom-and-pop stores being forced out of business.

Does Congress want to act?

As several justices noted Tuesday, the world has changed since the Supreme Court's two prior opinions, but some noted that online companies have relied on those earlier Supreme Court rulings.

Justice Breyer endorsed punting the question to Congress. He pointed to the importance of "preserving the possibility of competition" for small internet retailers. "That's something the Antitrust Division could testify about," he said, "but they're not going to testify here. And so that's the kind of problem that worries me."

Just imagine George Isaacson, arguing for the internet retailers, agreed, arguing that "companies have made their investment decisions based upon a business model understanding" of those prior court opinions.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, however, argued that states are losing "massive revenue" because local businesses have to pay state sales taxes, but online retailers do not which he said, does a disadvantage to Main Street businesses.

Jackley conceded that sometimes activity in the court "will spur Congress to act," as it did in another case.

In that unanimous opinion, the court threw out the case of United States v. Microsoft as moot because last month Congress enacted a statute that settled the issues in the case.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, eliciting a few chuckles from the courtroom, "We saw from the announcement today that Congress can sometimes act with rapidity."

Justice Alito asked, if there were two options — (A) eliminate the old decisions, and states can "do whatever they want" with respect to which taxes to collect or (B) a congressional scheme that deals with all of these problems — which would you choose?

Jackley chose option A, because "Congress has had 26 years to address this issue," and it hasn't done it.

Justice Kagan noted that it's not as if this issue hasn't been on Congress' radar. But the fact that Congress has "chosen not to do something" might be indicative that it doesn't want to legislate in this area.

An old decision rendered "obsolete" by the "cyber age"

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has previously indicated he was ready to overturn the court's prior cases, waited until late in the argument to speak. But when he did, he pushed back against the "leave it to Congress" solution. He said the prior case, "especially in light of the cyber age," has now been "proven incorrect."

Justice Ginsburg also expressed concern that current conditions have rendered the court's old decisions "obsolete" and wondered whether the court should "take responsibility" to ensure its case law is "in tune with current commercial arrangements."

Lawyer Isaacson warned, however, that if the court overturns its precedents, immediately allowing states to tax every company, the result would be "chaotic."

He noted that although some states have streamlined systems to collect taxes, states containing two-thirds of the national population have not. States often have drastically varying tax rates, he said, whereas "Congress can require one rate per state for all remote sales" or "standard uniform definitions of products."

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Trump Issues Order To Review Postal Service Finances amid Criticism of Amazon

"Somebody get me a bill"

Forty-five states rely on sales taxes for revenue, and for those states that have no income tax, sales taxes are very important. Estimates of how much money the states are losing vary dramatically, ranging from more than $200 billion over five years to a recent estimate from the Government Accountability Office of between $8 billion and $13 billion per year.

For much of the last decade, states have been pressing Congress to fix the problem, to pass a bill that levels the playing field. But Congress, buffeted by anti-tax groups, has walked away from the issue.

"I was in D.C. about once a month lobbying this issue, and I became increasingly frustrated," said South Dakota State Sen. Deb Peters, who is also president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She finally lost her temper, she said: "I basically blew up and said, 'I need a bill. Somebody get me a bill.' "

The idea was to pass a bill that required out-of-state sellers to collect sales taxes as a way to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's prior decisions. The bill passed the South Dakota Legislature, and was invalidated, as predicted by the state courts. That, in turn, enabled the state to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, where all indications are that at least some of the justices are ready to re-examine the old precedent.

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Online Sales Cost Cities and Counties Billions in Taxes, Mayors Say

Indeed, Justice Gorsuch once called the current system "a judicially created tax shelter." And, in 2015, Justice Kennedy suggested he was prepared to overrule the Supreme Court's 1967 and 1992 decisions in light of modern realities.

Small businesses "getting crushed"

Amazon, the biggest of the online giants, is not part of the case. It now collects sales taxes everywhere, but only on direct purchases from Amazon, and not on purchases from third-party sellers, which account for roughly half of the company's sales.

The two sides in Tuesday's case agree on almost nothing — not the economic facts, not the amount lost in sales taxes, not even on who is hurt by the court's prior decisions. As Justice Breyer pointed out, "You have wildly different estimates of costs, revenues, and what states are losing or not." Each side contends that the other's solution will annihilate small businesses.

