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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.”

One creative child will win a flower delivery in Royer’s annual birthday card design contest

Last year’s winning entry

Like the start of summer break itself, Royer’s Flowers & Gifts’ annual birthday card design contest presents a blank canvas.
Royer’s is challenging children ages 5 to 12 to design an email birthday card that all Royer’s Kids Club members will receive in the year ahead.
The artist with the winning entry will receive a free bouquet delivery on his or her next birthday.
To enter the contest, download an entry form here or pick up one at any Royer’s store, create a design, and drop off the entry at any Royer’s store by July 15.
Good luck to everyone!

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.”

Where are they now? Former Royer’s Kids Club members Alex and Marisa Heisey

Siblings Marisa and Alex Heisey were regulars at Royer’s Kids Club events.

If Marisa Heisey ends up at a college in western Pennsylvania, the Conestoga Valley High School junior will follow in the footsteps of her older brother, Alex. He is a sophomore at Grove City College, an hour north of Pittsburgh.
It wouldn’t be the first time the close siblings have walked similar paths. A decade ago, they won Royer’s Kids Club contests in back-to-back years.
In 2010, Alex, then in third grade, won the kids club’s birthday card design contest. In 2011, Marisa, then in first grade, won a back-to-school coloring contest. (In 2017, while in seventh grade, Marisa also won the birthday card design contest.)
Alex and Marisa are the children of Nevin and Joy Heisey of East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County. At the time of Alex’s win, his mother said, “Both of my kids love flowers.”
We caught up with Joy recently for an update on what her children, long since having graduated from the kids club, are up to now.

Majoring in business management

Alex in 2010, when he was in third grade.

At Grove City College, Alex is majoring in business management with a focus on supply chain.
“He loves Grove City,” Joy said. “He really is enjoying his experience there.”
While some colleges resorted to online studies-only during the pandemic, Grove City stuck with in-person classes, albeit at times with mask requirements.
“He’s very thankful to be in-person on campus this whole time,” Joy said.
His varied interests and busy schedule have taken Alex beyond his school’s campus, too.
Through his involvement with Impact, Grove City’s outdoor adventure leadership program, Alex has backpacked in southern Virginia, ice climbed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and skied in New York.
He is a library aide, training to become a tour guide, and a member of the school’s human-powered vehicle club. The latter involved designing and building something that resembled a recumbent bicycle and racing it in Michigan.

Leaning toward nursing school

Seventh-grade Marisa with her prize in 2017.

When we spoke with Joy, she had just come back from one of five planned college visits with Marisa, who is leaning toward nursing school, either in Pennsylvania or Ohio. She was preparing to take the SATs in May and again in June.
Marisa is active in student council, music and science honor societies, school bible study and her church’s youth group. She is one of eight Conestoga Valley girls participating in a mentorship program through the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce. She works in the bake shop at Kitchen Kettle Village.
“She still loves drawing,” Joy said. “She’s very much (into) water colors, she likes to paint ceramics.”
Joy fondly recalled her children’s involvement with the Royer’s Kids Club. They were such regulars at kids club events that store employees knew the family members by name, Joy said. Marisa was officially too young for the club when Alex started going, but the staff would let her participate anyway.
The Heiseys still have mugs, vases and baskets from the various kids club event projects.
“That’s a good memory,” Joy said of attending events.
Better still, the kids club events seem to have inspired a lasting love for flowers in Joy’s children.
Last fall, Marisa won a flower-arranging contest at the West Lampeter Fair, just as she – and Alex – had done in years past.

Royer’s Flowers opens heart of Valentine’s Day operation to news media

On Feb. 7, Royer’s Flowers & Gifts welcomed WGAL, abc27 and PennLive/The Patriot-News to the heart of its Valentine’s Day operation, at its corporate complex in Lebanon.
Geoff Royer, vice president of central operations, noted the importance of ordering flowers early to guarantee availability. The pandemic has seen unprecedented demand for flowers that have become harder to source.

