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Sept. 20, 2021

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Working in Clark County: Jane BonVillain, floral designer at Ridgefield Floral & Gifts

By , Columbian Staff writer, news assistant
Published:
8 Photos
Florist Jane BonVillain arranges a vase of red roses at Ridgefield Floral & Gifts. Though Ridgefield is her hometown, she began her floral career working in a shop in Manhattan and returned to Clark County to be closer to her mother.
Florist Jane BonVillain arranges a vase of red roses at Ridgefield Floral & Gifts. Though Ridgefield is her hometown, she began her floral career working in a shop in Manhattan and returned to Clark County to be closer to her mother. Photo Gallery

A bouquet of cut roses lasts about one week before they shrivel and die.

And yet the business of sending a dozen to a loved one on Valentine’s Day is a lifeline for local flower shops; deliveries at Ridgefield Floral & Gifts increase about 2,000 percent for Valentine’s Day.

“We normally have, I would say, anywhere from three to 10 deliveries a day,” said business owner Teri Paterson. “For Valentine’s Day (including on Feb. 13), we’ll have 125 or more. That doesn’t include walk-ins.”

“The day-of is just insane,” said former owner and now part-time designer Tammy Claflin. She started Ridgefield Floral in 1997 in her garage “like five blocks up the road” from its current rented location at 328 Pioneer St., she said. They’ve been in the Mochrum Building for 12 years.

For Valentine’s Day, their designers and delivery drivers, plus willing-to-volunteer family members, will all be on deck helping out. On a recent Wednesday about a week prior, Claflin and fellow designer Jane BonVillain were fielding phone calls and working on a few early arrangements. BonVillain, 55, was working on a bouquet of roses for her daughter’s 12th birthday.

BonVillain started at the shop three years ago during the Valentine’s Day rush. She said designing a good flower arrangement is all about color, structure and balance.

Roses precious, pricey commodity for holiday

Many of roses delivered by Ridgefield Floral & Gifts for Valentine’s Day are supplied by flower wholesalers like Frank Adams Wholesale Florist in North Portland, which supplies 13 flower shops in Clark County.

Before they end up at the wholesaler, though, many roses start on a farm in South America. They’re cut, immediately refrigerated, put on a plane to Miami and then flown to Portland.

Prices of roses increase substantially for Valentine’s Day for the flower shops that buy them from wholesalers, which is passed on to consumers.

“Flower distributors increase the price substantially; they almost double the price of roses for us. Often I have to prebook my flowers or I won’t get them. I had to order my Valentine’s flowers in December,” said Teri Paterson, owner of Ridgefield Floral & Gifts. Angie Lopez, a buyer at Frank Adams, said the increase is because farms “pinch” roses to double their Valentine’s Day production. A pinch is when the farmer cut off the top of a flower stem before it has the chance to bloom, which helps it to send more stems for multiple flowers. Losing out on sales during the pinch causes the rise in cost to wholesalers — along with freight costs, which Lopez said can double for a holiday. “Those airlines make more money on produce than flowers so it becomes a big challenge to have enough flights going from Quito, Ecuador, to Miami,” Lopez said. She said they expect to sell out of 75,300 stemmed roses this season.

“Start with the container and decide if you want to use foam to hold it or a vase,” she said, carefully placing some baby’s breath among the roses for her daughter’s surprise arrangement.

Returning home

BonVillain knows a little bit about flower design. She grew up in Ridgefield. And when she was done with high school, she left.

“I thought if I stayed here, I wouldn’t go anywhere. I needed to get out and grow up,” she said. After a three-year stint in the Army, she landed in New York City, where she lived in Manhattan for eight years. She worked for Irene Hayes Wadley & Smythe LeMoult, a now-shuttered florist that was located in Rockefeller Center.

“During Valentine’s Day, we’d have 75 people there. It was really fast,” she said. “People had a weird sense of entitlement there. The Rockefellers were our clients.”

Another client the florist had was the “Today Show” — an impressive addition to a floral designer’s resume. It certainly wowed then-owner Claflin, when BonVillain returned home after 9/11.

