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For our latest South American trip, we visit flower farms in Quito, Ecuador

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Located in the northwest part of South America, Ecuador’s name betrays another fact about its geographic location. Ecuador is Spanish for equator, the imaginary line that separates the Earth into northern and southern hemispheres.

Quito, Ecuador’s capital, sits more than 9,000 feet above sea level. That combination – proximity to the equator and high elevation – are what make Quito a near-perfect place to grow flowers. A 2015 article in the Financial Times noted that Ecuador was the world’s third-biggest exporter of cut flowers, 73 percent of which were roses.

“Roses grown at high altitude have a much longer growing cycle than those cultivated at sea level, up to 15 weeks as opposed to eight, so it is perfect for long-stemmed varieties with big heads,” said an official with a Dutch flower breeder. “The cold nights mean that you get a lot of bi-colors, with contrasting hues on the edges and the insides of petals, which are very sought after in certain markets.”

Tom Royer, our senior vice president and chief operating officer, had been to Quito on multiple occasions prior to his latest visit in September. His nephew, area manager Geoff Royer, had previously joined Tom on trips to flower farms in Bogota and Medellin in Colombia.

Because more flower growers ship out of Bogota than from Quito, freight costs are more competitive in Colombia, Geoff said. Quito also has a higher minimum wage that gets passed along to flower buyers.

While Royer’s has tended to buy most of its roses from Colombia because of cost, Tom and Geoff felt compelled to visit Quito because of the undeniable quality of the product there.

This was Geoff’s first exposure to Quito.

“The first thing you notice when you get into Quito is the landscape,” Geoff said. “Where Bogota is a plateau and very flat, Quito sits in a river valley.”

Bigger roses, brighter colors

Quito is some 700 feet higher in elevation that Bogota.

“That 700 feet is what makes all the difference,” Geoff said. “Because the flowers are closer to the sun, it’s intensity is much higher. This leads to bigger roses and brighter colors. You can buy the same varieties in both places, but in Quito they are that much better.”

Tom and Geoff wanted a first-hand look at “what’s out there and what’s new,” Geoff said. “We visited a few growers, some whom we’ve dealt with before and others not. As always, we are trying to find the best, longest-lasting product that’s out there.”

Among the Quito-grown products that Royer’s customers could be seeing:

–Hydrangea: “It’s a bigger head and the colors are different from the white and blue that we carry now. There are even some with variegation in the colors,” Geoff said.

–Painted rose: This is a white rose with outside petals hand-painted red. “We sometimes have that that variety of white rose, but the painting is different from anything we’ve had before,” Geoff said.

–Babies breath: Tom and Geoff visited a new grower. “What we get now is called Million Star, a variety that has a smaller flower. This grower offers that but also other varieties with bigger flowers and sturdier stems,” Geoff said.

Taking a shine to locally grown sunflowers

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Every day, Royer’s makes dozens – if not hundreds – of flower deliveries to homes and businesses in seven counties. It’s likely that you’ll encounter one of our vehicles on any given day.

What’s less well known is that we’re also picking up flowers. In the summer, we make regular visits to Elm Family Flowers in Lititz, which supplies us with thousands of gorgeous, locally grown sunflowers.

In fact, we buy all of Elm’s sunflowers, which we sell by the loose stem and in a variety of arrangements that we make.

Native to the Americas, sunflowers were domesticated around 1000 B.C., according to Good Housekeeping. Not only are they beautiful, but they also produce seeds (1,000 to 2,000 per plant) and oil.

When they are budding, sunflowers literally turn toward the sun, a trait known as heliotropism. The French word for sunflowers is “tournesol,” or “turns with the sun.”

‘Super fresh’

Daniel Lapp of Elm Family Flowers said his father bought their Elm Road dairy farm in 1986. In 2007, the Lapps augmented the dairy farm by starting to grow flowers. Elm has supplied sunflowers to Royer’s for five or six years.

“Daniel and his family are a joy to work with,” said Tom Royer, Royer’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. “We are glad we can work with a local grower who gives us super fresh sunflowers.”

Today, the Lapp farm devotes one acre to sunflowers. To put that into perspective, farms planted 1.7 million acres of sunflowers across the United States in 2014.