“We’re trying to get the word out sooner so that people can get their flowers delivered earlier,” Geoff told Pennlive/Patriot-News. “And then they get to be the hero because their flowers get delivered before anyone else’s … your wife or girlfriend will get their flowers Thursday, Friday or Saturday, instead of Monday.”

This year’s Super Bowl is the latest ever: the day before Valentine’s Day. Royer’s is reminding customers not to overlook ordering flowers as they prepare for the football game.

“We are delivering on Sunday, too,” Geoff said. “So, you could get your flowers delivered on Super Bowl Sunday and then be the hero at your party because your wife gets flowers at the party.”

Purchasing these arrangements supports local animal shelters


The needs of animal shelters are diverse, from pet food to cleaning supplies, toys to towels. And they are costly to address, especially for non-profit organizations.
To help, Royer’s donates a portion of the profits from the sale of its Puppy in a Basket and Kitten in a Basket arrangements to animal shelters in its seven-county market area.

To kick off the program in 2021, Royer’s sent $100 checks to 10 area animal organizations:
Humane Pennsylvania, serving Berks and Lancaster counties; Animal Rescue League of Berks County; Speranza Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg; Castaway Critters and Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area in Dauphin County; Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg; 2nd Chance 4 Life Rescue in Elizabethtown; Columbia Animal Shelter; Humane Society of Lebanon County; and York County SPCA.

“Plants and pets bring great joy to our lives and add warmth to our homes,” said Tom Royer, CEO of family-owned Royer’s. “We’re eager to support local animal shelters and the great service they provide in our communities.”
Available year-round, the arrangements comprise a seven-inch plush dog or cat surrounded by a three-quarter round arrangement in a basket with carnations, daisy and button poms, statice and babies breath.
Each of the arrangements is 10 inches high and 10 inches wide and retails for $44.99.

Royer’s Flowers presents American Red Cross with thousands of holiday cards for area veterans

Continuing an annual tradition, Royer’s Flowers & Gifts on Dec. 7, 2021, presented several thousand holiday cards and coloring pages to the American Red Cross for distribution to area veterans.
Royer’s, which has participated in the Red Cross “Holidays for Heroes” program for nearly a decade, collected the cards from the public in each of its stores throughout November.
WGAL News 8 and abc27 were on hand at Royer’s Harrisburg East store as Barry Spengler, Royer’s chief administrative officer, transferred boxes of cards and coloring pages to Jonathan Glenn, regional program director, American Red Cross.

Royer’s Flowers donates to 10 area animal shelters

From left, Geoff Royer, vice president of central operations, and Tom Royer, president and CEO, Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, which has donated $100 each to 10 area animal shelters. Royer’s sister company in the Columbus, Ohio, area, Connells Maple Lee Flowers & Gifts, made similar donations to four shelters there for total contributions of $1,400.

Plants and animals just go together.
Consider the former that are named after the latter, from cattails to hound’s tongue, elephant ear to bird of paradise, rattlesnake orchids to zebra grass.
Royer’s Flowers & Gifts even offers arrangements featuring plush animals, including Kitten in a Basket and Puppy in a Basket. Under a new program, Royer’s is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of those two arrangements to area animal shelter and rescue efforts.
For the first awards, family-owned Royer’s is sending $100 checks to 10 area animal organizations:
Humane Pennsylvania, serving Berks and Lancaster counties; Animal Rescue League of Berks County; Speranza Animal Rescue in Mechanicsburg; Castaway Critters and Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area in Dauphin County;
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg; 2nd Chance 4 Life Rescue in Elizabethtown; Columbia Animal Shelter; Humane Society of Lebanon County; and York County SPCA.
“On behalf of the Royer’s Flowers & Gifts family, please accept this gift in support of the love and care your organization provides to animals,” wrote Tom Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s, in a letter accompanying each donation.
The Kitten in a Basket and Puppy in a Basket arrangements are available year-round.