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Royer’s at 85: Four generations

Profitability, efficiency, marketing, each would get its say in the 500 pages to come.

But Ken Royer was unequivocal from the opening sentence of his book, “Retailing Flowers Profitably,” as to its true focus.

“This is a story of a family business,” he wrote.

Ken, whose parents, Hannah and Lester, started Royer’s Flowers when it was called South Side Flower Shop, noted that his first experience with growing plants came soon after the family’s 1937 move from downtown Lebanon to what was then the edge of town. He was 6. His sister was two years older; his brother, six years younger.

“The move to the new home provided almost an acre of land that we could use for gardening; thus my involvement with plants and flowers,” Ken wrote.

As Royer’s marks 85 years in business in 2022, the company remains a family business. What’s more, it has achieved the remarkably rare feat of reaching a fourth generation of family involvement.

How rare? The average life span of a family-owned business is 24 years, according to the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University. Just getting to a second generation of family involvement is a significant achievement, as only 40 percent of businesses achieve that.

Then things get really tough. A third generation: only 13 percent of family-owned businesses get there, and only 3 percent of businesses reach a fourth generation or beyond.

Except for a three-year period (1998 to 2001) when Royer’s was part of the Gerald Stevens national chain, the Royer family has owned the company. Even during the Gerald Stevens era, Ken and son Greg were involved at the corporate level while son Tom oversaw Royer’s operations.

The silver lining – or Christmas present, given the time of year — to Gerald Stevens’ demise was the subject of a cover story in the Dec. 12, 2001 Lebanon Daily News. The headline heralded, “Royers buy back flower shops.” (The deal also included the opportunity to enter Ohio with Connells Maple Lee.)

Greg, Tom and brother Mike appeared in a photo surrounded by poinsettias at the Lebanon store.

“We’re obviously thrilled to have it back,” Greg Royer said at the time. “There’s a picture of growth in the future.”
Growth for the business, but also opportunity for more family members to arrive on the scene and help lead the company into the 21st century.

Greg’s sons Andrew and Geoff are active in day-to-day management; their brother Gregory was a store manager. Tom’s oldest daughter, Layla, worked for the company when she was in high school and college while his youngest children, Tommy, Sumer and Brooke, help out on weekends, holidays and summers.

That story about a family business that Ken described has more chapters to come.

Royer’s at 85: Giving back

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
In fall 2021, Royer’s Flowers & Gifts donated $7,250 to six women’s charities in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
“My grandmother Hannah Royer started our company,” said Tom Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s. “Our family has a keen appreciation for the vital role that women play in our families and communities and for the importance of encouraging female empowerment.”
But Royer’s charitable giving has boosted many causes through the years, also supporting families and animals, honoring veterans and active-duty military, boosting child literacy and fighting hunger.
Here’s a closer look at some of those efforts in just the past two decades:

Women’s charities

It began with an arrangement called Power of Pink, now known as Admiration and available year-round. For each arrangement sold, Royer’s donates $10 to women’s charities, including organizations such as the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, YWCA, Dress for Success, Junior League and Girls Who Code. To date, total contributions surpass $25,000.

Bouquets for Books

After introducing the Royer’s Kid Club, Royer’s launched an annual children’s book drive to benefit public libraries in its market area. Donors received a free bouquet for the books they contributed. In its 13-year run, Bouquets for Books collected nearly 19,000 books.

Royer’s Stems Hunger

This food drive collected more than 1,100 pounds in each of its 10 years (2011-2020), for a total of nearly nine tons for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and local food banks in the Royer’s market area. Stems Hunger took place during the summer, which is a particularly vulnerable time for childhood hunger because school food programs are not available.

Puppy in a Basket/Kitten in a Basket

One of Royer’s newest charitable efforts centers on the year-round sale of two arrangements featuring a plush dog or cat. A portion of the proceeds benefits area animal shelters. To kick off the program in 2021, Royer’s sent $100 checks to 10 area animal organizations.

Veterans Day

Each year, Royer’s honors U.S. military veterans by giving them free red, white and blue bouquets at each of its stores.
“This is one of our favorite annual traditions,” Tom said in 2021. “These men and women, along with their families, make great sacrifices while serving our country. It’s our privilege to honor our veterans.”

Holidays for Heroes

Since 2013, Royer’s stores have collected tens of thousands of holiday cards and coloring pages for service members and veterans as part of the American Red Cross’ “Holidays for Heroes” program.