Elm’s growing season begins in late March and continues until the final harvest in early fall. Lapp said the first seeds begin in a heated greenhouse in what are known as plug trays. After a couple weeks, they are transplanted into the ground but covered with fabric that allows sun and moisture to get through but protects against frost.

“It retains a little of the daytime heat during the night,” Lapp said.

The transplanted seeds require 80 to 90 days before they can be harvested. By comparison, seeds planted directly into the ground will require only 50 to 60 days.

The last sunflowers of the year will be planted by Aug. 10 to beat potentially harmful cold temperatures.

“I usually figure Oct. 10 or 15 is when we’re going to get a frost,” Lapp said.

No matter the temperature outside, of course, sunflowers project warmth wherever they are.

Riding with Roger

Roger Walton used to work in financial management as a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy.

“I enjoyed it, but after a while, those spreadsheets got to be a little too much,” he quipped.

In retirement, he works as a part-time delivery driver for Royer’s. He joined the company seven years ago, first working out of its old store in Mechanicsburg and now in Carlisle. Twice Roger has been honored as Royer’s driver of the year.

“I couldn’t ask for better people to work for,” he said. “They are nice people and they really know what they’re doing. They make beautiful arrangements that I get to deliver and get the compliment, which I bring back to them.”

On a cold, sunny Friday morning in late January, Roger started his work day with six deliveries. They expressed a range of sentiments, from birthday wishes to sympathy for a mother mourning the loss of her son. At a workplace, the recipient explained to her colleagues that the flowers were from her financial planner.

Royer’s drivers won’t leave flowers and plants if the intended recipients aren’t home and the temperature is too cold or too hot. First the drivers will attempt to leave the packages with a neighbor. Failing that, the drivers will leave a note to coordinate a later delivery.

“Sometimes I’ve had people say, ‘Well, I really don’t know my neighbors,’ ” Roger said. “And I said, ‘This would be a great opportunity to get to meet them and talk a little bit to them.’ ”

Delivering smiles

The Carlisle store delivers to a sizable geographic area, from western Perry County down to the Gettysburg area, Roger said. In a typical day, a driver might cover 200 miles.

Valentine’s Day is among the busiest times of year for Royer’s and other florists. It’s a time for expressing love, of course, but Roger also remembers his first Valentine’s Day working in Carlisle.

“I ended up hitting a deer with a full van of arrangements,” he said. The arrangements had to be transferred to a second van, returned to the store to be inspected for damage, and then delivered.

Roger’s van had to be towed back to the store.

“And I’ll tell you, for a while after that, I was pretty skittish going around corners in forested areas,” he said.

But here he is, years later, continuing to enjoy his time with Royer’s.

“I do really enjoy bringing smiles to peoples’ faces,” he said. “And I think an arrangement of flowers does that as well as anything.”

A Guy’s Guide to Flower Buying

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There’s a gender gap when it comes to buying flowers: Women buy 65 percent of fresh flowers, according to the Society of American Florists, while men buy 35 percent.

To the extent that men might be intimidated or uncomfortable buying flowers, we’d like to make the experience a more enjoyable one for them.

To do this, we tapped the expertise of Cheryl Brill, Royer’s vice president of retail operations. Cheryl shared these insights based her more than 20 years of experience in the flower business.

Roses are red – and lots of other colors

Too often, men think only of roses for their significant others, and then only in red. Cheryl encourages male customers to be more adventurous, whether it’s with other colors of roses, other flower varieties, or other looks such as a textured garden appearance.

Don’t stop at Valentine’s Day

Maybe the tendency to focus on red roses has a lot to do with Valentine’s Day which, let’s face it, is ruled by red roses. But the year has only just begun when Valentine’s Day rolls around, so why not mix it up for the 364 days that don’t fall on Feb. 14?

What’s more, 63 percent of flower purchases are for the buyer, compared with 37 percent as gifts. And 86 percent of purchases are for non-calendar occasions, 50 percent of which fall into the “no special occasion” category. The bottom line is that people like to receive flowers any day of the year.

Bouquets don’t have to break the bank

Flower prices tend to rise around Valentine’s Day, in concert with a spike in demand for what is the floral industry’s equivalent of football’s Super Bowl. If that’s the only time of year that you purchase flowers, you can get a warped sense of how much they cost on a day-to-day basis.

