ON THE JOB

Flowers: The Language of Life

Florist hustles on holidays, somber and happy occasions

2/25/2013
BY RONEISHA MULLEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Blade's monthly On The Job series will take a behind-the-scenes look into careers of area residents, with reporters exploring the jobs firstahnd. If you'd like to suggest someone to feature, contact RoNeisha Mullen at 419-724-6133 or rmullen@theblade.com.

Mary Ann Myers, of Sylvania, left, puts the finishing touches on an order while Ken Myrice carries greens for floral arrangements at Emery's Flowers & Company.
Mary Ann Myers, of Sylvania, left, puts the finishing touches on an order while Ken Myrice carries greens for floral arrangements at Emery's Flowers & Company.

Ken Myrice had been strategizing for more than a month over how to tackle the unpredictable nature of Valentine’s Day for florists.

Last-minute orders, not enough product, too much product, late deliveries — as the owner of a floral shop, he’s accustomed to the uncertainty the day can bring, and after more than 40 years in the business he’s seen it all.

“Some years you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” said Mr. Myrice, a floral designer and owner of Emery’s Flowers & Company in Maumee. “It’s such a last-minute holiday. You set your goal and hope that you reach it.”

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest times of year for those who work with flowers. The roses are red and the violets are blue, but what exactly goes into making those arrangements?

Mr. Myrice hoped that 700 roses, hundreds of daisies and tulips, and bushels of fern and lemon leaves would be enough to complete the task.

On the day before Valentine’s Day, he and his staff — two designers and his wife, Deb, who works in the office — worked quietly among a pile of discarded leaves and bruised rose petals that covered the floor of the small working space. Stems flew from the blades of dull paring knives, landing in piles as the crew prepared arrangements.

The quiet was welcome. It gave the staff a moment to take a breath during what was expected to be a long day. There was much work to be done, including cleaning those 700 roses.

“We trim the leaves toward the bottom and any damaged ones at the top,” said Mary Ann Myers, a designer at the shop. “We scrape off all the thorns, cut the stems, and soak them.”

Mrs. Myers, who is retired but helps out during holidays, usually works a few hours a day. But on this day, she’s prepared to work at least 12 hours. Mr. Myrice will work even longer.

“My body feels like rubber at the end of a day like this,” said Denise Lumbrezer, another designer at the shop. “We’re pretty much on our feet all day.”

In addition to standing for long periods, the job involves plenty of bending and lifting. Mrs. Myers, 83, said she’s exhausted after working the holidays.

“My family knows not to ask me out to dinner or expect me to cook a meal. I’m whipped,” said Mrs. Myers as she nursed a cut on her thumb. “Got poked by a thorn.”

Denise Lumbrezer, left, and Mary Ann Myers, right, wrap floral arrangements while Debbie Myrice, center and rear, squeezes past. Myers, 83, is retired, but she comes in during holiday weeks to help Ken with the arrangements.
Denise Lumbrezer, left, and Mary Ann Myers, right, wrap floral arrangements while Debbie Myrice, center and rear, squeezes past. Myers, 83, is retired, but she comes in during holiday weeks to help Ken with the arrangements.

Mr. Myrice doesn’t complain. A change of change of shoes will carry him through the long hours.

On that Wednesday, customers flooded the shop just minutes after the “open” sign went on. The phone rang nonstop for more than an hour. Roses. They all wanted roses. A dozen red ones delivered to the home or workplace of their sweeties.

“Roses are the go-to flower. Men come in and they go straight for the roses,” Mr. Myrice said. “The older generations opt for carnations. The wives like how long they last, and they do last a long time.”

Mr. Myrice, a Toledo native, got his start in the floral business as a delivery driver in the 1970s. He studied business at the University of Toledo and planned to be a teacher. He bought Emery’s eight years ago.

“I didn’t know that [working with flowers] was one of my aspirations,” Mr. Myrice, 62, said. “Not until I started learning how to work with them.”

Even with 40 years of experience, Mr. Myrice is still learning how to work with the materials.

“The designs are becoming more unique and complex than when I learned,” he said. “I’m learning how to work with new product all the time. I have to keep up with what’s current.”

Most of life’s dramas are brought to the doors of Emery’s Flowers. The potted plants hail babies and baptisms, while the bouquets congratulate graduates, ornament brides, comfort the sick, and honor the dead. There are flowers for every occasion and a story behind every order.

“I want to purchase flowers for my future mother-in-law,” a young woman tells Mr. Myrice as she scans the cooler of pre-arranged flowers. “I’m giving them to her as a gift from her husband. He died last year and this is her first Valentine’s Day without him. Just something to make her happy.”

Mr. Myrice went to assist her, stepping away from an arrangement he was working on: a pink open heart easel spray due to be delivered at a funeral before noon. A loyal customer lost her mother.

“There are other occasions other than Valentine’s Day at Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Myrice said. “We get everyday things — birthdays, funerals, get wells, babies — that we have to take care of at the same time.”

Weddings, special events, and funerals make up a majority of the business outside of the “big four” — Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Christmas.

A big supporter of buy-local campaigns, Mr. Myrice orders his flowers from Toledo-area wholesalers and shops at Walt Churchill’s Market and The Andersons for gift basket treats. He knows firsthand the effects the economy can have on small businesses and luxury services. In 2008, the company saw a drop in sales as the national economy spiraled downward.

“People tightened up,” Mr. Myrice said. “We are a luxury to people, and when they have to tighten up, we’re one of the luxuries they cut back on.”

The floral shop is in a plaza at the corner of Heatherdowns Boulevard and Perrysburg-Holland Road. Foot traffic in the plaza has slowed since the closing of Kazmaier’s 5-Star Market last May. Mr. Myrice isn’t sure how the store’s closing has affected his business because most of his clientele are longtime and repeat customers.

“Our customers, they’re like family, especially after they’ve been coming for a while,” Mr. Myrice said. “They know about us and we know about them. We get attached.”

Adamant about taking care of his extended family, Mr. Myrice sometimes bends the rules to make sure they’re happy.

At 3:40 p.m. orders were still coming in for same day delivery. Cut-off time was 2 p.m.

“We’re going to have to do it,” Mr. Myrice told his staff. Not everyone was excited.

“You can say no,” Mrs. Lumbrezer said.

“No, no. We’ll get it done. It’s right here in Maumee,” Mr. Myrice replied. “You try to take care of your customers so that they’ll come back.”

And they did. On Valentine’s morning, the shop achieved its goal of 100 deliveries plus numerous in-store sales.

“You take care of them, and they’ll take care of you,” Mr. Myrice said. “We’re family.”

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.