Why Is One Florist Boycotting Roses?

If you're in the market for Valentine's Day roses, don't bother going by Errol O'Brien's flower shop. It will be closed today.

While fellow florists are offering America's sweethearts every kind of rose from red to white, chocolate to bejeweled, this Manhattanite is boycotting the holiday and the buds.

"We won't be open at all, it will be a lot easier," says O'Brien, who owns Robin Hill Florist in New York City's Upper West Side.

O'Brien's unorthodox decision appears to fly in the face of logic, especially because Valentine's Day is to florists what Thanksgiving weekend is to retailers. It's the second biggest day, after Mother's Day, in the $600 million wholesale flower business and nearly $70 million domestic rose growing sector.

But O'Brien has his reasons. Foremost among them: His experience with disappointed consumers and reports of criticism from across the country. Customers often complain that not only can the cost of a dozen roses rise to double the normal price tag, but die faster than usual.

The Long and the Short of It

Just like with any industry, the business revolves around supply and demand. Flower wholesalers have been gearing up for the day of love. Normally, truckloads of the beautiful flowers are flown every day to all parts of the United States from California or South America.

But to meet the unique spike in demand for Cupid's holiday, some wholesalers import large quantities of roses and stockpile them like Christmas trees for weeks.

That means by the time they get from the wholesalers' warehouse to a vase at home, those pricey bouquets might be up to a month old.

That's unacceptable to O'Brien, who says while many of his friends around the country think he's crazy, he says he's just watching out for his customers. In fact, he is still trying to recoup losses from the lot of last year's dissatisfied and angry customers, upset about the quality — or lack thereof — of roses he sold.

"We had to replace over 3,000 roses due to the bad product we received from a wholesaler," he explains.

So before the big day arrived, O'Brien calculated the costs and decided that shutting down makes the most sense. "I know that in this market right now … and with the quality of product my customers are accustomed to, I can't make a dollar," he says. "It's just bad business all around."