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Go behind the scenes as four Royer’s colleagues start floral design training classes

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Olivia joined Royer’s part-time at the holidays in 2016. Since December, she has worked full-time as a manager trainee at the Lancaster West store.

On this mid-June 2019 morning, she is in Royer’s training room at the company’s corporate complex in Lebanon. Olivia stands at a work table, in the second row. At the table to her left is Cassie, a manager trainee at the Camp Hill store who has been on the job for four months.

In the front row, also at tables, are Cheyenne, who joined the company a year ago in Camp Hill, and Julia, who has worked in sales in Wernersville for a year and a half.

Cheyenne and Julia have some design experience, but each of the four colleagues is here for the first of what ultimately could be 18 floral design training classes in the coming year or so.

Each lasting a day, the classes will take the students from the very basics of design to the complexities of event work such as weddings.

This promises to be a hands-on experience, under the tutelage of Woody Felty, Royer’s vice president of merchandising/design trainer. He stands at the front of the room, which has its door closed to the adjacent wholesale department.

The students are eager to dive in, but they won’t even touch a flower for the first hour.

‘We are on the cutting edge’

Woody explains how design class is much more than “just learning how to stick flowers in a vase.

“You’re going to learn how to sell it. You’re going to learn how to package it. You’re going to learn how to upgrade it.”

He encourages the students to question why things are done the way they are.

“So I’m going to challenge you to ask those questions as well,” he says. “Ask me if you’re unsure because that’s how we stay on the cutting edge. … For a flower shop, Royer’s is pretty progressive. We are on the cutting edge of technology, designing and everything else for our market and for the demographics that we have in all our market areas.”

He emphasizes the importance of having fun while getting work done in a timely fashion. The key: efficiency.

“I don’t care if you’ve only been here a week, you’ve heard, ‘Be efficient, be effective,’ ” Woody says. “You don’t have to be crazy wild, you don’t have to be super-stressed or busy, steady pace.”

A student interrupts: “Work smarter not harder.”

It’s a mantra within the company, one that Ken Royer, the son of company founders Hannah and Lester Royer, taught Woody decades ago and endures today among newer employees.

Woody notes the product, time and energy that goes into making an arrangement. One of the benefits of having the classes at the corporate complex in Lebanon is that the students are only steps away from the company’s wholesale, dish garden and central design departments and the flagship retail location in the 16-store chain.

Woody notes that the basics the students learn will serve them 10 years hence if they get into event work. Teaching the basics ensures consistency within Royer’s seven-county footprint.

“If a customer orders in Camp Hill … for delivery in Reading, we need to assure them that this arrangement is going to look the same. If they saw it in the Camp Hill store … it’s going to be the same going out the door in Reading,” Woody says.

Arrangements must look like they do in photos that customers see, and they must be “mechanically sound” to withstand jostling during delivery. Woody wants the new designers to use wires when crafting their arrangements.

Royer’s carries five different thicknesses, or gauges, of wire, which can help a designer sure up a stem or position a flower a certain way.

Woody passes out a tool kit to each student, its contents including an apron, wire cutters, a knife, and a colorful, flexible piece of plastic with nubby “fingers” that suggests it would make a useful soap dish. It’s actually a flower stripper, used to remove foliage and thorns.

The stripper will make life easier for the designers, but not if they are too aggressive and damage the stem bark. If that happens, the damaged area is exposed to air and can dry out, which could cause a flower head to droop.

Like wire, floral tape comes in multiple versions: green, white and clear. Green is for use with green floral foam (and matches foliage); white is for white containers; clear for glass vases.

Floral tape can be used to create a grid across the opening of a container, which helps with arranging flowers and adds stability. Tape also helps to combine stems in a bouquet or to mask wire. Choice of color is important in helping to camouflage the tape so it doesn’t detract from the flowers themselves.

Cleaning and safety

The primary purpose of flowers in nature, Woody explains, is to set seed and reproduce. Cutting and arranging them fundamentally alters the role of flowers, but time is of the essence as flowers begin to deteriorate as soon as they are cut.

Refrigeration helps to slow down this deterioration, also known as senescence. It also limits the amount of exposure that flowers have to ethylene, a colorless and odorless gas that occurs in nature.

Fruit such as bananas and tomatoes give off high traces of ethylene and should be kept away from flowers, but bits of cut stems and leaves also emit the gas. This is why flower buckets and cooler floors have to be cleaned regularly and other preventive steps taken to remove sources of ethylene.

“A raw piece of fruit sitting on the shelf in the cooler next to a flower arrangement is going to cause that flower arrangement to not last as long as it could have,” Woody says. “You’ve reduced the potential.”

Woody next discussed safety. Royer’s requires all employees to watch a video on how to safely sharpen a knife and clean tools. After a busy holiday, knife blades get dull and turn green, reflecting a buildup of stems and vascular tissue.

“You’ve got to get that off of there because that harbors bacteria,” Woody says. Bacteria is unavoidable and requires constant vigilance. Twice each year, Royer’s requires that store coolers be emptied and cleaned with bleach.

Woody also discussed the importance of sharpening knives and scissors and using them safely and efficiently: cutting away from one’s body, seeing what is being cut, letting the tools do their jobs to reduce injury risk and bodily strain.

For efficiency’s sake, the dominant hand holds the knife continuously when designing, the other hand holds the stems and sticks them into the arrangement.

“Do not walk around the room with (the knife) in your hand,” Woody says. “If you have to walk to the cooler, close (the knife) and stick it in your pocket. Keep your knife closed.

“There’s nothing worse than walking into the cooler and you’ve got to cut a rubber band off a bunch of carnations to open them up and all of a sudden you don’t have anything to cut with. Then you’ve got to go back out, get a knife, get scissors. … Minimize those steps. We do enough steps in a day’s time, especially when we’re really busy.”

All of those details gone over (some to be elaborated upon later), it’s approximately 9:30 a.m., an hour into class.

“OK,” Woody says, “do you want to make some flowers?”

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