Wait Not, Wilt Not

Online flower-delivery system lets ProFlowers ship grower to customer, bypassing retail and guaranteeing fresher blooms for growing market share

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

May 7, 2004

2 Min Read

Dos Gringos, a wholesale flower grower with 1,000 acres of plants under cultivation in California and Mexico, supplies sunflowers, daisies, and other species to Kroger, Albertsons, and Trader Joe's supermarkets.

Over the last two years, however, a small but increasing part of Dos Gringos' business has come from an online company, ProFlowers, a unit of Provide Commerce Inc. Unlike 1-800-Flowers.com or FTD.com, ProFlowers' Internet-based business model orchestrates the delivery of flowers straight from the grower to the recipient's doorstep, bypassing distribution centers and retail florists. "Our sunflowers will last two weeks if ordered through ProFlowers," says Ray Green, director of business development for Dos Gringos. Using the traditional distribution channels, home-delivered flowers typically don't last more than a week, he says.

The promise of fresh flowers delivered straight from the grower has proved to be a strong marketing message for ProFlowers. The company's Web-based systems scaled up last week to handle their biggest holiday of the year, Mother's Day. ProFlowers CEO Bill Strauss estimated that the company would move more than 450,000 boxed flower arrangements the week before Mother's Day, up from 375,000 last year.

More than 90% of Provide Commerce's sales are attributed to ProFlowers, although Provide Commerce also is moving into direct delivery of fresh meats and fruits. While still a small player, accounting for about 2% of the online flower-delivery market, Provide Commerce's sales for its most-recent financial quarter were up 41% to $40.7 million compared with the same quarter last year, and net income rose from $2.5 million to $15.9 million. "There's a tremendous amount of headroom" for Pro-

Flowers to grow in the fragmented and largely mom-and-pop retail flower market, says Laura Champine, products analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co., an equities-trading firm. Morgan Keegan helped underwrite ProFlowers' initial public offering of stock in December.

After capturing a customer order at its Web site, ProFlowers relays the order via the Internet to the appropriate preselected grower, based on the type of flowers sought and the location of the recipient. A server set up by ProFlowers is located at each grower's site. The servers receive orders and print them out, along with FedEx Corp. shipping labels and greeting cards to go in the boxes.

ProFlowers' site was built with Allaire ColdFusion developer tools, which are now owned by Macromedia Inc. For future development, the company plans to use products offered by Macromedia and Microsoft's .Net line of tools. An enterprise-service bus system from Sonic Software Corp. uses Java Messaging Service to exchange messages between applications used by ProFlowers and between the ProFlowers site and growers' IT systems.

Growers pack hydrated, cooled flowers into boxes that are shipped by FedEx for next-day delivery to the recipient. ProFlowers' system generates a series of E-mail messages to consumers when they place orders, letting them know when the flowers were picked up for delivery, when they arrived, and who signed for them.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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