Thursday, June 21, 2018
Business

Three RNC florists deal with last-minute orders, brace for long waits

TAMPA — Roses are red, violets are blue, and three local florists have furiously been purchasing the white flowers that complete the patriotic arrangements for the Republican National Convention.

Botanica, the Potting Shed, and Buds, Blooms & Beyond, all in Tampa, were selected in April to be the official florists for RNC events. Plenty of lead time from the Committee on Arrangements, but in fact the individual contracts from delegations, corporations and media outlets just started rolling in.

"I would say early last week I started getting contracts," says Potting Shed owner Sharon Smith. "I'm not kidding you. I've been doing proposals probably since late July or early August. But I've just gotten about five or six large contracts."

Smith says many RNC party and event planners have been preoccupied with food, beverages and security, and floral arrangements are more of a last-minute decision.

"It's not a ladies' luncheon," Smith says, "so I can understand."

That said, the logistics are intense.

Botanica owner Ian Prosser is a veteran of such events, having been involved in providing flowers for one of President Bill Clinton's inaugurations and both of President George W. Bush's. For this year's convention, he has 27 contracts, ranging from individual suites at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to private homes and country clubs. He has recruited extra floral designers from across the country, beefed up his delivery force and rented a 20-foot refrigerated truck to expand his storage space.

Flower deliveries began streaming into Tampa on Thursday.

"It feels like we've sourced every red, white and blue flower that has been grown in the country," says Prosser, with more flowers imported from South America and elsewhere to fill in for domestic species that aren't in season in August.

Buds, Blooms & Beyond owner Mary Conte says the biggest challenge is yet to come — just getting into the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"The challenge will be middle-of-the-night setups and deliveries. We were originally setting up from 1 to 4 in the morning, and that's just been changed to a 6 to 9 a.m. window. There's a two-hour line that you have to sit in for Secret Service, and then once you're in the building you have a limited time to set up."

Florists and other vendors have to be lined up in a staging area at 6 a.m., exiting their vehicles for the Secret Service to perform thorough two-hour checks, said Smith of the Potting Shed. In addition, each employee has been through background checks.

A bouquet of styles

For Conte, who has 12 events booked and eight contracts pending, floral arrangement styles will lean toward Florida themes. The longtime florist for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has ordered tropical species and will be doing arrangements with beach themes, complete with seashells and sand.

For Prosser, the red, white and blue theme will be softened with seasonal flowers in navies, cranberries and ivories.

"We're bringing in hydrangeas, roses, coxcomb, dahlias, delphiniums, eryngium (a blue thistle) and lots of orchids."

After the convention has concluded, Prosser's staff will pick up arrangements and deliver them to the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.

The Potting Shed, known for English garden looks with lots of ivy and hydrangeas, has been asked to do arrangements that are colorful but tasteful. Smith will employ delphiniums, sunflowers and pincushion protea.

"I was ready with an elephant. I have a beautiful elephant. They all loved it, but nobody has asked for it so far."

The financials

Prosser says August is usually a slow time in Tampa for florists.

"This will be an unprecedented August for us. I'm very happy with what we have gotten, but I thought we might have gotten a bit more."

Conte agrees. While the RNC contracts will represent a large percentage of her August business, "I expected quite a bit more. Still, there's a lot that has come out of it for us, with other contacts and things that will bring us more business down the road."

Smith knew roughly what to expect, having done her homework by calling floral designers in Minneapolis who serviced the Republican convention four years ago.

"They said that groups were very conservative on the budget, and that orders came in late."

Even with last-minute contracts dribbling in, the three florists have everything in place to deliver the blooms to the GOP's biggest party.

"All the vases are set up and all the foam is in," Prosser says. "We're ready to rumble."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293.

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