Like many businesses, Royer’s faced significant operating challenges at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. As Tom noted in a guest column for Pennlive, “We had a lot of family history and family future tied up in how we responded to COVID-19.”
But not only didn’t the pandemic cripple Royer’s, it has made it a more efficient and successful company than ever. That success contributed to some of Royer’s biggest charitable awards ever, including $15,000 to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in April 2021.
“We had to reinvent our company, and at times it was a painful process,” Tom said, alluding to the pandemic, “but our strong team’s dedication and hard work enabled us to come through this as a better company.
“It is our privilege to give back to our communities and help families that are struggling to put food on the table.”

Royer’s at 85: An internet pioneer

Customers could stop by Royer’s Lebanon flower shop to sign up for Nothing But Net Internet service, according to this 1996 newspaper ad.

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
The internet is so entrenched in our lives that it’s easy to forget that only a generation ago everything was new. Online access was mostly via dial-up service using phone lines. The term “blog” hadn’t yet been coined.
And you may not know that Royer’s Flowers pioneered online marketing within the floral industry and was among the first Internet providers in central Pennsylvania.
Kevin Laicha had joined Royer’s in 1984 to provide support in the areas of accounting and computers. In 1993, he hired Scott Curtin, a Lebanon native who was studying computers at Carnegie Mellon University.
Carnegie Mellon was an early player on the internet, which began as a Department of Defense project. Ostensibly hired to clean and maintain computers, Curtin steered Royer’s to acquire an Internet connection through the university.

Selling to the public

In 1994, Royer’s created a new company – Nothing But Net – to get a foothold in the burgeoning online world. To cover the cost of connecting each of its stores and leveraging its computer server capacity, in 1996 Royer’s, through NBN, began selling internet service to the public.
“So that was all we thought: we’ll just get 100 users to offset the cost,” said Laicha, who was president of NBN, which operated from Quentin Circle Shopping Center in Lebanon. Before long, NBN had 3,000 customers paying $19.99 per month for unlimited online access.
NBN built Royer’s first website around 1996; at the time, Laicha recalled, 1-800-Flowers was the only other florist online. NBN’s profits paid for Royer’s ads on Yahoo!, then itself a nascent search engine. Orders flowed in from all over the world.
Another offshoot of the NBN/Royer’s partnership was the development of Flowerlink, an internet-based flower-ordering service that grew to a membership of some 1,000 flower shops around the world.
Royer’s eventually sold NBN to a Lebanon County competitor, Lebanon MobileFone, to focus on its core floral business. But Royer’s maintained an internet division and a strong presence in the digital world while growing its brick-and-mortar stores.
Royer’s today attributes more than half of its annual revenue to online sales.

Royer’s at 85: From flower grower to importer

Tom Royer (background) discusses production with farm officials in Medellin, Colombia, on one of his many trips to South America.

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
In 1937, Lester and Hannah Royer moved their young family from downtown Lebanon to a new home on the outskirts of the city.
Their son Ken was 6 at the time. In his book, “Retailing Flowers Profitably,” Ken noted that the new property provided nearly an acre of land for gardening, “thus my involvement with plants and flowers began.”
That year also marks the beginning of Royer’s Flowers, which Lester and Hannah started from their new home. Decades later, the company would travel far outside the United States to source its flowers.
The elder Royers, who met while students at Elizabethtown College, had each been raised on a farm and knew how to grow vegetables almost instinctively. Hannah also grew African violets on her windowsill. A neighbor sold them at a local garment factory where she worked.

Greenhouses boost production

But starting in 1939, production would begin to far exceed what the neighbor reasonably could sell at her job.
Because that summer, Lester obtained a 10-foot-by-10-foot greenhouse. It was free (“That definitely fit our budget,” Ken noted) but for the effort of dismantling and removing it from the owner’s property.
The greenhouse multiplied the Royers’ production capacity for small plants tenfold, Ken noted. For sales outlets, the family would turn to farmers markets (Ken and his sister working them every Saturday) and eventually open their first store in a converted garage behind their home, adding more greenhouses over time.
“The business remained pretty much the same through the 1970s,” Ken said in a 1991 interview with the Lancaster New Era newspaper. “It was very basic. You grew flowers in a greenhouse and sold them right there. At one time, Lancaster County was the country’s largest producer of carnations.”
But two key events in the late 1970s confronted the floral industry with “vast, profound change,” Ken said.
One was the oil crisis, which caused the price of heating oil to jump from 7.5 cents per gallon to more than $1 seemingly overnight.
“This price change had a devastating effect on the costs of greenhouse operators in the Northeast,” Royer’s included, Ken wrote in his book.