Cheryl described how a $7.99 rose bunch made a positive impression on one male customer, who realized that he could afford to be a more frequent flower buyer.

Get the right vase

If she likes to arrange flowers, Cheryl said, then get her a vase that lends itself to arranging and one that fits the décor of the room where it will be used. Does she tend to put flowers on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table?

You don’t have to DIY

In this age of do-it-yourself, there’s a tendency to think that we must go it alone with everything. Rest assured, your trained florist is eager to help. It starts with the right container; she noted that it doesn’t have to be a plain, clear vase. Either bring one in, or your florist can help you select one.

Think about what you want to say

Before you visit or call your florist, Cheryl advised, think about the words you want to send along with the flowers. She said florists are a bit like bartenders: they’ve seen and heard everything, so don’t be embarrassed. Speak from the heart because the sentiment is just as important as the flowers that it goes with.

Valentine’s Day is an oasis amid the darkness of winter, Cheryl said, but it’s nice to see male customers the rest of the year, too.

Back in Bogota for the big Proflora trade show

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The last time we joined Geoff Royer in South America, it was in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. Geoff, area manager, and his uncle Tom Royer, senior vice president and chief operating officer, were checking on the quality of roses being grown just for Royer’s customers for the holiday.

Early October found Geoff and Tom back in South America, half of their time spent at farms and the rest at the big Proflora floral trade show in Bogota, Colombia.

Unlike most florists, Royer’s acts as its own wholesaler, distributing fresh flowers to its 16 stores in seven counties. Dealing directly with growers gives Royer’s more control over costs and quality but warrants a continual presence in South America.

“It’s important to us to look at the farms because that is where we can see if problems are starting to develop,” Geoff said. “It’s also the last place our flowers are before they are boxed up and sent to the U.S.”

Meanwhile, that same desire to stay ahead of events is why Geoff and Tom attended Proflora. As a preview of what’s coming, the show allows Royer’s to be on the forefront of procuring the best products for its customers.

It is held every two years so that floral buyers and growers alike can see what’s new and what’s coming in the floral industry. The show exhibitors range from flower food makers and logistics companies to, of course, breeders and growers.

“It is start to finish what a wholesaler needs to complete their job,” Geoff said.

Specific goals

It’s typical for Royer’s to approach the show with specific goals in mind. This year, the focus was on finding additional growers to meet Royer’s needs for poms and limonium.

Specifically, Geoff said, poms (as is true for other types of flowers) used in arrangements should have long laterals, which is the distance from a flower to its main stem. The longer, the better, in terms of appearance in an arrangement.

“We have a pom grower now that does very well with this, but we are continually looking for who else is growing what we are looking for,” Geoff said.

“With the limonium (also known as caspia), we use a specific variety and are searching for another grower of it. It helps us at holidays to ensure we can get the supply that we need.”

Among the other Proflora highlights:

  • In the show’s variety competition, one of Royer’s carnation growers, Geoflora, and its breeder, S.B. Talee, won two awards for carnations and one for ranunculus.
  • Geoff and Tom saw new spray rose varieties. Spray roses typically used to be smaller, Geoff said, with a lower petal count. They didn’t last as long and tended to open very quickly. The new varieties not only have higher petal counts but are much larger. Royer’s potentially can use them in corsage and wedding work or even in vases.
  • Geoff and Tom also saw several new varieties of red roses. Currently, Royer’s most-used variety is called Freedom. It has a high petal count, and when it opens is just beautiful. Everyone is looking for the next Freedom, Geoff said.
  • Garden roses also are becoming more popular, mostly for weddings and event work. Alexandra Farms, a group Royer’s is just starting to work with, grows multiple varieties of garden roses. These include David Austin varieties, named for the renowned English breeder whose roses are regaled for their beauty and scent.

“The most exciting things about the garden roses is the smell,” Geoff said. “In many cases the scent of flowers has been bred out of them. Scent and vase life are typically linked. Garden roses still have the scents and they are typically larger bloom sizes.”

Geoff and Tom will head back to South America early in the new year, ahead of Valentine’s Day, as the cycle repeats itself.

Refresh: Royer’s launches new website

Temperatures go from warm to cool, green leaves turn gold, red, orange.

And just as fall is the season of change in the natural world, it can be in the digital realm, too.

