Hillcrest Garden to be a Kennicott Brothers - Owned Company

Hillcrest Garden Inc. (Paramus, N.J.) and Kennicott Brothers Company (Chicago, Ill.) announce that they will be joining forces on March 1, 2019. Kennicott Brothers Company will acquire certain operating assets of Hillcrest. Operations will continue as usual to serve florists in northern New Jersey and the greater New York City metropolitan area.

Founded in 1936 by Eric Levy Sr., Hillcrest Garden Inc. started in Park Ridge, N.J., as a grower-wholesale operation selling flowers to retail florists off of route trucks. In the early 1970s, Leonard “Len” Levy took over the business as the operation began to grow rapidly, moving from several small locations to a 22,000 square foot building. In 1994, Hillcrest moved into a building more than twice that size in Paramus, expanding its product offering into supplies and plants. Throughout, Hillcrest maintained its reputation as the area’s most trusted distributor, supporting florists with exceptional service and products. Brothers Eric Levy Jr. and Larry Levy will remain in management at the Hillcrest location.

The number of wholesale distribution facilities under the Chicago-based Kennicott umbrella is now expanded to 17 locations servicing florists daily in 13 states. The addition of Hillcrest continues to build on the company’s strategic plan of growth and market expansion.

Chairman Leonard “Len” Levy states, “This union will perpetuate my dream of continuing to provide our customers with the very finest flowers by the same wonderful people who have made Hillcrest successful.”

Kennicott Brothers President Gustavo Gilchrist adds, “This will be a great marriage of two companies that share similar values and cultures. We look forward to merging our strengths to provide additional value to our customers, suppliers and owners – who are the current employees, as members of our ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).

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FedEx Announces Rate Increases for 2019 as Demand Grows

Repost by Hillcrest Garden, Inc. | Article Retrieved from Transpot Topics | Sean Davis/Flickr

FedEx Corp. will raise general rates on Jan. 7, according to a statement the company released on Nov. 5, reflecting tight capacity and greater demands from a strong economy.

FedEx said it would increase FedEx Express shipping rates by an average of 4.9% for domestic, U.S. export and U.S. import services.

FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery shipping rates will also increase by an average of 4.9%.

However, shipping rates for the Freight division will increase by an average of 5.9% and applies to shipments within the United States — including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The rate will also applicable to eligible shipments within Canada and Mexico.

FedEx had previously raised rates at the beginning of 2018.

It said under the new rates: U.S. Ground and Express package services as well as International Express package services will rise to $13.50 from $12. And, U.S. Express Freight and International Freight services will increase to $175 from $140.

Rates on the Rise

Express: 4.9%

Ground: 4.9%

Home Delivery: 4.9%

Freight: 5.9%

The new 2019 rates will outpace inflation. U.S. consumer prices are expected to rise 2.3% in 2019, according to average estimates from 72 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The general rate increase is indicative of FedEx’ pricing power and with a surging national economy it expects business-and-consumer demand increase to continue.

“We believe our rates reflect market conditions and demand for our services, which has been steadily increasing across FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight,” spokesman Jonathan Lyons said. “We expect that increasing overall demand to continue.”

The bustling e-commerce industry has triggered a surge in shipping that is due to escalate during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

FedEx said in September that its business has increased 16.7% in a decade.

“The rise in demand and volume at FedEx has been dramatic and consistent for more than 10 years,” the company said. “For example, the record volume day in the history of FedEx 10 years ago was 12 million shipments. Today, FedEx handles more than 14 million shipments on an average day.”

In anticipation of the volume, the company said it plans to add about 55,000 more positions during the holiday season to the current 425,000.

FedEx made clear that if demand and capacity issues continue to push costs up, other options exist to avoid further new charges.

“Several factors are evaluated before deciding to implement a rate increase and determining its amount,” Lyons told Transport Topics. “We do not look at rate increases as the only way to offset increasing costs. We continually strive to gain efficiencies in our processes and equipment.”

FedEx is No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 8 on TT’s list of the Top 50 logistics companies in North America.

