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Local business owners brace for Valentine's Day

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 5:47 p.m. MST

Marci Rasmussen makes floral arrangements on the day before Valentine's Day at Especially For You in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The storeroom floor of Twigs Flowers in Sugar House is an immaculate, aromatic display of floral arrangements, teddy bears, chocolates, cards and stuffed animals holding bright red hearts.

Just a few steps away, owner Ray King stands behind the counter in a sea of cellophane, ribbon scraps, discarded stems and fallen leaves, placing white carnations in one of the many displays that will leave the shop Tuesday.

Twigs is just one of many floral shops — all the shops — bracing for Valentine's Day. Marilyn Oakey, owner of Kay Cummings Candies, said that she was "swamped" on Monday, with every indication that Valentine's Day had even more in store.

"Christmas is a 30-day period," she said, breaking away from customers for a brief moment. "This is by far my busiest day of the year."

The National Retail Federation predicts Valentine's Day 2012 will contribute around $17.6 billion to the economy, an 8.6 percent increase over 2011. 

That's good news for King, who founded Twigs Flowers 21 years ago and said a lot of preparation goes into a successful Feb. 14. In order to have fresh flowers in February, orders have to be made in advance and King said he keeps a diary to track trends from year to year to help in making an educated guess on what the market will demand.

"You have to have your orders to the flower farms made by January 15, so you better have got it right," he said.

This year, he said, business looks good. Like many luxury items, flowers took a hit when the recession began and the florist industry saw the effects with leaner wedding business and fewer requests for Memorial Day flowers. This year he expects Valentine's Day to be equal to or better than last year.

"Some of the things stay the same," he said. "It's still a dozen red roses in a vase."

Marci Rasmussen, owner of Especially For You, said the day of the week Valentine's Day  lands on effects sales more than simply looking year to year. With the holiday landing on a weekday, people may not be able to take as many trips or book as many reservations for late candle-lit dinners. But it does allow for sweethearts to surprise each other with flowers at work.

"It's a scary holiday for me," she said. "We started three weeks ago, prepping, getting vases in, getting orders."

That preparation often includes bringing on extra help to manage the rush. Oakey said she doesn't have time to train temporary employees at Kay Cummings so her staff soldiers on. Steve Parker, owner of The Black Iris, said he hires an extra driver to help his delivery staff, who still see their shifts stretched to 10 or 12 hours.

Rasmussen brings on eight extra drivers and five shop workers in an effort to get the orders delivered as early as possible. Her goal is to make it through the day without a customer complaint and said she has a pool of friends, family and former employees to draw on for extra help.

"It's people who have an interest in loving me, knowing that I may choke them," she joked.

While shops try to get as much done ahead of time as possible, there's still a high level of walk-in traffic on the big day. King said he has a line all day on the 14th, and stays relatively busy the next day with people who, for whatever reason, still need flowers.

"They're in trouble and they're kind of panicky," he said.

Rasmussen said there's been years where she was forced to lock the door with people waiting in line outside. She learned the hard way during her first Valentine's not to take on more orders than what is manageable after a delivery truck accident lost 10 orders. She called the customers to explain the delay and was told that she was playing with people's emotions.

"I was just bawling," she said. "I was so sad."

Since then she's learned to be extra cautious, double-checking every order.

"I always do a cartwheel when all the drivers are back," she said. "I'm 52 and still doing cartwheels in the parking lot."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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