Product now thousands of miles away

Flower production shifted to Colorado and California, the added cost for transportation to the East Coast still less burdensome for Royer’s than the higher fuel costs.
The second event was the realization that Bogota, Colombia, lying on a plateau near the equator, offered the perfect year-round environment for growing flowers, with plenty of cheap labor available for production. Colombian carnations were often superior to what Royer’s grew and lasted longer in a vase.
Other parts of Colombia, such as Medellin, and other South American countries also would gain a foothold in the flower-growing business.
The net effect was that Royer’s had to change from growing flowers to importing them. Around 1980, Ken traveled to South America to begin developing relationships with growers.
“We had to learn how to monitor and control the quality of the product like we did in our own backyard,” he told the New Era, “except the product was being grown thousands of miles away in South America.”
Starting with Ken and continuing with his son Tom and then grandson Geoff, three generations of Royers have made regular trips to South America flower farms. Royer’s may be the only local florist in the United States that makes such visits to check on the quality of the product that will wind up in its customers’ homes and workplaces.
For instance, it has become an annual tradition to visit rose farms in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day to ensure the best quality possible for a florist’s version of the Super Bowl.
Royer’s follows the flowers to Miami, where they pass through customs and are placed on refrigerated trucks for delivery to Royer’s headquarters in Lebanon.
“It’s a product of the way we do things,” Tom said. “We’re very detailed about a lot of things we do. Flower-buying is just one of them.”
Then as now, the purpose for going to Bogota is simple.
“We want the best possible flowers we can find,” Tom said.

Royer’s at 85: Finding our niche

Kenneth Royer, then-president of Royer’s Flowers, was the subject of a 1991 “Masters of Business” feature in the Lancaster New Era newspaper.

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
Ken Royer, the son of Royer’s Flowers founders Hannah and Lester Royer, wrote the book on running a successful flower shop, both in a figurative sense and quite literally.
His decades of experience at the helm of Royer’s Flowers, during which it became one of the largest florists in the United States, certainly qualified him as an authority in his field.
And he put his insights into words, which he published in book form under the title, “Retailing Flowers Profitably.”


If you wanted a distillation of Ken’s 500-page manuscript and flower-selling philosophy, you could do worse than a 1991 “Masters of Business” feature in the Lancaster New Era newspaper.
In a question-and-answer format with a reporter, Ken described how Royer’s carved a niche for itself that allowed the company to grow from one store with $170,000 in annual revenues when he took over from his parents in the mid-1950s to 18 locations and more than $12 million in annual revenues at the time of the interview.
“Most people in this business are crafts oriented,” Ken said, “they’re most comfortable with the design aspects and working with the flowers. That makes it hard to be able to grow beyond a store or two.”
Ken, who earned a degree in floriculture from Michigan State University, said he was more drawn to the business side.
“I saw a big opportunity to bring sophisticated business procedures and marketing techniques to the industry, which traditionally was very segmented and never really had a national chain like most other industries.”
Creativity being a subjective thing, Ken explained, made it difficult to institutionalize across multiple locations.
“But that’s essentially what you have to do,” he said. “The key is developing a system where there are controls over the stores that give you consistency and quality control.”
Royer’s was dubbed the “McDonald’s of the flower business,” Ken said, for offering 25 basic arrangements available at each of its stores. Royer’s talented designers could customize anything, but the company’s aim was to offer “easy-to-buy flowers for personal enjoyment or routine social expressions.
“The average guy can come in here and not feel intimated or embarrassed. You don’t have to know a thing about flowers or how much they cost to come in here and get something nice.”


To control the quality of products and services offered, Royer’s introduced:

  • An in-house design training program
  • A central design division in Lebanon
  • A 24-month management training program

The depth of the effort betrayed the limit of the fast-food comparison.
“It all comes down to knowledge,” Ken said. “You can’t just hire anybody to stand behind the counter; they must understand the business. It’s not like fast food – you can teach somebody everything they need to know about burgers in five minutes.”
Floral design was more complicated than flipping burgers, but Royer’s wanted the process to be fast-food simple from the customer’s perspective.
Royer’s focus early on was to make flower buying easier and more convenient.
“I guess you could say that we want to take the mystery out of flower buying,” he said, “but not the magic.”

