This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
The evolution of the florist's store from its beginning, with most of us twenty-five years ago and with the oldest not more than forty years, is remarkable. It has kept pace with the enormous increase in the use of flowers and perhaps has been no little incentive to our patrons in the laudable luxury of the use of flowers.
We can all remember when the seedsman in many of our cities combined cut flowers and plants with his business. Now the line is as distinctly drawn between the seed store and the flower store as between a bank and a barbershop, although I have heard with surprise and regret that one of our most widely known New York wholesale and retail seed, bulb and requisite houses has recently opened a cut flower department. This is to be regretted; it is a step towards the department store and is to be condemned, in our line particularly and on principle generally. We all remember exhibitions called florists' stores.
When the florist first essayed to rent a store and make it his exclusive business, the window decorations consisted in the main of straw baskets, a stuffed dove and some beautiful designs in wheat, all suggestive of the inevitable, but nothing to gladden the eye or heart. The gradual transition to the modern, first-class store of today would be interesting to note, were it any benefit, and what will be the appearance, appointments and tempting luxuries offered to the public by a florist of a future generation would be highly interesting could we foresee the higher development of our business. Instead of a basement or a narrow, cheap store, the florist now demands the best stores in our very best streets.
Before I attempt to say what a high-class retail store should be, it is quite pertinent to mention a few things that it should not be. The florists and their clerks (or more properly shopmen) must have the reputation for good temper, civility and a most patient and obliging disposition, for the florist is asked more questions and more little favors than any other class of shopkeepers. If a lady faints in the street-car she is carried into the florist's store. If a glass of water is wanted by a temperance man, if your neighbor wants to use the telephone, if a stranger wants to know where Mr. Tile, the hatter, is. or even when one lady will meet another, it is all at Mr. Bud's, the florist, that they come in. A civil, polite answer should be given to all. Perhaps by discreet affability you have made a friend.
Your store should never be known as a place where other florists congregate. If they have any business with you, let them do it quickly and get out. No loungers of any kind, friends of your own or of your employees, male or female, should be tolerated during business hours. Book agents, and what we are fearfully pestered with, advertising agents, should receive a civil but short answer. Drummers of all kinds should be put in a back room to wait your convenience, or if that is not agreeable to them then told to come around, if you need them, after business is over. Be sure and avoid having a group of three or four growers in the rear of your store discussing with animation the merits of the new carnations. If you are a grower yourself break up the meeting by leading them around the corner; it is cheaper and there they can argue with lubricated energy while you step back to attend to your business, for in these days of keen competition and all trying to excel, nothing but the closest attention to all departments of your business will bring even moderate success.
To be known as a reliable and prompt business man among your patrons is a blessing. To have the reputation of a good-natured, jolly fellow among your brother florists is a misfortune. You can be good, you can be jolly, even a philanthropist, but in self-defense and self-preservation subordinate the effervescence of your good nature till the appropriate occasions arrive. Your lady customers notice loungers and it makes an unfavorable impression, deeper and more lasting than their pleasant features indicate.
Every wideawake man will know what locality is best suited to his business in his own city. Where business men pass to and fro is the best of all locations, for with due respect to the gentler sex, the men are our best customers. The ladies may be the inspiration by which they buy, but through the men come our best sales. They buy quicker, larger, and want the best regardless of cost. The fashionable shopping district of our cities is the place for a florist's store, and I think I have seen some cities where with advantage a good store could be opened a long way from the business center of the city, but in the residence part of the town.
Your store should be always clean, neat and attractive, and your clerks neatly if not richly clothed, with breaths smelling neither of beer, cigarettes nor cloves. Your window is the chief advertisement of your business and that should never be two days alike. Some men may have a large stock of flowers and place a large quantity in their window; yet they are put in, or rather jammed in, regardless of color or taste and are no attraction to the cultivated taste of the passer-by. You may not be able to have 360 varieties in one year, but you can always change it sufficiently so as to appear to the public fresh and new each day, and let there be some distinctive feature each day. A first-class florist in one of our large western cities who keeps six or seven young men in the store allots to each one in turn the duty of arranging the window display.
Some may say many flowers can be used up and wasted in these window decorations. There need be little waste if properly managed, for it is not the quantity, but the taste, displayed that makes an attractive window, and if it does cost something in sacrifice of flowers it is far cheaper than any other kind of advertising. On a recent winter visit to Philadelphia, in a fine window of the leading florist of Chestnut street the window decoration was a heavy branch of an elm tree, extending the whole width of the window, and on it at intervals were tied sprays of Cattleya Trianae. Thousands were stopping to admire it. This is the idea, and whether it be orchids or only a vase of coreopsis it should be clean, neat, fresh, distinct, and a gem if possible.