Eric Levy
Hillcrest Garden, Inc.

Industry Mourns Former SAF President Mel Schwanke, AAF

Reposted by Hillcrest Garden, Inc.

Melvin H. Schwanke, AAF, former president of the Society of American Florists, member of the association’s exclusive Floriculture Hall of Fame and enthusiastic flower evangelist, died Monday, December 17 at his home in Fremont, Nebraska. He was 92 years old.

“He had an incredible life — filled to the brim with flowers and friends,” said his son, J Schwanke, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, founder of uBloom.com. “He loved our great industry so much and all the people in it.”

Famous for his ever-present smile, red carnation on his lapel and colorful ties and pocket squares (always perfectly coordinated with his beloved wife Joey’s dress), Mel Schwanke was a fixture at various industry events, including SAF’s annual convention and Congressional Action Days, for much of the last century. Emphatic that flowers make the world more wonderful and that more people should enjoy them more often, he relished these occasions as opportunities to boost his business acumen, strategize with his peers and share his message.

SAF CEO Kate Penn recalled tagging along for the Schwankes’ congressional office visits during CAD back when she was a staff writer.

“Watching Mel and Joey walk into those meetings, I’m sure the young congressional staffers saw this sweet older couple in matching outfits and thought there’d be some light small talk and they’d be done. Little did they know!” she said. “Anyone who’s sat on the other side of a table from Mel knows, when he felt strongly about something, he was very focused and clear about it. I’m sure he can take some of the credit for the progress we’ve made on legislative issues over the years.”

Anyone who met Schwanke quickly discovered “his profound belief in the power of flowers to express emotions, as well as his dedication to doing whatever he could to help our industry sell more flowers,” Penn said.

Schwanke’s devotion earned him membership into SAF’s Floriculture Hall of Fame, the industry’s most prestigious honor, in 1990. Additionally, he was the executive director of the Nebraska Florist Society for more than 50 years and the longtime leader of NeMoKan, the Nebraska Missouri and Kansas Florist Association Convention. He served on numerous committees, including SAF’s Retailers Council, and helped form the American Floral Endowment to fund research and scholarships in floriculture for the benefit of growers, wholesalers, retailers, allied industry organizations and the general public.

Lynn Lary McLean, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, TMF, recipient of the 2011 Tommy Bright Award for lifetime achievement in floral education, described Schwanke as her mentor. “I remember him from my earliest involvement in the industry,” she said. “He was always there to lend support and offer advice. He made an incredible difference and truly was a friend to all he met along the way.” 

Dianna Nordman, AAF, executive director of the Texas State Florists’ Association, echoed these sentiments. “Mel was always so kind and inclusive,” she said. “He introduced me to many. This industry will miss him dearly.”

“He was a floral industry ambassador to the max,” said fellow Hall of Fame member Dwight Larimer, AAF, PFCI, president of DESIGN MASTER color tool, inc., in Boulder, Colorado, who had “too many memories” from his decades-long friendship with Schwanke to pinpoint a favorite. “He held a special place in my family’s heart because he could have been an identical twin to my wife Dawn’s father — both in his good looks and his gentle manner!”

A relative newcomer to the floral industry, Michael LoBue, CEO of the California Association of Flower Growers and Shippers, never had the pleasure of meeting Schwanke — but he has felt the icon’s influence.

A few years ago, when chatting with J Schwanke, LoBue mentioned that he thought his organization needed an aspirational slogan. “For decades, they saw their role as ‘delivering flowers faster and fresher to the market.’ To me, that seemed incomplete,” he explained. “It was a necessary condition for success, but insufficient by itself.” The way he saw it, unless the market for flowers expanded, that speediness was moot. “J said, ‘that’s one of my dad’s favorite sayings — we need to have more customers enjoying more flowers,’” LoBue recalled. “Within seconds, we had our message: ‘More Americans, enjoying more flowers more often.’ It was all Mel’s idea and vision.”