Royer’s at 85: Expansion to Ephrata

The new Ephrata store as it looked when it opened in 1983. (Photo: Ephrata Review)

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
In 1991, a reporter for the Lancaster New Era newspaper asked then-Royer’s president Ken Royer how the company had been able to grow from its flagship location in Lebanon to 18 stores throughout the region.
“What we did first was figure out our niche,” Ken said, “determine what kind of store we wanted to be. You can’t be all things to all people and maintain the element of control that is so vital.”
He noted that many flower shop owners could do well with one or two locations if they were relatively close to one another.
“But when we opened the Ephrata store in 1969, we crossed that mountain, so to speak,” he said. “The Ephrata store was in a different county from our Lebanon base, and I couldn’t be there all the time, yet I had to make things happen there.”
Ken’s mother, Hannah, started what would become Royer’s in 1937 without really knowing it. She was just growing African violets on the windowsill of her Lebanon home until a neighbor offered to sell some of the plants at the garment factory where she worked.

Acquiring For-Get-Me-Not

What evolved into South Side Flower Shop and ultimately Royer’s Flowers & Gifts comprised only the Lebanon store until the expansion 20 miles east into Ephrata, Lancaster County.
Royer’s acquired the For-Get-Me-Not Flower Shop in Ephrata, which Paul Weik had founded in the 1940s. The store, adopting the Royer’s name, moved from 9 W. Main St. to larger space next door at 11 W. Main St.
It remained there until April 1983, when it relocated to yet larger space, a former Arco gasoline station at 165 S. Reading Road, across Route 272 from the Ephrata Cloister. Jim Martin, who had owned the gas station, joined Royer’s as a delivery driver in Ephrata.

Royer’s turned a former Arco gas station into its Ephrata store, which continues to operate today. (Photo: Ephrata Review)

Royer’s spent $100,000 to remove underground gasoline storage tanks and renovate the building, expanding it from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet and adding a greenhouse and walk-in cooler for customers to select loose flowers.
The new Ephrata store celebrated a five-day grand opening in June 1983 with a circus theme and a visit from Miss Lancaster County.
By that time, Ephrata was one of seven Royer’s stores, with a first York store soon to open.
Royer’s had found its niche, which we’ll explore in a separate installment in this series.

Royer’s at 85: Planting roots in Lebanon

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.
Like any great success story, that of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts began humbly in 1937. Hannah (Mom) Royer grew African violets on the windowsill of her Lebanon home. A neighbor who worked at a local garment factory offered to sell some of the plants to her co-workers.
The success that one day would make Royer’s one of the largest florists in America didn’t happen overnight. Hannah’s husband, a teacher in the Lebanon School District, added greenhouses to provide additional growing space.
In 1947, Lester joined the flower business full time. Around that time, the Royers converted their garage into a retail store called South Side Flower Shop and Hannah attended floral design school in Gloucester, Mass.

Ken Royer, left, and his father, Lester, at South Side Flower Shop.

‘Most beautiful place to shop’

It wasn’t until 1964 that the family – son Ken was a partner in the business by then; his wife, Jean, was the office manager – introduced what it called a “modern flower shop” to replace the remodeled garage. That new store, at 810 S. 12th St., remains the flagship among the 16 locations in six counties that Royer’s operates today.
Royer’s celebrated the new store with a grand opening March 25-27, 1965.
“You are invited to the Royer’s South Side,” read the headline on a full-page newspaper ad.
The copy continued: “To serve you better, we have created this area’s most beautiful place to shop.”
Not only was the grand opening an opportunity to showcase the new store, but its timing was strategic, too, as Easter fell on April 18 that year.

The photo above appeared in the Lebanon Daily News on the first day of the grand opening. In it, Ken Royer, right, presented “floral tributes” to Lebanon Mayor J. Gordon Smith, left, and a representative of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“The firm,” the caption read, “has completely modernized its quarters at 810 S. Twelfth St.”

Santa has a new ride: our 1969 Ford Econoline van

Sure, you picture him riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
But Santa is spending part of this holiday season behind the wheel of our classic 1969 Ford Econoline delivery van.
The van is parked at our Columbia location, where store manager Patti Barclay decorated it for the yuletide. Just in case the headlights need an assist in the fog, there’s Rudolph’s very shiny nose as a backup.