Main Street retailers "are getting crushed because their costs are higher than Internet retailers," said lawyer Eric Citron, who represents South Dakota.

Small retailers even have a name for what happens. It's called "show-rooming." People come into a Main Street store, ask to look at particular products, and then buy the one they like online because the price is 5 to 10 percent cheaper without the sales tax.

What's taxable? Every state is different

Countering that argument is Andrew Pincus, who represents eBay and small business sellers that operate on eBay platforms. He calls the idea of leveling the sales tax playing field a "business killer."

"The reality is that these [online] small businesses are just going to go out of business, because they can't absorb the costs," he maintained.

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Massachusetts Tries Something New To Claim Taxes from Online Sales

In short, his argument goes, given the fact that there are roughly 12,000 tax-collecting state and local jurisdictions in the country, small and medium-sized online businesses will simply not be able to afford to set up the systems needed to calculate sales taxes.

Peters, however, counters that "the idea that this is too complicated is absolutely laughable to me because businesses are doing it today."

As an accountant, Peters' clients are often mom-and-pop stores. "I set up businesses on software every day where they can collect and remit on their sales," she said, adding, "whether it's in South Dakota or Florida."

Citron added that "it's all managed by algorithm."

Indeed, 24 states, representing 30 percent of the population have already agreed to a system that that provides the software for free.

However, on the other side, eBay's Pincus said the more populous states like New York and California have complicated rules for which objects are taxable, and at what rate.

"Just to give a few examples," he said, "in Minnesota blankets are taxable, but baby receiving blankets are not taxable. In Texas, deodorant is taxable, but deodorant that has an antiperspirant is not."

The cost for a system that deals with these variations, he said, can be $200,000 up front.

While both sides in this debate agree that it would be best for Congress to deal with all these issues, the fact is that Congress has turned a blind eye. And that, for now, leaves it up to the Supreme Court to decide whether it wants to stick with the rule it established a half century ago when the marketplace was a very different place, or not.


SAF’s 2018 Petal It Forward campaign

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Fifty Flowers partnered with local law enforcement to hand out bouquets for its Petal It Forward 2017 event in Boise, Idaho. Liza Atwood, Fifty Flowers CEO, describes how the goodwill effort is still generating connections four months later in the April/May Viewpoint in Floral Management magazine.

For the fourth year in a row, the Society of American Florists is leading the industry in a nationwide feel-good promotional effort that shows consumers and reporters how great it feels to both give and receives flowers. SAF’s 2018 Petal It Forward campaign date is set for Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, and SAF is spreading the word to increase industry participation and make it easy for members to start planning their local events now.

The first Petal It Forward in 2015 included participation from industry members in 44 cities in 27 states. The next year, there were 262 events in 234 cities in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In 2017, industry members held 573 local Petal It Forward events in 467 cities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, resulting in nearly 82 million impressions through SAF-generated and local member public relations and social media efforts.

“Petal It Forward concept is simple and easy to do, yet is one of the most engaging floral promotions in the industry’s history,” said SAF Vice President of Marketing Jennifer Sparks. “The results are phenomenal for industry participants, as the program’s random-acts-of-kindness premise builds interest in the news and on social media.”

The premise behind Petal It Forward: passersby receive two bouquets — one to keep, and one to share — and are asked to post a picture about it on social media with the hashtag #petalitforward.

“You can make your Petal It Forward local event as big or small as you want — even handing out 20-50 bouquets or single stems can make an impact,” Sparks said. “It’s a win-win to participate. For little effort, you give consumers the opportunity to experience the scientifically proven happiness that occurs when you give and receive flowers. At the same time, you position your business as a positive force in your community. That makes consumers feel good about you, which goes a long way in establishing customer loyalty. And, you give a morale boost to employees who play a part.”

Liza Atwood, CEO of Fifty Flowers in Boise, Idaho and a member of SAF’s Consumer Joint Council recently shared one example of the power of Petal It Forward — four months after her 2017 event — in the April/May “Viewpoint” in Floral Management magazine.

“It’s not too early to start laying the groundwork for your Petal It Forward event,” Sparks said. SAF provides members with advice on program logistics, as well as easy-to-implement materials and resources at

The main goal of Petal It Forward is to generate traditional and social media coverage to highlight the benefits of flower power — the positive impact flowers have on our emotional well-being — even beyond the actual recipients of the flowers.

