Meet a flower wholesaler and auctioneer.
Nick Christensen—Christensen’s Flower Auction
The flower auction plays an important role in the cut flower industry by helping to turn flowers being produced on the farm into cash. Prior to the flower auction starting in 1995, an average invoice would get paid in 60 days. After the flower auction established itself, we saw a dramatic change in credit terms in the flower industry. Although buyers had to pay cash to buy on the flower auction, the trade-off was that they had the opportunity to buy what they wanted, at the price they were willing to pay. The growers enjoyed the immediate payments, and started leveraging their other customers to also pay sooner or else the product would go to auction. The flower auction is the reason that the flower industry today enjoys much shorter payment terms.
My business fits within the centre of the flower supply chain, in that it is one of the links between the growers of the product and the retailers who sell it. There are however some differences between an auction and other flower wholesalers. While a traditional flower wholesaler marks up the product before selling on to the buyer, the price for the flower auction buyer is the clock price that they bid at with the addition of an auction service fee. Traditional wholesaling often involves relationships between the seller and the buyer, specific deals and regular ongoing orders. In contrast, at the auction, each buyer is equal and each decides how much they are willing to pay for a flower. The auction can save money for growers, as they no longer need to worry about selling and paying for tasks such as running a sales team, ringing customers, generating invoices, maintaining accounts and chasing debts.
I am fourth-generation in the flower industry. After school, I studied hotel management which gave me excellent grounding in customer service. After a few years I got tired of shift work and started working in the flower wholesale business which was established by my parents, who were immigrants from Denmark. After working in the family business for over 12 years, I left to work in the finance industry for a time, then returned to the family business and that is where I am today.
I see the flower business as an emerging industry, with plenty of opportunity for further growth. I feel that there is the potential for more regulation in the industry to encourage people to meet a certain standard, leading to the improvement of technical proficiency throughout the supply chain. The current nature of the industry can make for a very adversarial business realm, requiring you to keep your wits about you. There are diverse and strong personalities in the flower business, ranging from tough wholesalers to creative types in retail. These personalities wouldn’t normally mix regularly in life! But in the flower business, they can all be dealing with each other every day, which can sometimes make for an exhausting business arena, but also a uniquely colourful one!
The busiest day in the flower auction is a Sunday. At 6 a.m. we start receiving flowers from transporters and growers. We set these up, enter them onto the auction list, photograph them and grade them, and make comments regarding their quality. We take a stock video of the product and upload it onto the internet. The flower brokers arrive at around 4 p.m. to go through the stock and to get their orders finalised with their customers. The auction starts at 7 p.m., or 6 p.m. on Sundays, and runs until about 10 p.m. Our order pull and pack teams start at 9 p.m. and the first courier run departs at around 2.30 a.m. the next morning, delivering the flowers fresh in-store. We continue packing until about 6 a.m. when the first pick-up customers come in and start getting their orders. It’s a 24-hour loop for four days and a 12-hour loop for the other two. Saturday is the only day that the business is closed.
To be a flower agent or wholesaler, you need to be good at maths, always alert (as the flowers never sleep!) and physically fit, as this is a demanding job with irregular hours. My advice to those thinking of becoming a flower wholesaler or auctioneer would be to try working for one in the short term. If the lifestyle suits you, spend at least two to four years working in a couple of wholesale or auction companies before making a decision to open your own business.
The flower business is a rewarding one. It can be high on stress and emotion and can be a tough trading environment with challenging working hours, but it can also provide you with an income and lifestyle that may be just what you are looking for. By working at the flower auction, I have the privilege of being an agent for the growers. They put their trust in me to present their flowers to the market in the best possible way, and that is extremely humbling.