By Kevin Carbery
Patty Buckley anticipates she will be busy over the days leading up to Valentine's Day.
But nothing can compare to the day itself for a floral designer, said the owner of Fenton Flowers, 404 Gravois Road, Fenton.
"Because the month of February is a slow month, we typically do more business on Valentine's Day than we do the whole rest of the month," said Buckley, 54, of Pacific. "Everybody wants flowers that day. You have a short span of time to fill all the orders. We expect 200 to 250 orders on Valentine's Day alone."
Because Valentine's Day is on a Monday, Buckley will open on Sunday.
"Usually, orders for Valentine's Day start coming in on the ninth," she said. "We'll get a few early birds. Then, the 11th through the 14th, it's crazy."
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She said she will be turning out floral arrangements as fast as her hands can go.
As someone who loves flowers, Buckley is happy to be surrounded by blossoms in her floral design area in the back room of her shop. There are flowers sitting in vases on shelves, flowers in vases hanging on the walls and flowers on top of tables all around the room.
The accompanying flower smells make the room ground zero for the aromas that serve as a natural air freshener for the whole building.
It is here that she puts together the floral designs that she knows someone will enjoy.
"Women love to get flowers at the office," she said. "It's fun for them, breaks up their day."
Which is not to say that men do not get flowers as gifts, she added. However, the vast majority of her Valentine's Day sales involve men purchasing floral arrangements for their significant others.
"Of course, our big seller for Valentine's Day is the rose," Buckley noted. "In the late afternoon and evening on Valentine's Day, guys will rush in and ask for roses because they messed up and didn't send them to her office."
She quizzes customers about the kinds of flowers the gift recipients enjoy. If the purchasers do not know what they want, Buckley will offer suggestions.
She takes the information and goes to the floral design room. Here, she picks up the knife she uses to clip off the bottom of stems.
"You don't ever want to touch a florist's knife," she said. "Its a tool we treasure."
On a recent Friday afternoon, Buckley was creating a floral arrangement. She grabbed a flower from here and a flower from there, cutting the stems in a flash.
She said she was working on a vased spring mix, which the customer had requested. In a short period of time the vase was filled with lilies, carnations and pink roses.
"I don't have a system," she said. "We do whatever comes to mind."
While Valentine's Day is the Super Bowl for florists, the rest of the year is more hit and miss, she said. Mothers Day is her second-busiest occasion, said Buckley.
During a normal week, she goes to the St. Louis Flower Market to make large purchases of flowers a couple early mornings. She does a great deal of floral designs for weddings and funerals throughout the year.
Buckley and her mother, Mabel Seemayer, opened Fenton Flowers 29 years ago, a short distance from its present location. It has been in the same spot since 1993. Her mother continued to work until retiring last fall for health reasons.
She said she originally became a florist because of her love for flowers. She went to the Lady Grant Floral School for a nine-month course on how to run a flower shop.
"The school is closed," she said. "They taught us everything from the business aspects of it to purchasing flowers to processing flowers to the design part."
Buckley said she still likes to receive flowers — her husband gave her some roses last Valentine's Day — but something about flowers has been lost to her.
"People come in here and tell us how good it smells," she said. "We're kind of immune to it."
Floral designer facts
Education: Mostly on the job training
Job outlook: Floral designers held about 78,000 jobs in 2008. Despite a decline in employment, job opportunities are expected to be good because of a high turnover due to low pay and limited advancement opportunities.
Pay: Median annual wage for floral designers was $23,230 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $18,690 and $29,330. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,210 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $35,010.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics