Cherry Hill Flower Barn located in Cherry Hill, NJ is the customer of the month for Pennock Floral Tri-State. We had an opportunity to speak with, Rick Cuneo AIFD, the owner. Rick is an uncommonly versatile person, he is passionate about flowers and has thousands bright ideas. We talked about how he started in the industry and became AIFD certified, how he defines his style and what challenges flower businesses have to solve today. We also talked about his upcoming flower show on March 20 and his favorite season of all, Easter.
How did you get started in this industry?
When I was little I always wanted to have a garden center or a flower shop. I went to Delaware Valley college in Doylestown, so I actually went to collage to do this. I have Bachelor of Science, which most florists don’t have, to become more technical where you do generics or botany or more scientific stuff, breeding of flowers or plants. I always knew what I want to do.
When you were little did your mom have a garden?
It was my garden. We had a big yard, but I did everything. I cut the lawn when I was 5 years old. My parents never had to ask me, I just said I like doing it. When I was 10, I used to take bedding plant orders from the neighbors. My dad owned a large greenhouse in Voorhees, and I took everybody’s order and put them all together.
Rick, when did you open your shop and become an AIFD certified?
June 1982. I graduated college in 1981. I opened this shop for the previous owner. I was here from day one. The original owner died 3 month after we opened it, so it went to his wife and she didn’t know anything about the business, so I bought it from her. In 2009, I became an AIFD certified floral designer. I’m very new into that. AIFD has really incredibly talented people: just thrown ideas around, see what other people are doing and attending symposiums.
What tools do you use to help you to stay competitive in this market place?
My shop stands apart from other shops. I think I’m in an unique position with collectable novelties, bears and toys. I have a huge amount of walk-ins during a certain periods of time. I don’t think that advertising works for the flower industry. There is so much stuff on the internet and social media channels. It’s a hard industry. If you’re in the doghouse, you will call us for flowers. Once people come in to my store they will come back. I have some customers who only buy gift items from me and never buy any flowers from me. In the summertime, I take my bigger customers to New York to do Christmas tree decor shopping. I do a lot of stuff outside of the store: decorating Christmas trees, gardening and interior design for restaurants.
During Easter and Spring I have my loyal customers come to see how the store looks. Easter it seems like all the flowers finally have a fragrance. Easter lilies are here, hyacinths, lily of the valley and many other flowers. I find that it’s one holiday when people are pleasant: they are not obligated to buy anything. All the flowers are pretty, all the colors are pretty. Red is so prevalent during fall, Christmas and Valentine’s Day so to jump into spring is a much needed change. Most people hate coming to work, but I love what I do. I like not knowing what I’m going to do today. Whether it’s making a fruit basket, or funeral work, or flower arrangement. I like what I do and I’m having fun, when I stop having fun I’ll be done.
What do you think about the flower industry in general?
The industry has been drastically changed. Flowers are sold everywhere now: 1-800, ProFlowers, Wawa and supermarkets. Thirty one years ago you went to the flower shop to buy flowers. Now every school sells plants for Mother’s Day. In my first year of business I sold over 6000 poinsettias, I sold forty last year. We’re working harder and harder and harder and making less and less and less. Anyway I think there’s always going to be a need for us. The weirdest thing about our industry that we love what we do, we don’t care if we don’t make any money, we are terrible business people. If a person would like to spent $20 and we know if we add another $20 it would look so much nicer and we just give it away. We’re artistic people, then if we could make a little bit of money that would be great. I walk along the river almost every evening, just for exercise and looking at branches and trees, taking a look at the sky… people miss all of that. People are so busy doing small things and they just don’t look around to see the beauty around them. Another challenge we have, is the growing amount of information on the different websites, and pictures of luxury weddings in magazines. After seeing these pictures customers have unrealistic expectations about the cost of wedding flowers. They see the pictures on the websites and don’t estimate a real price. So when they come to flower shops with these beautiful pictures it’s always a big disappointment for both sides. That’s what happens when expectations don’t meet opportunities.
How do you define your style?
I like more of a garden look: country, French, English garden style, shabby and chic. I think it’s all blended together. When I started getting ready to take my test for AIFD every single day I started doing different style designs. It was either an airy arrangement that went out for orders or a very tall design. After that every arrangement had a wire treatment or a different style design. I was making tons of stuff and taking pictures of these designs. People took notice to the change. Customers asked me “Do you have anybody new, who is doing designs in your shop? We just never have seen anything like that before”. When it comes to the flower show, you do very showy and ultra modern arrangements. Most of the florists will usually say that they can’t do anything like that in their shops. The main thing is that you can’t sell it if people can’t see it. I never sold anything like that before, but I do now and people ask for it. Consumers get tired of a dozen roses. All the wire services show round-mound arrangements and now it’s our responsibility to show people something different.
Rick Cuneo, owner of Cherry Hill Flower Barn and Valerie McNichols, Salesman, Pennock Floral Tri-State.
Name the top 3 or 5 floral design supplies or products that you just can’t live/work without?
First is Japanese clippers, they are phenomenal! I like bine wire. It’s probably the finest thing in the world that was ever produced in our industry and aluminum wire for the proms. My favorite flower is larkspur. I like to do vertical arrangements. I like branches and design with them.
I was a Teleflora president for the New Jersey union for 3 years; I took a class with an exceptionally talented Canadian floral designer Hitomi Gilliam AIFD, one of the top designers in the world. Hitomi came to the area to do one of her programs and she stop by my shop. When she came in she said that she knows why I do everything vertical it’s because of my space. She said “You are physically on top of your work and the only direction you can go is vertical”. So we took a table outside and she said you have to work with no boundaries. It was an unbelievable and incredibly educational day. It’s amazing to just work with the people who are so passionate about what they are doing.