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Susan Dickenson

Permanent botanicals vendors weather 'slow but steady' pace

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The permanent botanicals business is “slow but steady” said Kris Nolan, president of Lawrenceville, Ga.-based permanent botanicals manufacturer Artistry in Silk.

Greenville, N.C.'s New Growth Designs' owner Ed Glenn agrees, but points out that it's slow everywhere, not just for permanent botanicals. “We continue to receive orders, but there are fewer orders.”

Despite the slowdown, Bougainvillea co-owners Jeff Chauvin and David Hinson remain optimistic as they look for signs of stability. “Some retailers have told us that customer traffic is slightly up. We also noticed that some regions are performing better than others,” Chauvin said. “We remain hopeful that the second half of this year will show some improvement.”

Nolan said her staff is pulling together and wearing a more hats this season, following a year that began with “astounding growth” but ended quite differently. “We finished down slightly in 2008 but have still maintained being a debt-free company.” Artistry in Silk is also showing in a new space in High Point this month, in the new Villas at Showplace. “We are very proud of our Natural Chic line of table tops, wall planters, and mantel pieces and are expanding our economic line of lower price points,” Nolan said. “And there will be more to come in the fall.”

The economy isn't the only thing presenting a challenge these days, Nolan added, noting the slowdown of production in China, and the effect of materials price increases. “In these challenging economic times, we have made a decision not to raise our prices. Because we have kept costs down, we can afford to implement this.” She's also seen more freight damage over the past 18 months, making it necessary to “find new sources and be very selective in our purchases so we can maintain our high standards.”

Despite the challenges, and like Artistry in Silk, Brewton, Ala.-based NDI is also bringing new product to High Point, including samples from the company's new comprehensive 350-page catalog. Kelly Billingsley, NDI's vice president of sales and marketing, said technology advancements in the construction of floral and botanical components has enhanced the client's ability to “substitute faux for real and be very pleased with the end result.”

“(The economy) has challenged us as a company to look at all aspects of our operations to ensure we are as efficient as possible at providing the finest floral and botanical reproductions available to the trade,” she said. “This self-evaluation has brought about many good changes for NDI, the most obvious being our enhanced emphasis on quality customer service.”

Quality and customer service also remain top priorities at New Growth, Glenn said. “We follow color, new variety and cut-flower trends from the fresh flower market in making decisions about our new products and designs. Our family has been in the fresh flower business since '48, so that comes naturally.

“All assembly is done right here, from our unique components, so we can respond to a customer's needs, large or small, quickly. Even custom orders can be turned around quickly. And, we ship from North Carolina. Our shipping time, especially to areas east of the Mississippi, is excellent.” Product wise, Glenn said orchids and trees continue to be strong for the company, but a broader offering of mixed arrangements has been well received.

At NDI, Billingsley said midsize centerpiece arrangements are a client favorite due to the versatility they offer for placement options. “Our designers are constantly incorporating new updated components into their designs to ensure we are offering the best quality designs.”

Bougainvillea's niche is in all-natural materials and preserved flowers. “Reds, yellows and neutrals remain strong,” Chauvin said. “Occasionally, permanent botanicals follow the same color trend as those popular colors for the year. We find that our customers prefer to use colors that look the most natural in the flowers that we offer. Because we make all of our permanent botanicals in Atlanta, we have given our customers flexibility to make as many changes to customize the design.”

Artistry in Silk remains focused on bold reds and golds. “Our Tuscan florals have been very successful,” Nolan said. “We give the total look from our florals to containers to the extra elements of berries, fronds, assorted greens and our dried pods. We put a lot of thought and pride into our designs. They are a good value for the dollar.”

Looking ahead, Billingsley said NDI expects the permanent botanicals category of home accessories to stay strong. “Permanent florals and botanicals are an effective, inexpensive means to accessorize any space – and in this environment consumers are looking for creative ways to do just that.”

“Permanent botanicals are an economical way to pop a store with color and to revitalize the selling floor,” Nolan said. “They are also an add-on sale. They can be used as a pom-pom for the customer buying a full room of furniture.”

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