TV trailblazer’s career turn results in floral market dominance
You could say Bob Hamacher’s retirement was no bed of roses – which may explain how he solved the dilemma.
After a career spent building four Northwest television stations – including KAYU, Spokane’s first independent station – Hamacher sold them and kicked back for a year, “which sucked, to be honest,” he growled.
At the time, Hamacher owned industrial property on Second Avenue just west of Division. The adjacent site belonged to Jones Wholesale, a flower distributor.
Hamacher – who describes himself as “extremely entrepreneurial” – saw buying the flower business as a way to gain control of the whole block. “So I asked myself three questions,” he recalled. “Will flowers be here in 10 years? Can I dominate the regional market? And can I increase sales with an infusion of technology?”
Having determined the answer to all three questions was yes, Hamacher bought Jones Wholesale – even though his knowledge of flowers was limited to “some smelled good and some didn’t.”
Since then, Hamacher has acquired the assets of competitors in Spokane, western Montana and southern Idaho, and moved his business – renamed Roses & More – to a 44,000-square-foot facility in the Spokane Valley.
During a recent interview, Hamacher discussed his company and the role his daughter played in its purchase.
S-R: How long have you been in the flower business?
Hamacher: Ten years.
S-R: How many hours a week do you work, now that you’re no longer retired?
Hamacher: I actually am retired. This is my full-time retirement.
S-R: What’s the biggest holiday of the year in the flower trade?
Hamacher: It’s a push between Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. The difference is that Valentine’s Day is concentrated in roses while Mother’s Day sales are everything that’s in bloom.
S-R: Does the day of the week that Valentine’s falls on affect sales?
Hamacher: Absolutely. Saturdays are worst because men aren’t at work, so they don’t run by the florist to grab something they forgot. This week it fell on Thursday, and a lot of couples decided to go out to dinner on Friday, so florists came in Friday morning to get more flowers.
S-R: You’ve absorbed several competitors since buying the business. Do you dominate the market?
Hamacher: We’re definitely the largest in our region, which goes from the Cascades to the Dakotas and from the Canadian border to Utah.
S-R: How does this area compare with others?
Hamacher: It’s a relatively good flower market, but nothing like Boston and New York – places where people live in the inner city and flowers are sold on street corners. And even those places aren’t nearly as good as Europe, where every shopping trip includes buying flowers for the house. Here, sales are driven by special occasions, like anniversaries or funerals.
S-R: What about the flower business has surprised you?
Hamacher: The florists. They’re more of an artistic community, so we spend a lot of time trying to help them understand their business. A lot of them go into it underfinanced, and they tend to have more square footage than they need and too many knick-knacks. Also, the industry teaches people to take incoming calls, but not how to market – like just walking around the block and asking people if they want some flowers.
S-R: Is there any overlap between running TV stations and the flower trade?
Hamacher: The basic business skills are the same. You need to know when to say no. Sometimes people don’t understand that because they’re so afraid of losing an account. But we’ve said no and ended up doing a lot better on the bottom line.
S-R: For instance?
Hamacher: We’re happy to give credit if a problem is our fault. But people sometimes want to return a flower that’s in perfect shape. So we have a policy that if they don’t send a picture of the (unsaleable) product, they don’t get credit.
S-R: Do you grow any flowers?
Hamacher: I grow nothing. I have people working for me in Colombia and Ecuador. We have a seat on the Canadian flower auction. And I get flowers from Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii and Thailand.
S-R: How do you decide how many flowers to order for a given holiday?
Hamacher: It’s kind of a game. There are advantages to prebooking because the closer it gets to Valentine’s Day, for instance, the higher the price. But if the growers have too many flowers a few days before the holiday, prices drop like hell.
S-R: Was it your idea to change the company name to Roses & More?
Hamacher: Yes, and initially it was a mistake, because a good friend of ours in town owned a shop called Just Roses, so people got us confused. On the other hand, we get a ton of hits on our website now, so it worked out OK.
S-R: What’s the slowest time of year?
Hamacher: October, because weddings are done, and you’re mostly left with funerals. The minute it gets dark, people start dying.
S-R: What do you think of the obituary phrase “in lieu of flowers”?
Hamacher: I hate it. Flowers are really the one thing that sends a message of sympathy and condolence. I don’t mind if people donate to a cause – I certainly do it – but I also send flowers.
S-R: Did the recession affect flower sales?
Hamacher: Yes. The movement was away from traditional florists and more toward grocery stores. And some grocers are all about price. If a vendor is still around in three or four years, the store figures it paid too much.
S-R: What flowers are hot?
Hamacher: Alstroemeria and lilies are gaining popularity, and tulips are strong. You don’t see as many ferns and other greens – what we call leather. The new design concept is moving away from that stuff.
S-R: Did you have a mentor?
Hamacher: I was very fortunate when I came into this business because Jim Peirone, who was in charge of shipping before the family sold Peirone Produce, was kind enough to educate me. If two drops of oil dripped from one of his trucks at a stop light, he knew what it cost him.
S-R: How has technology changed your business?
Hamacher: We just installed four HDTV cameras in our cooler so customers can see what we have in stock.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Hamacher: The people I work with.
S-R: What do you like least?
Hamacher: Struggles with florists. Sometimes they see us as the adversary, and we’re not. Too many of them shoot themselves in the foot. If they ask for help, we help them. But we don’t volunteer it.
S-R: What’s your management philosophy?
Hamacher: I have 50 employees, so I have 50 management techniques. When we interview people, we ask them how they want to be managed, and we do it. We’ve found that extremely successful.
S-R: What’s been your best idea?
Hamacher: Installing a computer system similar to what we had in the television business, so we can determine ratios, track margins and compare accounts. Another thing that made a big difference was organizing our sales staff into teams, because we’re open six days a week, and the same salesmen aren’t here every day.
S-R: What’s your strength?
Hamacher: My willingness to take risks, and then allow a decision to play out. You don’t come in the next day and say that doesn’t work just because somebody can’t deal with change. In 90 days, you sit down and evaluate it.
S-R: What’s ahead for your business?
Hamacher: Groceries currently restrict the use of iPads and cellphones by their internal florists. They’re control freaks. I understand why, but they need to let it go, so their florists can communicate with us better. Likewise, we still have some shop owners who won’t give us their email address. That’s why we only send out specials through email – to get them on board.
S-R: What’s your favorite flower?
Hamacher: Pansies. I remember my dad going over to Liberty Park Florist and coming home with flats of pansies every year. If you bunch them together, they really send a message.
S-R: Do you end up with a lot of fresh flowers at home?
Hamacher: Have you ever met my wife? I don’t take flowers home because she’s already here picking them out.
S-R: Do you have any kids?
S-R: Are they married?
Hamacher: One. My daughter.
S-R: Were there a lot of flowers at her wedding?
Hamacher: That’s really why I had to buy the wholesale house. The wedding was on Aug. 8th, 2003, and I bought the company on Aug. 1st.
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.