At age 17, Schwanke enlisted in the United States Marine Corps — to the initial chagrin of his father, an Army officer in World War I. He served for nearly two years in World War II, before sustaining multiple injuries from a grenade during the Battle of Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault and bloodiest campaign in the Pacific Theater. He was hospitalized for 11 months and awarded the Purple Heart for his experience.

Upon returning to civilian life, Mel Schwanke married his sweetheart, Joey Green, AAF, PFCI, on May 12, 1948, and joined her family’s business, Green’s Greenhouses (now Green’s Florist) which he helped modernize tremendously.

“Mel brought us into the 20th century. He was willing to — and could do — anything,” Joey Schwanke recounted in a 2013 blog post celebrating the business’s 117-year history. “He learned to do electrical work, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, as well as floral design. He learned propagating, fumigating, harvesting, seeding, planting, benching, potting — you name it!”

A man of faith, deeply thankful for his safe return from war, Schwanke was an active member of Trinity Lutheran Church, which will host his funeral service, Friday, December 21 at 1 p.m. His visitation will be Thursday, December 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Ludvigsens Funeral Home in Fremont, Nebraska.

Mel is survived by his wife, Joey; his children, Jo Heinz, Cindy McKown and J Schwanke; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.

Eric Levy
Hillcrest Garden, Inc.

David’s Bridal files for bankruptcy protection

Blog Davids Bridal

Reposted by Hillcrest Garden, Inc.| By Taylor Telford
November 19

David’s Bridal filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, hoping to keep its doors open as it grapples with an avalanche of debt and disruption in the bridal industry.  The nation’s biggest bridal retailer, which has been in turmoil for years, said in a statement that the restructuring deal will shave $400 million off its $750 million debt and allow it to continue operating its 300 or so U.S. stores, promising that “orders will arrive on time and bridal appointments will not be impacted.”

“For more than 60 years, David’s has delivered beautiful, high-quality dresses and accessories for our customers’ most special occasions, and the actions we are taking will enable us to build on that tradition,” chief executive Scott Key said in a statement. “Our team is laser focused on providing brides and their families with the five-star service and experience they deserve and have come to expect from us.”

Since it was acquired in 2012 by private-equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice for more than $1 billion, the Conshohocken, Pa.-based company’s finances have steadily declined.  Teamsters and consumer activists warned of the company’s failures when they protested at the 2016 Great Bridal Expo, and rumors of bankruptcy solidified after David’s missed a major debt payment last month. 

David’s Bridal has struggled to keep up with seismic shifts in the bridal industry: a boom of online bridal retailers, and a trend toward couples marrying later and consumers spending less on weddings. Similar struggles caused its cohort, Alfred Angelo, to close 10 stores without warning in July 2017 and file for bankruptcy.  “Although its bridal products are diverse, the company competes within a small niche of the retail industry and has limited product diversity compared to large, global retailers,”

Moody’s analysts wrote in a credit report after the bankruptcy news was announced. “The company is therefore dependent on trends in wedding volumes and budgets.”  These changing tides are upsetting an already challenging industry that depends on what is typically a one-time interaction with customers whose expectations and emotions run high, said Raya Sokolyanska, a senior analyst with Moody’s Corp. David’s Bridal straddled price points in a way that further complicated its business proposition. While its offerings range from under $100 to around $2,000, the bulk of its business comes from dresses priced $600 and less.

“Even though they do sell some premium and mid-price-point dresses, their core business has essentially been the Walmart of wedding gowns,” Sokolyanska said. “They’ve had to balance selling to different customers that have different needs.”  They were also slow to adapt to the “casualization” trend in weddings, according to S&P Global Ratings analyst Mathew Christy, an evolution that has seen the standard white gown replaced by more-informal dresses that might be worn on other occasions.

“As brides are looking to either pare back their wedding expenses or spend less on gowns, that has led to a decline in spending on wedding dresses or destination weddings and having smaller weddings,” Christy told USA Today.
The departure from traditional wedding styles has also spawned a wave of wedding lines at non-bridal retailers, such as H&M and online apparel company Reformation. David’s Bridal also has to compete with companies such as BHLDN, Anthropologie’s sister brand, that offer more-contemporary wedding gowns at a higher price point.

