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Orchid Import Business

Our Flower Business began in 1999 with one person importing a few hundred flowers each week, going to the local airport (Washington, Dulles), doing all the steps for importation (including agriculture inspection) and delivering the flowers, one bunch at a time to local florist shops.  It took more than two years to get beyond this one-person-doing-everything stage.

I began working in this business for about an hour or two each week, preparing invoices and writing proposal letters to potential customers – without pay, to help a friend.  After more than a year of this, I told my future sister-in-law that I would help her full time when she reached $10,000 per month in sales.  That happened, coincidentally, when I was ready to leave my management position with a construction company.

Custom made US flag decoration for July 4 celebration in Bangkok, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce

After getting started in the flower business – something I knew NOTHING about – I spent several years learning about the market environment – customers and vendors – and the product.  At that time, there was almost no publicly available knowledge about how to improve the quality (and extend shelf life) of Thai orchids.

Our first market was the Washington, DC area – our home territory.  Within a few years, our sales grew from $1,000 per week to more than $10,000 per week.  We gained new customers because we provided better customer service, better quality product and a wider variety of product than other importers.  We frequently expanded our product line to accommodate customer requests.  At our peak, we held around 10% of the highly fragmented market of Thai orchid importers.  (We were the largest – the ONLY importer able to import regularly to more than one airport).  We also had the highest per item price in the market.

When we started, most Thai exporters offered only 3 flower colors.  At the request of customers, we expanded into a color and variety selection that eventually exceeded 60 options.  Also, most Thai exporters required that customers buy minimum quantities, with boxes filled with only one type of flower – often with 400 or 500 as the minimum.  Our minimum was one box of 80, and a minimum for each color of 10 stems – we packed a variety of colors in each box.  We also added varieties of orchids which were uncommon – and could be sold at a higher price.  This added extra work for our processing factory, something which other Thai importers and exporters did not want to do.

Our Virginia office staff in 2005

Beginning with once a week import shipments into Washington, Dulles, we eventually expanded into regular shipments of twice each week into New York (JFK), Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles (LAX).  We typically had 2 or 3 shipments per day, for an average of around 2 tons of flowers daily.

Over the years, we also imported to Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas and Atlanta.  But, at these locations, the airport facilities, US Customs offices and distribution networks were not suitable for the development of a successful operation.  We relied on FedEx and long haul trucks from Miami to distribute across the country.

Some of our Trade Show appearances

Beyond just selling cut flower orchids, we expanded into related products.  Florists use many agricultural products that the average person may not be aware of.  We were asked to import dracaena, commonly known as Lucky Bamboo.  We were VERY successful with this, until the import rules changed and several of our thousand dollar shipments were refused entry and destroyed.  That ended the life of a worthwhile product line.

One of the best product lines we had was “Hawaiian” Leis – necklaces made by stringing separate blooms on strings – a labor intensive operation.  But again, our “competition” refused to respond to customer requests, essentially leaving us with no competition.  Other Thai exporters only produced two colors of leis – purple and white.  We were willing to produce ANY color, mixed colors, different styles – and we were willing to pack boxes of mixed colors – some white, some purple, some pink.  This provided us with opportunities for growth that “competitors” could not touch.

Once customers realized the quality of our leis, they wanted to string them together into garlands.  So, we told them we could to that for them, too.  We made garlands of any length, priced by the foot.  We created them as requested, sometimes with mixed colors or beads added.  This became so popular that our products were frequently featured in floral design magazines.

More of our Trade Show appearances

As our reputation for top quality product and top level service grew, we were invited into some unique situations.  At one  point, our flowers were on a standing order into the White House (yes, THE White House, in Washington, DC).

There were a number of event planners who frequently worked for celebrities in Holywood, Chicago and New York.  Our flowers were used at their personal events (normally, we never knew exactly for WHO or for WHAT).  But, one that we DID find out about was the wedding of Beyonce and Jay Z in New York City.

It was a very small project for us.  We didn’t even notice the order, because it was so small.  But, paparazzi saw our boxes in front of the New York condo and tracked us down.  It was a media frenzy.  Our name was news around the world – for doing almost nothing – and most of what they wrote about us was completely fabricated.

We were also invited onto several television specials – at least our flowers were.  One of the most interesting was “Destination Weddings.”  The event was held in Cayman Islands.  Our part of the show was fairly small – a few orchid garlands (our specialty).  The producer of the show was trying to create “drama” – expecting that there would be some difficulty in delivering the product from Thailand, to Miami and then to Cayman Islands.  But, for us, the product order was simple – we had done many orders which were larger and more complicated.  Our success rate on shipments from Thailand was better than 99%.  So, we received the product in our Miami office (as scheduled) a few days before it was needed in Grand Cayman, but the producers left the bride thinking that it may not arrive on time for the wedding.  (Remember that the next time you watch a “Reality” show).

Two other television programs that we participated in were Snoop Dogg’s “wedding” on his “Fatherhood” program and Niecy Nash’s Wedding Show.

In 2010, a daughter of the Sheik of United Arab Emirates was getting married.  An event planner who was familiar with our product contacted us to provide orchids for the event.  The overall floral contract was estimated to be $1,000,000 USD.  Our part was approximately $30,000.

The Society of American Florists holds an annual Congressional Lobbying event.  Floral industry leaders from around the country visit the US Congress in Washington, DC to talk with legislators about the floral industry in the US.  Included in these pictures are Virginia Congressmen Tom Davis and Virgil Goode, University of Florida Agriculture Professor Terril Nell and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Because of the reputation we had developed for filling orders accurately and completely, and for the quality of the product, we became the “go to” source for ANY type or orchid.  We imported orchids from South Africa, New Zealand, Holland and Taiwan.  But, because we did not control the production end, none of these product lines became as successful as our orchids from Thailand.

Pictures from Taiwan

The global financial crisis of 2009 hit our customers hard, causing an immediate 30% drop in our sales.  After 10 years of struggling against growing obstructions, the 2020 global shutdown finally destroyed our business.  The businesses of our customers was decimated because our product was used in funerals, weddings, restaurants, hotels and special events – all of which were severely restricted during 2020.  Also, the key link in our logistics chain was passenger airlines.  International flights were also limited in 2020.