From Gardener to the King to a Farm Direct Mobile App: Tracing 5 Generations of Floral Industry Innovation

When you think about Canada, you likely picture beautiful natural scenery, like Niagara Falls and Banff National Park. France conjures up images of vineyards and the Eiffel Tower. And Denmark? You probably think of flowers.

While other countries may be famous for their food, wine, and waterfalls, Denmark is known for its gardens. In fact, the country’s most-visited site is Tivoli Gardens, a garden/performing arts venue/amusement park that opened in 1843 and is today one of the most popular theme parks in the world.

This point here isn’t just to encourage horticultural tourism. We can draw a direct line from the highest horticultural circles in Danish history to Johnsen’s Wholesale Florist, one of the biggest innovators in the wholesale floral industry today.

From Denmark to Texas

It all started with Hans Johansen, who served as a gardener and blacksmith to the King of Denmark, responsible for the grounds at one of his castles.

As was common at that time, the knowledge required for these trades was passed down through the family. And Johan Peder Johansen, Hans’s son, brought it with him when he immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century.

After passing through Ellis Island, Johan got a job as a gardener at a mansion in New York. But he’d always wanted an orchard. So, he went in search of a more appropriate climate. The journey led him to Texas.

At first, Johan helped his neighbors informally to grow flowers in their gardens. Then more people started coming to him for products and advice, so he opened up a flower shop with a couple of partners.

The venture grew, and in 1938, Johan launched a wholesale division — Johnsen’s Wholesale Florist — to supplement their regular flower sales. As Chris Johnsen, Johan’s great-grandson and the company’s current manager, puts it, “we’ve been doing that pretty much ever since.”

From Traditional Wholesale to Farm Direct Online and Better Cold Storage

The same drive that led Chris’s great-grandfather to bring his talents from Denmark to the United States and start his own business are evident in Johnsen’s Wholesale Florist today.

Johnsen’s brings in fresh flowers from all over the world and distributes them to customers in a roughly 300-mile radius around the company’s location in Beaumont, TX. Not surprisingly, especially given the area’s climate, one of the biggest challenges Johnsen’s customers have to deal with is the perishability of their product.

Flowers start to deteriorate quickly after they’re picked. This affects florists and wholesalers in two main ways:

  • First, the traditional wholesale supply chain model doesn’t work very well because it takes too long to react to changes.
  • Second, to avoid product loss, florists need to be able to keep their flowers as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

Let’s look at how Johnsen’s is helping to solve both of these challenges.

Farm Direct Online Ordering – Bringing Farmers and Florists Closer Together

Imagine a farm has a surplus of roses, so they decide to offer a special discount.

In a traditional wholesale model, the transaction would look like this:

  • The farmer notifies the wholesaler.
  • The wholesaler adds the offer to their sale sheet and sends it to their customers.
  • The customers respond with orders.
  • The wholesaler aggregates the individual orders into one large order to take back to the farm.

The problem, Chris says, is that “9 times out of 10, the farm would have sold out by then.” This puts the wholesaler in a bind because they must now find a way to fill those orders, which they often have to do at a loss. As a result, in a traditional model, many special offers simply don’t get passed onto clients.

That’s why Johnsen’s Wholesale Florist now offers a Farm Direct Order System, which provides a direct link between farmers and florists. It’s an online portal where farmers can promote their specials and florists can take immediate advantage of them.

Farmers can also package their products in many different ways to send to customers of different sizes. For example, it’s common for roses to be packaged in a half-box, which contains 200 stems. But a small flower shop may not need 200 stems. Through the system, farmers can sell stems in smaller or larger quantities, depending on their customers’ needs.

Finally, the portal has a feature that’s a bit like Priceline’s Name Your Own Price tool. It allows florists to specify the date, flower type, and quantity they need, along with the price they’re willing to pay. The system sends the offer to all of the farms that grow that particular product, who can then either accept the offer or make a counteroffer. There’s even an app you can download to use the portal on a mobile device.

“It’s the future of the flower business,” Chris says.

Cold Storage – Maximizing Flowers’ Vase Life

As anyone in the floral business knows, the most important characteristic of flowers is their vase life.

Under proper storage and temperature conditions (35-36°F), a fresh flower can last 10 to 12 days. But as soon as the temperature starts to go up, deterioration accelerates quickly. Traditional floral storage units usually sit at around 60°F, at which temperature the vase life of a flower will max out at around 3 days.

There are other reasons cold storage for flowers can be tricky. You need a storage cooler and a display cooler, and many florists also need a portable solution for deliveries and supplying arrangements at weddings and other events.

These solutions can be expensive. Chris notes that the total cost of ownership of a cooler is even more important than the purchase price.

Florists looking for an affordable solution often buy a cheap cooler without fully grasping the cost of maintenance. For example, he says, imagine you had a 10’x10’ or 12’x12’ cooler that went out. The cost of a service call would likely run you at least $500 to $600 by the time you factor in the cost of the parts, the freon, the labor, and so on.

Another solution is to build a walk-in cooler using a standard air conditioner and a CoolBot temperature controller. In that case, the air conditioner might still go out. But, for the price of the service call, you could get an entirely new air conditioner, with a full new warranty — essentially a brand new cooler.

Chris notes that the CoolBot offers a great solution for florists because their cold storage needs change throughout the year. It’s a low-cost way to add cooler space around the holidays or during wedding season. It also provides a practical way to take your cold storage on the road, which is particularly essential in the Texas summer heat.

From bringing Danish knowledge and practices to the United States to developing an online farm direct ordering portal, the Johnsen family has long been at the forefront of the floral industry.

Chris’s son now works at the company, so we’d just like to say: “Here’s to another five generations of innovation and success.”

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