This year, the company has made some effort to evolve by offering one-on-one appointments, increasing its social media presence and expanding its selection of lowerpriced dresses.  David’s still captures a big portion of the American bridal market, selling about a third of  U.S. wedding dresses each year, according to market research firm IBISWorld. If it is able to steady itself through restructuring and keep modernizing, Sokolyanska said, it could
very well weather the storm.  “There is brand recognition and market share there that should allow the company to continue operating,” Sokolyanska said. “I don’t think they’ll go back to the levels of profitability they had a few years ago, but at least they can defend what they have.”


Florists Collect 858 Children’s Books for Public Libraries


Blog Childrens Books Lancaster West

Jill Williams, manager of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts’ Lancaster, Pennsylvania, (left) offers Renee Christiansen, youth services manager of the Library System of Lancaster County, children’s books customers donated during the company’s “Bouquets for Books” program

Reposted by Hillcrest Garden, Inc. | Authored By: Katie Hendrick Vincent
On: November 28, 2018 In: Floral Industry News

Sister companies Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, Stephenson’s Flowers & Gifts and Connells Maple Lee Flowers & Gifts recently concluded their 13th annual “Bouquets for Books” program, collecting 858 new children’s titles for public libraries in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Since its inception, “Bouquets for Books” has collected more than 20,000 books. From October 28 through November 10, the companies — which have 19 stores among them — offered
customers a free bouquet in exchange for a new children’s book.  “It got a great response,” said Jill Williams, manager of Royer’s flagship store in Lancaster,  Pennsylvania. “Our customers are very generous.”

The companies tie the book drive into their “Kids Club” program, during which a designer and an assistant or two help children between ages 5 and 12 create a simple arrangement. Kids’ classes are complimentary; participants are simply asked to donate a book. Held four or five times a year, the “Kids Club” events draw about 20 children to the shop on each occasion. “It’s a great way to build a rapport with future flower buyers,” Williams said, adding
that participants and their parents often become regular customers.

“We want to give back to the communities that have given back so much to us,” said Greg Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts. “We generally do things that focus on children, as we want to get them to grow up with an appreciation for flowers.”

In the spring, the companies have a similar initiative, except they offer bouquets in exchange for non-perishable food items.  “We asked the Pennsylvania Food Bank when the need is the greatest,” Royer said. “They said
they’re hurting in the late spring and summer. There’s a surge in demand because kids aren’t in school, receiving lunches. And people simply aren’t thinking about the hungry like they do during the winter holidays.” The companies advertised “Bouquets for Books” through e-blasts, printed flyers and local publicity.

“Prior to an event, we try to get on a tv morning show to announce it,” Royer said. “We usually get a nice response from media outlets, who are happy to promote positive things in the community.” He called charitable endeavors a no-brainier for local businesses. “Customers appreciate companies that do-good deeds,” he said. “And it’s personally gratifying to help.”

Royer's Flowers & Gifts has 15 stores in Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties in Pennsylvania. Stephenson’s Flowers & Gifts has one store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Connells Maple Lee has three stores in Bexley, Grove City and Powell, Ohio.

Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the Society of American Florists.

New York’s Flower District Is Dying

Blog NY Flower District 

Once a $120 million engine, a piece of history is being killed off by competition, construction and ICE. By Riley Griffin More stories by Riley Griffin August 14 , 2018 4 : 00 AM SHARE THIS ARTICLE It’s almost 6 a.m. on West 28th Street, and as the July sun rises over New York, the senses awaken to unexpected smells. Instead of warming asphalt and truck exhaust, there’s the whiff of wisteria, sweet pea, and hyacinth. Hiding gum-stained sidewalks and storefront gates are carnations and roses stacked along the curb. Though busily transforming into a playground for the ultra-wealthy, Manhattan still retains a hint of its working-class past. While the fish market, meatpacking district, and even the diamond and garment districts are all gone, going, or reduced to tiny versions of their former selves, the flower district remains. In fact, this one-block stretch of Chelsea is the centerpiece of a multibillion-dollar U.S. floral industry, shuttling flowers to the homes and offices of some of the richest, most powerful people in the world. Among the ever-present construction sites sits a labyrinth of wholesale shops, where peonies and calla lilies spill from buckets, awaiting the discerning eyes of floral artists and decorators. From fashion to finance, the district provides scented backdrops for Fashion Week runway shows, Hamptons clambakes, and billionaire fundraisers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even so, the historic district, like the island of Manhattan, is being overrun by a much more powerful New York industry: real estate.

West 28th Street once boasted more than 65 wholesalers. Now it’s a handful of second- and third-generation shops. As nearby hotels and condos shoot up, skyrocketing rents have forced out wholesalers and florists who can’t keep up, a pattern seen all over the city as bank branches and drugstore chains appear where family-owned stores once served neighborhoods. The flower district has experienced an average 15 percent increase in rent over the last 10 years, according to data compiled by brokerage Citi Habitats. The median monthly rent is currently about $4,000, among the highest in the city, according to an analysis from Bloomberg News. (However, New York did see prices decline in second quarter 2018.) The real estate frenzy has also erased nearby parking lots, which floral customers depended on to transfer loads of flowers out of midtown’s congested streets. Increasing traffic has deterred longtime buyers from even trekking into the city. Even without the fallout from construction and gentrification, the marketplace for expensive flowers has been flooding with new competitors—from Costco to e-commerce sites and even local delis—further squeezing the high-end florists of 28th Street. “There is no viable future for the flower market here,” says Gary Page, owner of G. Page Wholesale Flowers and former president of the now-defunct Flower Market Association, which reported back in 2000 that the district raked in as much as $120 million a year. “The heydays are gone.”

U.S. floriculture retail sales—including flowers, plants, seeds, and potted plants—are valued at $35.2 billion, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nationally, imports account for approximately 64 percent of fresh-cut flowers sold by dollar volume in the U.S., the Society of American Florists says. Of the fresh-cut flowers exchanging hands in New York’s flower district, the vast majority are imported. In fact, the bouquet you bought at your local deli was likely grown on a mountainside in Colombia, where 78 percent of all U.S. flower imports originate. This relationship is a product of trade policies implemented in the 1990s to curb Colombian drug production by encouraging a legal, alternative crop. After import taxes were lowered, Colombian flowers flourished. American growers, however, paid the price—sales of U.S. roses have dropped 95 percent since 1991, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additional imported flowers make their way to America from the Netherlands, home to the largest flower market in the world. At Royal FloraHolland in Aalsmeer, flower traders buy and sell $5.2 billion in horticultural products each year at an auction house the size of 182 soccer fields. But even the Dutch have seen growth slow, as cheaper South American flowers flood the market. Where the flowers are from is one thing. Getting them to the buyer while still fresh is quite another. From farm to wholesaler to florist, each stem found in New York’s flower district has traveled farther and faster than most people ever will. Take, for example, a simple red rose. The one you pull out of the plastic wrap in your kitchen was likely grown in Colombia. After its stem has been snipped, it’s put in post-harvest hydration solution and boxed in a refrigerated room. From there, the bundle is transferred to a cooled plane in Bogota and flown to Miami. After passing through customs, the package is received by truck drivers, who shuttle it up the East Coast to New York. From start to finish, the process takes three days.

Blog  NY FlowerDistrict2 A photo of Louie Rosenberg (left) with his son, Sam. The elder Rosenberg opened a wholesale shop in 1930 that is now run by Steven Rosenberg, Sam’s son. Photographer: Nathan Bajar for Bloomberg The New York flower district dates back to the late 19th century, when immigrants from Eastern Europe, particularly Greece, identified an untapped market: providing flowers for department stores, funerals, and even nearby steamships. “The flower market is a shadow of its former self,” says Steven Rosenberg, a third-generation owner of Superior Florist, which was opened by his grandfather in 1930 and then run by his father Sam. “It’s still colorful to walk through, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.”

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Eric Levy