Careers in horticulture: Wholesale florist

The exciting work of a wholesale florist changes every day.

Michigan State University Extension sat down with Deb Durrant, branch co-manager for Nordlie in Grandville, Michigan, to discuss her position and what it takes to be a wholesale florist. Durrant manages the cut flower side of the business. She truly has a “beautiful” job. Every day she enjoys working with some of the most incredibly beautiful flowers. For 23 years, Durrant has worked at Nordlie, an employee-owned, wholesale provider of fresh flowers and plants, basic floral supplies, silk flowers and other interior designer goods. She started in the floral industry at age 12 growing up next to a flower shop. Even though her career path has had some twists and turns, she has always returned to the flower industry. She particularly loves the wholesale aspect of the industry.

Durrant loves her job, as no two days are alike. Her job responsibilities range from staff management, procuring and distributing fresh floral products, which includes working with growers from all over the globe. She also handles truck maintenance, customer service and educating staff and customers on a daily basis.

The fresh flower industry is anything but stagnant. There is never a day without change. New varieties of flowers, new trends in floral designs, weather and international trade all impact this industry.

Durrant is constantly needing to “think on her feet.” She has a broad knowledge of the industry, is a talented floral designer and incredibly organized. These are a must in her position. Troubleshooting and problem-solving are invaluable on a moment-by-moment, order-by-order basis on many days.

According to Durrant, “The floral industry has gone through monumental changes.” There was a time when fresh flowers only came from your local florist, who may have even grown most of their own product in a nearby greenhouse. The full service florist today needs to meet needs in a very competitive market, where flowers are purchased on a large scale by flower brokers and wholesalers going through a very complex distribution system.

As for todays’ floral consumers, brides and other customers still want a perfect wedding, birthday or sympathy arrangement delivered locally, across the country or even the globe. This is the job of a full service florist. Having flowers shipped around the world is on Durrant’s radar every single day. It is not unusual for Durrant to work over 50 hours a week, and holidays mean long working hours, often over 70 during peak holiday time. She attributes her satisfaction to these long hours in part as she loves the company and the people she works with. The drivers, supply professionals and office staff are a true team and like family. She said, “We strive for a culture of professionalism and respect.”

Flowers are perishable and need to be properly taken care of from the time they are cut until they are delivered to the recipient’s door. One critical job of a wholesale florist is to see that retailers have the freshest products available. Nordlie takes pride in handling the product correctly, keeping it at the perfect temperature and delivering it to the florist in perfect condition.

Many flowers today are shipped from California, South America and many places all over the globe. Durrant needs to be on top of what growers are growing and what is available worldwide on a weekly basis. Keeping floral customers happy in Michigan is challenging when there are weather, shipping and all sorts of disasters in other countries.

“The internet has been one of the largest factors influencing change at the wholesale floral level of the industry.” Everything has changed in the past five years. She noted, “How we buy, sell and serve our customers is constantly evolving.”

When asked what changes she sees in the next five years, she stated, “I think the biggest changes will happen at the retail level. Retail florists who want to survive are going to have to evolve to meet ever-changing customer demands and ways of doing business.”

Some advice Durrant has for people interested in the floral industry is, “Expect to work hard and learn as much as you can. The broader your knowledge base, the more valuable you are to your employer. Enjoy what you do. A career should be your passion, not a paycheck.”

There is a need for people to work in all aspects of the wholesale floral industry. Skills and knowledge vary depending on the position and aspirations. The number one criteria is to love working with people, be willing to learn, adapt and have a passion for beautiful flowers.

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