At Royer’s, this fall coincides with the launch of our new website. It’s still at royers.com, of course, but it has a fresh, crisp new look and functionality that should make the shopping experience even more fulfilling. (This look also is evident in our e-blasts and printed fall catalog.)

Among the improvements, both functionally and aesthetically:

  • The website now features “responsive” design, which means that it adjusts to the size of the browser in which it is viewed. We realize that customers shop online from different-sized screens, from desktop to laptop, tablet to smart phone.
  • Additional filters help shoppers more readily find what they’re looking for. For instance, instead of just searching by price across all products, it’s now possible to narrow that search by categories. Soon you’ll be able to filter by flower and color, too.
  • Arrangements are shown bigger and scale according to screen size.
  • Text is set against transparent colors, allowing more of the background flower images to shine through.
  • If the curvy page designs have a familiar feel, it’s because they are macro-views of actual flower shapes. The size, color and placement of the shapes are not determined by templates but rather are unique to each layout. This allows the layouts to remain fresh and change with the seasons.

What do you think of our new website? We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below, or let us know the next time you visit one of our stores.

Oh, Atlanta, we hear you calling

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We don’t procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. In fact, no sooner is one Christmas in the rearview mirror than we start planning for the next one.

It’s not that we’re eager for the passage of time. Rather, we’re beckoned by AmericasMart in Atlanta, which describes itself as the nation’s leading gift, home furnishings and area rug wholesale marketplace.

In Atlanta, we might purchase containers bearing a Christmas decoration, or snowflake or snowman stick-ins to complement an arrangement. We source Christmas décor at AmericasMart but also gifts that customers will give at the holidays, such as a picture frame.

A half-dozen Royer’s representatives visit AmericasMart’s three-building, 7 million-square-foot complex every January, buying gifts and arrangement accents for the next Christmas season, and again in July, when the focus will be on the next spring.

Focus on larger gifts

Jenni Eberly, Royer’s market manager, has made six trips to Atlanta, so she’s a veteran now. But as a first-time visitor, she found the experience daunting.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “looking at all that merchandise set out in the displays. Because then you have to take these huge displays and then pick out what you’re going to buy.”

As vast as AmericasMart is, Royer’s spends most of its time on five floral and holiday floors. In July, the group arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and worked through Friday. The pace is constant, and even lunch and dinner conversation turns to what each of them has seen from vendors.

Geoff Royer, whose great-grandparents started Royer’s, coordinates the Atlanta trips. He sets up meetings with specific vendors. He also arms each member of the Royer’s delegation with a folder that identifies, by holiday, items on their shopping list.

The needs range from broad to specific. In January, some of the focus was on larger gifts, such as clocks, afghans and pillows that are relatively new for Royer’s. In July, one of the goals was to find new versions of a heart stick-in and accent ribbon to give a new look to an existing arrangement.

Erica Bixby, Royer’s store manager in Lebanon, has been to Atlanta three times. With experience, she has learned to think beyond the initial appeal of new products to identify how they will work in Royer’s stores.

How will they complement other items, and will they work given the price at which they will have to sell, including once freight costs are factored in?

Something might look nice, Erica suggested, “but you can’t really sell it for $50.”

Moments of inspiration

Technology has made it easier to document the trips. Photos taken with a tablet or smart phone are invaluable for jogging memories. After all, Christmas giftware purchased in January won’t arrive until summer or fall.

Photos also capture moments of inspiration.

“I have a bunch of things that I liked for silks,” Erica said, with an eye toward Royer’s crafting similar arrangements in-house rather than buying them already made.

“Or I take pictures of displays that I’d like to duplicate in the stores,” Jenni added.

On her phone, Jenni pulled up a photo showing how one vendor used eye hooks and ropes to display pillows.

“It’s up, it’s still in the display, but it’s out of the way,” Jenni said, noting that pillows are vulnerable in a flower shop, where the need to water plants is constant.

One week after returning from the July trip, Erica and Jenni were in Royer’s central design department in Lebanon. Looking around them, at tables filled with arrangements being created or revamped for fall debuts, they estimated that 30 percent of the items were from Atlanta.

“That container, that container, that container,” Jenni said, pointing at specific arrangements. “That vase. Those deer [figures]. Those are all things that we picked up in January.”

Thanks for voting Royer’s to ‘best of’ lists

Royer’s received the honors, but it’s you, our valued customers, who deserve the applause.