Ridgefield Floral & Gifts

328 Pioneer St., Ridgefield

Employees: 7

Online: www.ridgefieldfloral.net

Revenue: Owner Teri Paterson said that sales have increased “year after year” in the three years she has owned it and that from 2017-2018, “probably increased 20 percent.” 

Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook: Nonmetropolitan Southwest Washington is one of the top-paying areas for floral designers, with an annual mean wage of $31,890. The Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., metropolitan area has one of the highest employment levels of floral designers, with 600 in the region, but has a lower annual mean wage of $25,870. Employment of floral designers is projected to decline 6 percent through 2026 due to online flower outlets and big-box grocery stores having their own cut flowers for sale. This will cause floral designer employment to decrease 18 percent in florist shops but grow 6 percent in grocery stores, according to the BLS.

“I go ‘Well, do you have any experience?’ She starts telling me about her experience. I say ‘Oh, OK, yeah, just go to work.’ We didn’t even discuss what she was going to get paid, or hours or anything,” Claflin laughed.

“You could be a Medal of Honor winner and you say the ‘Today Show’ flowers and people love it. That was, you know, exciting,” BonVillain said.

But she’s happy to be back in Ridgefield with her family and especially with her mother, who developed Alzheimer’s.

“After 9/11, I came home. I wanted to be near my mom. We didn’t have a close relationship or anything but (9/11) was hard for everybody. Being out there it was difficult. So I came home and little did I know within eight years she would get Alzheimer’s and I ended up taking care of her,” BonVillain said. “It was kind of a miracle.”

She’s also excited about helping her hometown shop as it grows.

Adapting the business

Ridgefield is a growing town, and it’s reflected in their sales, according to Paterson, who said the shop experienced a 20 percent increase in sales from 2017 to 2018. And that’s despite the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ forecast of decline in floral shops and designers due to big-box stores selling their own cut-flower bouquets and the internet allowing shops to reach wider audiences.

WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt: lyndsey.hewitt@columbian.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

Ridgefield Floral & Gifts has attempted to adapt. They added the “& Gifts” to the name when Paterson took ownership and now sell items like jewelry, candles and soaps in addition to florist services. They also started using a website service called Lovingly, reflected in their own website design. Lovingly helps local shops with their online presence and in return take a percentage of sales that come through the website. (Lovingly is also used for Awesome Flowers, a shop in Vancouver.)

Ridgefield Floral & Gifts also uses flower “wire” services to boost sales, such as FTD and Teleflora.

“A lot of those are customers who may live on the East Coast and maybe want to send something to a family member who lives here,” Paterson said.

The store has some regular local clients, including ilani, Paterson said. They make the arrangements for the casino’s VIP lounge and Michael Jordan’s Steak House.

Learning the craft

BonVillain said that it took her a while to really “get” flower design. Back in New York, she worked with top designers who taught her the ropes, she said. She developed a deep respect for the business after working with “old-time people in New York and really bringing that tradition” to Ridgefield.

“I take it seriously. Everybody thinks it’s easy. It was hard for me, it was hard for me to become good. It was a discipline like anything else,” she said. “For whatever reason, with floral design, (people) don’t equate it to being any type of discipline or anything. Especially with women, we just think we’re inherently supposed to be good at it.”

She notes that it’s every florist’s nightmare when someone walks in with a lofty idea pulled from Pinterest or a Martha Stewart book.

“People used to come in when I was in New York. Martha Stewart had just come out with her books. They’d say ‘I want this.’ It was before Pinterest. (They asked) ‘How much would it cost to do this?’ I’d say $600,” BonVillain laughed. “It’s not reasonable.”

The most expensive Valentine’s Day arrangement advertised on Ridgefield Floral’s website is the Infinite Love Roses bouquet for $325.95.

“If you’re looking to make a statement that will never be forgotten, this stunning display of five dozen sweetly hued roses is an absolute winner,” the website reads. “Roses will always be a symbol of love and admiration, and there’s no better way to express your true adoration.”

And so what if they die in a week? To BonVillain, the designers are a “conduit to help people send their sentiments.”

“Even if they have to sacrifice, like money is tight, they still want someone to know that you matter,” she said. “Part of the beauty of sending flowers is that they do die. It’s there to represent that particular occasion.”

Columbian Staff writer, news assistant
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