FARGO - If Pat Benatar is right and love is a battlefield, then J.D. Shotwell is one of cupid’s generals.
The co-owner of Shotwell Floral & Greenhouse started strategizing for this Feb. 14 shortly after the last of last year’s Valentine’s Day bouquets flew out of his south Fargo shop.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Shotwell talked as he built bouquets of red roses, pulling imperfect petals, his pen knife whittling away thorns and unneeded leaves.
“Once I’m done with the holiday, I take my inventory and I’m mentally preparing for the next one,” Shotwell said.
Last year’s holiday was on a Thursday. This year it’s a Friday, so the demand is similar, and he avoids the flower sales bummer of a weekend V-Day.
“Everyone wants their flowers sent to work,” Shotwell said.
“I’ll go back to my notes from last time on Friday, and I’ll look that over (and compare it) to the year before … to get my best estimate for buying flowers,” vases and other supplies, he said.
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This year he’ll hire a couple more flower designers and for the big day he’ll have about 25 more people on staff for deliveries. Last year Shotwell’s did 178 deliveries on Feb. 13 and 422 deliveries for the 14th, he said.
“That’s like just getting bombarded that last day,” he said.
His business will sell 4,500 to 5,000 roses for the holiday, part of the estimated 250 million roses that will be produced for this year’s V-Day.
“As I sit right now, I have ordered 3,800 red roses,” Shotwell said.
“Order early. That is probably the biggest thing there is. … When it comes to last-minute orders, there’s times we just can’t handle it. … We just don’t have the help to get it delivered,” Shotwell said. “But, we try to make sure that the people who order early get exactly what they want.”
Record spending expected
According to a National Retail Federation survey, retailers should love this Valentine’s Day, thanks to a continued strong economy and a continued trend of consumers buying gifts, cards, candy and flowers for friends, family, co-workers and pets.
Those celebrating the holiday (about 56% of Americans), plan to spend an average of $191.31, up 21% from last year’s record $161.96. Nationwide, that means spending could hit $27.4 billion, up 32% from last year’s record of $20.7 billion. More than half of that spending will be on spouses or significant others, followed by other family members, friends, and other groups.
In fact, 27% of consumers say they will buy Valentine’s gifts for their pets. Spending on Bowser and Mr. Pickles is expected to hit $1.7 billion.
A chocolate marathon
At Fargo’s Oak Park Plaza, Carol Widman is also in the final stages of preparation for the Valentine’s rush.
Widman’s the owner of Carol Widman’s Candy Co., not far from West Acres.
Widman grew up as part of a family of chocolatiers in Grand Forks, and this is her 30th year in business.
As popular as chocolate is for Valentine’s Day—the National Confectioners Association says 87% of consumers in the U.S. plan to share a gift of chocolate or candy—Valentine’s Day is actually a little easier for her crew to handle than the Christmas and Hanukkah season.
With Christmas, “we pretty much run out of everything. We look like a business that’s gone out of business. So, the day after Christmas, we start in right away, and we make the chips and clusters and things like that,” Widman said Wednesday, Feb. 5. “We just keep on building. It takes us a good month to make everything. (In fact) we still have a few things we have to make for Valentine’s Day.”.
She has 10 to 15 chocolate dippers dipping away in her kitchen.
“Everything that we make has to be dipped by hand. Every piece of candy, including the Chippers,” the chocolate-covered potato chips that she’s made into a regional favorite.
She “doesn’t have a clue” as to how many pieces of candy are made for the holiday, “and I think it would scare me” to know, she says with a laugh.
She keeps her chocolate-making secrets close, including the number of pounds of chocolate she buys to make the magic happen.
“It’s a lot. I could buy a small SUV, but I need the chocolate instead. Actually, a medium size SUV,” Wimmer said.
The most time-consuming treat for her dippers to make are the chocolate-covered cherries, she said. It requires multiple steps to ensure that the Valentine’s Day favorites retain their moisture and flavor.
The Valentine’s Day candy-making becomes very much like the last few miles of a chocolate marathon, Wimmer said.
“We just keep going. We just keep on rolling,” she said.
Business is already stead.
“People who plan ahead are buying now. But essentially, it’s three heavy, heavy days,” Widman said of the Valentine’s Day rush.
If you want a specialty box of chocolates made up, she encourages shoppers to come in earlier than later.
The last day “it is a zoo to the door,” Wimmer said. “Several years ago, I looked around and it just hit me. Everybody in the store was a man and I think they were on the way home.”
‘It’s a two-way street’
Valentine’s Day is not a lines-out-the-door day for Royal Jewelers, Manager Todd Salmon said Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean that his store doesn’t feel some of the bottom-line love.
“It still is a big event for bridal engagement. That is what kind of drives that business,” he said.
Though the store also brings in some merchandise for the more casual gift giver, such as heart pendants and earrings.
“You know, it’s the day of love, it’s the day of romance, so what’s says something more than a piece of jewelry? A keepsake that she’ll have forever,” Salmon said. “Diamond pendants and diamond earrings and simple classic jewelry is always a great bet. Because it never goes out of style,” he said.
The downtown Fargo shop, which has been on the corner of Broadway and First Avenue North for 93 years, also is a Valentine’s favorite for Bison fans, Salmon said, thanks to a Bison football necklace the store sells.
“That’s been for us, the last five, six, seven years has been an absolute great seller because (at less than $200) it’s been a good price point,” he said. “Football isn’t just for men anymore.”
Salmon said he also sees a lot of women in his shop for the holiday.
“Maybe their husband got them something nice for the holidays, and now all of a sudden they’d like to reciprocate and it’s a good opportunity to get them a watch or something of that nature,” he said. “It isn’t just about the man getting a woman something. It’s both ways. It’s a two-way street.”
It’s getting late in the game to get something designed and custom-made, Salmon said. That takes about a week to get done.
But he promises to have a wide variety of shiny gifts to choose from.
“I think Valentine’s Day is that kind of holiday that we stop and take time to appreciate our significant other. It gives us the opportunity to give something from the heart,” Salmon said.
Back in the workroom of Shotwell Floral, J.D. thinks about the rush of orders ahead.
“It’s a crazy holiday for the industry,” Shotwell said. “It’s a pretty intense two-day holiday,” he said.
Shotwell’s wife, Elaine, works in the front part of the store, and she’ll be handling the many hundreds of sales expected, he said.
Does she get flowers for Valentine's Day?
“Sometimes, yes, sometimes no,” Shotwell said. “It depends on how long I’m going to be here. I can always send them to her at work.”