Through SAF-generated and local member public relations and social media efforts, the 2017 Petal It Forward campaign generated nearly 82 million impressions.

“We want even more coverage of flower power this year!” Sparks said. “In order to capture the reporters’ attention and garner news stories about Petal It Forward both locally and nationally, SAF needs to know where events are happening.” SAF is compiling a list of participating florists holding events on October 24 to share with the media. Sparks encourages members to fill out the online participation form at once they know they’re holding an October 24 Petal It Forward event.

“With your help, Petal It Forward can capture even more media attention nationwide,” Sparks said.

FTD: Valentine’s Day Media Campaign Fell ‘Substantially Short’ of Expectations

Posted By: Mary Westbrookon: March 21, 2018In: Floral Industry News

FTD expects consolidated revenues for the first quarter of 2018 to be about $20 million below internal expectations — a shortcoming the company blames on “unfavorable performance from ProFlowers and Gourmet Foods due largely to media campaign investments that generated lower than expected sales.”




“For the Valentine’s Day holiday this year we took a different approach to media-based marketing in certain brands, and the results were substantially short of our expectations,” said John Walden, president and CEO of FTD.”

The campaign, which included national TV spots and digital placements on social media, YouTube and other platforms, encouraged consumers to “think inside the box” with the company’s “Perfectly Paired” collection — ProFlowers blooms and Shari’s Berries chocolate-dipped strawberries.

A company representative noted the shortfall was “offset in part by favorable sales performance in, the Interflora and FTD Florist segments, and Personal Creations” and that “the vast majority of orders are florist-filled with high average order values.”

“For the Valentine’s Day holiday this year we took a different approach to media-based marketing in certain brands, and the results were substantially short of our expectations,” said John Walden, president and CEO of FTD. “We will incorporate our many learnings from Valentine’s Day to inform our plans throughout this year and in the future.”

Walden called preliminary 2017 financial results “in-line with our expectations.”

“For 2018, our team laid out an ambitious, new five-year strategic plan focused on rebuilding winning customer brands, recreating a network of strong florist partners, gaining supply chain efficiencies and extending our business in complementary non-floral categories,” he said.

FTD announced this week that it will delay the release of its fourth quarter and full-year 2017 financial results. The company is currently in talks with its lenders and Liberty Interactive Corporation, its largest stockholder, regarding modifications to its credit agreement and other financing transactions.

Other Company Returns

At Teleflora, Kelly McKeone, vice president of consumer marketing and florist marketing, said the company experienced double-digit order volume growth this year for Valentine’s Day. “A Wednesday holiday coupled with strong consumer demand for hand-arranged bouquets drove order volume up by double digits from 2017,” she said. “An increase in florist-to-florist orders showed that our partner florists had a
great holiday locally. Partner florists with eFlorist’s services also experienced an increase in orders over last year.” 

On average, BloomNation florists saw a 60 percent increase in sales this year and 50 percent more orders, said Farbod Shoraka, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “BloomNation as a whole grew 55 percent from last Valentine’s Day,” he said, adding that 190 of the company’s florists experienced a “change of 100 percent or higher, year over year.” Look for updates on holiday results from additional national companies in future issues of EBrief.

Design Show Recap

Our “snow-postponed” Spring Wedding Design Show finally happened on Wednesday April 4th 2018.  We have the luck and pleasure to have had AIFD donate their design and commentary expertise to make the show happen (Northeast Chapter).  There were 4 top designers involved at this event: Laurie Lemak AIFD, Sue Krabill AIFD, Janet Corrao AIFD and Dot Chenevert AIFD doing the commentary.  Besides learning great ideas from watching the presentation, the attendees also got to take advantage of discounts on certain product lines, a free umbrella per attendee, a great meal, a chance to win a prize if you visit 4 vendor tables, and also to be in the running for two grand prizes.

The food was a an especially delicious spread.  Two types of Ziti, chicken, eggplant, Italian sausage and salad.   I had customers come up to me and tell me that evening that was the best meal they ever had at a wholesaler’s design show.  So we are very proud to have provided such a pleasing meal, and we are also very, very happy with our caterer, Shop Rite of Rochelle Park, NJ.

