By DANIEL TAUB
LAWNDALE When Marc Granovitz made the transition from retail florist to primarily a wholesale florist, he faced a difficult challenge: offering less customer service.
“We had to change our way of thinking and change the way to do business to decrease the amount of time you spend with the customer,” said Granovitz, who has run Boulevard Florist Wholesale Market for more than 25 years.
The company’s primary business is selling wholesale flowers to the public such as a church group buying bunches of flowers for decorations at a special event.
It also sells wholesale to florists and small grocery and mom-and-pop stores. At the same time, the company sells bouquets and flower arrangements to customers coming in off the street.
Granovitz made the transition from being a retail florist, as his father had been, to a wholesale-to-the-public florist in 1993, when he moved the business from its original Hawthorne location to a converted warehouse in Lawndale.
Granovitz said the retail business was cluttered, but that there was a niche for someone to sell flowers wholesale.
Because Boulevard Florist’s business remains a combination of wholesale and retail, Granovitz faces the challenge of limiting the customer service he provides to wholesale customers, while still offering quality customer service to retail customers.
“We have to determine right away what the customer is asking for. And then we have to explain the difference,” Granovitz said.
Since Boulevard Florist is primarily a wholesaler, it charges even for the little things that most florists would give for free, such as cellophane and the plastic sticks that hold a bouquet’s message card.
(Besides wholesale flowers, the store also sells standard flower shop items at retail prices. A customer buying a dozen roses, for example, would pay about $42, and receive the same amenities such as cellophane and message card provided at any retail florist.)
Keeping customer service to a minimum is a challenge for someone like Granovitz, who is fond of saying things like “We don’t really sell flowers we sell feelings.” Even Boulevard Florist’s delivery vans reflect that philosophy with the slogan “Sending feelings fast!”
That philosophy has helped Boulevard Florist blossom from the bud of the store Granovitz’s father opened in 1951. It has stolen business from downtown’s Flower Market and was named in this month’s Harper’s Bazaar as one of the three best places to buy flowers in L.A.
The store’s sales reflect its popularity. Except for a dip in business during the recession of the early ’90s, Boulevard Florist’s revenues have grown steadily over the years.
The year Granovitz’s father died the same year Granovitz took over the shop at the age of 19 the business took in about $200,000. Last year, the store’s revenues were $1.7 million.
About 40 percent of the store’s business is wholesale sales to other florists and to some five dozen stores that sell bouquets arranged at Boulevard Florist.
Most of the store’s sales are “wholesale to the public” purchases by customers who buy large bunches of flowers from the store’s walk-in refrigerator at wholesale prices. Many of those customers use the flowers to design centerpieces and floral arrangements for weddings, bar mitzvahs and church events.
Mary Marin, one of Granovitz’s customers, said that Boulevard is the primary place she buys flowers for her part-time floral-arrangement business.
“He offers me the same price that I get downtown, he offers a good quality of wholesale flowers, and he’s really dependable,” said Marin. “Everything I order he gets for me, and it saves me the trip (downtown).”
Granovitz, who had only two years of business classes at a community college before taking over the shop when his father died, said he depended on the advice of his father’s business friends to grow the store. But even with their advice, Granovitz said he had to make his own mistakes along the way.
“They tell you don’t do it, you do it anyway, you find out they’re right,” Granovitz quipped. Among Granovitz’s failed experiments was an attempt to open satellite locations of the main store. None remain open.
One piece of advice that Granovitz received and that he has followed closely is to perform the business’ most important functions himself. “They told me, ‘Open your own mail, and sign your own checks,'” Granovitz said.
Granovitz said the most challenging part of running a wholesale flower shop is knowing the right amount of flowers to order to meet demand, but without being overstocked and being left with wilted flowers that can’t be sold.
He compared the challenge to gambling in Las Vegas, but said that the odds can be beaten if he watches the weather, keeps careful records of what he bought in past years and pays attention to what home decorating guru Martha Stewart declares hot.
Boulevard Florist Wholesale Market
Year Founded: 1951
Core Business: Selling flowers wholesale to the public and to small businesses
Top Executive: Marc Granovitz
Sales in 1992: $945,000
Sales in 1996: $1.7 million
Employees in 1992: 14
Employees in 1996: 30
Goal: Bring as many people as possible from across the L.A. area into the Lawndale store
Driving Force: To meet the public’s demand for quality flowers at wholesale prices