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DL florists warn of online middlemen

Try Googling ‘Florists in Detroit Lakes.’

One of the top websites that will pop up is a place called “Ava’s Flowers.”

The charming little shop that calls itself “local” boasts the best flowers in Becker County.  The website has a Google map pointing to Detroit Lakes, pictures of florists inside of their shop and even local news stories, weather and a list of local hospitals, funeral homes and nursing homes in the area.

“When I saw it I thought, I’ve lived here for years and never heard of this place,” said Val Voigt, who owns Detroit Lakes Floral and Gift in downtown Detroit Lakes.

The reason she hadn’t heard of it is because Ava’s Flowers is actually in New York … a detail that can be found with a little more research online. 

In fact, Ava’s Flowers appears to pop up in cities all over, including Moorhead, Grand Forks, Bemidji, Duluth and many more across the U.S.  Each site is customized to reflect each city.

It’s unclear if the business is truly a bricks and mortar flower shop in New York or if it’s simply a call office.

Either way, people fooled by their website are likely at the losing end of the flower business.

“So people go online and think they’re placing an order with a local florist, but that online company will tack on 20 to 40 percent and then they’ll call us to fill the order,” said Voigt, who gets paid over the phone via credit card. 

Voigt wouldn’t know if it’s Ava’s or any other online set up; she only knows what the order is and who she is supposed to deliver it to.

An online “shop” like Ava’s Flowers inserts itself into the equation, becoming the middle man and making a profit off the consumer.

Voigt says she’s had people call her and wonder why they received a flower delivery from DL Floral and Gift, when they thought they placed the order with someplace else.

“It’s so deceiving,” said Voigt, who says she recently had a lady and her mother call in very upset.

 “It was so sad,” said Voigt. “An order came in  for a small arrangement that was 12 inches tall with a few daisies.”  The person over the phone paid Voigt’s price of roughly $30 for the order, but what the ladies told her had her shaking her head.

“They told me they had paid $89 for this arrangement, but by the time we received it, it was a tiny, small order,” said Voigt, who says the online company pocketed the rest. 

Detroit Lakes Newspapers contacted Ava’s Flower Shop via the phone number on the website, and although a sales representative on the line named Omar did admit to being located in New York when questioned, he also claimed local florists in Detroit Lakes are the ones that would call their office when they were too busy to handle the calls.

“Because they (local florists) don’t deal with the regular customers — they only deal with us,” he claimed, but failed to explain why a local florist would be too busy to handle the call but not too busy to arrange the flowers and deliver them.

When asked if they tack on at least 20 percent to the local shop’s price, he said no.

“That’s not true —people are saving a lot of money when they go through us because these little local flower shops don’t do much business, so they have to mark their prices way up to make a profit,” said Omar. “But we do a lot of business and are able to get the flowers at wholesale prices, so we can sell them for a lot cheaper.”

That statement contradicted what Omar first said – that the flowers were actually from the local shops.

When challenged on that contradiction, he then said they get some of their flowers from local farms freshly cut.

The reporter for this story then reminded Omar that Detroit Lakes was in Minnesota and questioned him on what farms they came from.

He then claimed to not know where the farms were located, later saying he was not allowed to tell customers where their flowers came from.

According to Ava’s Flower’s website, there is a $20.94 handling fee tacked on to an order of 18 roses – which goes up to $34.89 if another small arrangement is added on, as well as an extra $10 for a delivery made before 2 p.m. local time.

Those fees don’t even yet include the cost of the actual flowers.

Ava’s Flowers is not a member of the Better Business Bureau and currently has no rating with the organization.

Voigt says although she believes Ava’s Flowers is a new site to pop up, she says similar middle man businesses have done the same thing.  “And they always seem to start with ‘A’” said Voigt.

 Although many would consider Ava’s sites to be misleading in how they “localize” them, there are several companies that truly work in conjunction with local flower shops: FTD, Telaflora and BloomNet all offer what is called “wire services” to local florists who pay a monthly service to fill orders for these companies. 

“So somebody in California who wants to buy flowers for their mom here in Detroit Lakes can go online to one of these companies, place their order and then they go to us,” said Genie Ronning, manager of the Central Market floral department in Detroit Lakes.  It’s an easy online tool for ordering flowers for people everywhere, but Ronning warns that even these reputable companies want their slice of the pie.

“People are so much better off just calling us directly because then they don’t have to pay an additional fee,” said Ronning.

In doing a price comparison, buying 15 stems of the spring tulip bouquet in a vase from Central Market including delivery is just over $40.

To get the same exact arrangement through FTD (which will place the order with the local flower shops anyway) will cost a total of $76.98.  Same flowers; much different prices.

“I understand it’s easy to go online and look and click and order, but they’re fooling people,” said Ronning, “because customers have to pay a big fee and so do we. The flowers are coming from us anyway, why not just call us directly and get a much better value?”

Voigt says because there are so many of these online companies and so many horror stories that come with them, consumers should take the time to call the number on the website and ask them where they are located.

“Ask them to give you a specific location to their shop that you should be able to walk into,” warned Voigt, “and if they can’t tell you that, just don’t do it.”