The vendors we had at our show, included, Giftwares, Acolyte, Berwick, Morex, Syndicate Sales, Design Master, and Supermoss.  One of the new products featured that night in the show, was the Holly Chapple egg, and pillow cages.

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We had 129 attendees at the show, which is a healthy number for us, especially at a Spring show.  Sue, Janet, Dot, and Laurie planned a wedding design show that featured wedding dresses decorated with silk flower blooms and also design styles that were more on the “different side.”  The design team reasoned that you can go to any number of wedding design shows, and see basic standard wedding designs, but they wanted to show out of the box designs that are just different enough to stand out.  On more than one occasion it was mentioned that today’s millennial bride may be drawn to something different.  Following are some of the tidbits we thought to highlight and summarize for you the reader:

Wedding Dresses as front window display fodder: Laurie suggested to brick and mortar retailers in the crowd that it’s a good idea to place a wedding dress on a mannequin in the front window of your shop, with silk flowers cold-glued onto the dress.  Do it just a little differently, use a flower shawl, or a flower train attached to the dress, place a headpiece on the mannequin made entirely of flowers.  Laurie says she had customers who come into her store and mention the headpiece in the window display, that they want something similar made. It’s basically letting your customers know that overt “creativity” is a skill set that resides in your store.


View the embedded image gallery online at:


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Smart Selling | First Impressions Do Count


This is the second in a 10-part series aimed at empowering Floral Management readers to build a foundation month by month, sale by sale, for higher sales, more confident employees and happier customers.

Last month, we kicked off this new column by discussing the need to hold regularly scheduled meetings with staff to foster a stronger sales culture in your shop.

This month, we’re focusing on improving how your staff members greet and engage customers on the sales floor. I regularly hear that walk-in traffic has dropped dramatically this decade. Even more reason, I feel that we need to do a better job of making a strong impression on shop visitors.

Let’s begin with language

What’s Happening: What do YOU say to customers as they enter the shop? I ask because inevitably staff will follow your lead, either actively or passively. The worst opening question (ironically, the most commonly used in flower shops) is, "How can I help you?" I want to scream in response, "You can help me by showing me around your flower shop, asking intelligent questions and making it easier for me to shop here!"

What Should Happen: We know that most customers enter the store either on a whim or without specific flowers in mind. Therefore, your staff needs to be taught by you to interact with and listen to customers. When you set the right tone from the beginning, you will make bigger sales, guaranteed. As the owner/manager, you must instill in your staff the fact that customers want to be engaged and listened to, not just asked the same bland questions that we’ve been using for the past 100 years!

There was a famous study done at UCLA by Dr. Albert Mehrabian that states that face-to-face communication is 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone of voice and 7 percent words. Stunning, right? Think about those numbers in terms of the customer experience in your store. When someone walks in, do they see staff behind the counter checking Facebook on their phones, OR are they happily greeted by someone walking toward them? What do your customers hear? Is it a sheepish, "How can I help you?" or a more engaging "What’s your special reason for flower shopping today?"

Still Skeptical? Historically, I have found flower shop staff to be shy about interacting with customers, but why? This is a conversation you need to have with your team. Here are some talking points that I bring out when I do on-site training.

  • You can never profile a customer based on appearancesince you will often get the opposite result. For example, there’s a tendency to offer lower price points to older customers based on the assumption that they don’t want to spend much and/or are on a fixed income. Unbeknownst to you, that customer pulled up in a new Mercedes and heads to Boca for the winter! Sell her an item based on your conversation and her needs.
  • Customers will not run screaming from a high price.This is a crazy myth that is perpetuated in our industry; yet in 25 years of waiting on customers, I have probably had only 10 people hang up or walk out upon hearing a price they did not like. Customers are smart — they’ll let you know if they don’t want to spend that much. All they’re really saying is "Give me another option or price point."


The art of the telephone sale and first Impression Events, Floral Strategies style.

"When someone walks in, do they see staff behind the counter checking Facebook on their phones, or are they happily greeted by someone walking toward them?"


This column continues at , where you will find more onselling face-to-face along with some customer service games to play with your staff to get them more comfortable with selling on the floor. Plus, visit a video primer on this topic.

Tim Huckabee, FSC, is president of FloralStrategies, which provides customer service, sales and POS system training to retail and wholesale


Eric Levy, President, Hillcrest Garden, Inc.