Thanks to you, we continue to be recognized on multiple “best of” lists compiled by area media outlets.

“We’re thrilled when we are voted the best in the communities we serve, but we’ve always stopped short of asking for someone to vote for us,” said Greg Royer, president and CEO. “We’d rather win on our everyday activities, which makes it truly an honor that our customers recognize us in these ways.”

Among this year’s honors:
Best of Lebanon Valley
“Best of Lebanon Valley”/Lebanon Daily News
Royer’s was named the top florist for the fifth year in a row.

“Best of Harrisburg”/Susquehanna Style
In its June issue, the magazine named Royer’s “best florist.”

“Best of York”/York Sunday News
This year’s survey received more than 16,000 ballots, including 5,800 in the florist category. Said the newspaper: “Looking for the perfect centerpiece for your next event oracustom arrangement for your upcoming wedding? Look no further than these favorite York-area florists. Family-owned Royer’s Flowers & Gifts is the first place winner for its wide selection and dedication to meeting customers’ needs.”

To get the best value, buy from a local florist instead of a wire service

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There are lots of statistics out there about the economic benefits of buying local. When you buy from locally owned stores, the money stays in your community and puts your neighbors to work.

It’s true whether you spend your money at a local restaurant, hardware store or florist.

Speaking of flowers, buying directly from a local florist rather than through a national wire service such as FTD (which last year bought ProFlowers) or Teleflora can put money back in your pocket, too.

That’s because the wire services are middlemen, adding another layer of charges that consumers pay for without realizing any added value in return. The wire services are marketing companies that hand orders over to local florists, who make the arrangements and deliver them to your home or office.

CNN Money, in a story timed to Valentine’s Day 2013, noted how FTD had advertised a glass vase with roses and mini-carnations for $44.99. However, to send that arrangement to Reno, Nev., FTD’s service charge bumped to price to $65.

By comparison, that same arrangement ordered directly from a Reno florist: $53.

“If all orders came in this way, our business would not be sustainable,” the florist said.

Of course, this begs the question of why they stick with the wire services if florists have trouble making money on incoming orders.

Greg Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s, said that FTD and Teleflora are generally well regarded; they have been in business since 1910 and 1934, respectively.

“We also want to be able to send orders to other florists, so accepting orders via the wire services is only fair play,” he said.

However, he noted that from a consumer perspective, it’s a better deal to work with a local florist. You’ll be dealing with the same people who are going to arrange and deliver your flowers.

And you’ll avoid the added fees associated with the wire services.

Valentine’s Day survival guide: 5 tips

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A local florist will give you the best value for your money, according to NBC News.

 

Love is all around at Valentine’s Day, but you never want to take matters of the heart for granted.

Our survival guide is here to help, before, during and after the holiday. And it’ll help you whether you’re giving or receiving flowers — or both.

SHOP EARLY

One of the keys to a successful Valentine’s Day is not forgetting that it is Valentine’s Day. Order your flowers early and even have them delivered early. This way, you’ll be sure to stay ahead of any snowstorms, and the recipient will just have longer to enjoy the flowers.

What’s more, Royer’s offers a special incentive: Have your Valentine’s Day order delivered Feb. 12 or earlier, and the delivery will include a coupon for a free dozen-rose bunch redeemable in March.

SHOP LOCALLY

The big national retailers will spend a lot of time and money bombarding you with their offers, but you’ll get the most bang for your bouquet when you purchase it from a local florist. Don’t take our word for it, though. Just watch this story from NBC News.

don’t let the ‘dogs’ out

Be wary of “deceptive order gatherers,” or DOGs, that often make it look like they are local florists but aren’t. They might even be located out of state. And if they sink their teeth into your order, they’ll take an unnecessary bite out of your wallet. Click here for details on why you will want to avoid them.

PICK YOUR PRICE POINTS

It’s the thought that counts, so you don’t have to spend a lot to show that you care about someone. In this Fox 43 Morning News appearance, we offer five options for below $50. 

handle with care

Given proper amounts of water and cool-enough temperatures, high-quality roses from a local florist can last a week or longer. Just follow these easy steps. 

With these tips, you’re not just going to survive Valentine’s Day, but you’re going to thrive.

And what’s not to love about that?