Florists hit hard amid novel coronavirus outbreak

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/14 12:32:53

A customer receives the flower. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

It is the eve of Valentine's Day. A florist in downtown Shanghai is littered with roses, tulips and packaging. Shop owner Li Youkang isn't expecting any customers as his shop has been shut down amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"We have been running the florist for 12 years. My wife and I have never celebrated Valentine's Day as it is usually our busiest day of the year. We have to stay up all night arranging and packaging flowers. Some employees have in the past been so worn-out that they have fallen asleep on the floor," the 36-year-old from East China's Jiangsu Province told the Global Times on Thursday.

This year however, Li's employees haven't yet resumed work. Some from virus hit areas are still under home quarantine, leaving Li and his wife to sort and pack bouquets of flowers through the night to be delivered the following day.

The outbreak of the virus has hit his self-run business hard as orders plunged to just 10 percent of their usual number.

"We received around 50 orders this year, all online orders. We have had 500 orders in past years," he said. "Everybody wants to stay at home. Why would anyone buy flowers if their partners are also confined at home?" he asked.

Had it been any other year, he would borrow storage space from neighboring shops and he would even use his own home to stock flowers. This year, he didn't dare purchase too many from the wholesale market for the fear they wouldn't sell. 

Li Youkang and his wife sort and pack bouquets of flowers through the night. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Cold winter 

The same worry casts a shadow over the whole industry, as wholesale flower markets were hit hard by the outbreak.

Dounan Flower Market in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, is the largest flower trading market in Asia.

For more than 20 consecutive years, it has ranked first in China in terms of transaction volume, transaction value and trade. 7.2 billion flowers were traded in 2019, with a turnover of about 6.1 billion yuan ($874 million). 

February should be the peak sales season, but operations didn't resume until February 10. Prices fell to less than 20 percent of those during the same period last year, according to a letter from the market on its reopening.

"Every day, a large quantity of freshly cut flowers that cannot be sold and transported have to be destroyed. Farmers and enterprises are suffering heavy losses," the letter read.

Intermediate dealers were also shut down, making it difficult for retailers like Li to source the best quality flowers.

Li delivers flowers to a customer. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

When purchasing from the local wholesale market in Shanghai, Li noticed that nearly 30 percent of his usual wholesalers had closed their doors and few retailers like him were searching for flowers.

"Had it been any previous year, it would take at least half an hour to make your way into the market due to the huge flow of people," he said. 

Prices of imported roses soared due to logistics difficulties and delayed flights amid the outbreak. 

A shortage of couriers also contributed to difficulties. For a 20-minute journey, Li set the delivery fee at 20 yuan, but still nobody picked up the orders. This Valentine's day, he will have to deliver the flowers himself to save costs. 

"Usually it takes no effort to make 300,000 yuan during Valentine's Day sales. This year, however, we only expect to make 30,000 yuan," he said, adding that Valentine's Day sales account for 20 percent of the florist industry's total annual revenues. 

Li is struggling to keep the store running, pay rents and other costs. He hopes his business can survive the winter and usher in the spring, when the flowers will bloom again. 

"I think it will pass. We will think of ways to make our losses up later. We should still believe in the future, as the flower industry is a beautiful one," said Li, who is set to deliver flowers from 7.30 am on this special Valentine's Day. 


blog comments powered by Disqus