For most of 2020, business at Rebecca’s Flowers has come into bloom slower than usual.
Yellowknifers are still buying flowers amid the Covid-19 pandemic but their purchase habits have changed. Like a barometer of the times, flower sales are a measure of the pandemic’s effects on large gatherings.
“We’re not doing any funerals or any weddings, that was a big one for us. Nobody is gathering. But we still have lots of customers ordering for birthdays and for other reasons,” said owner Luthfun “Mitu” Nahar, who has run the Stanton Plaza flower shop for just over two years.
She estimates the slowdown since March has reduced revenues by 30 to 40 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.
One factor dragging down sales is the tightening of supply chains, a problem that has affected most retailers in the pandemic.
“It’s frustrating that I’m not getting the supplies like I used to. My suppliers in Vancouver and Calgary aren’t sending me as much as before. They’re short on flowers,” Nahar said. “So I give discounts if I don’t have what my website says I have. For example, roses are a common flower but this week I only had red. Normally, I would have at least six or seven colours.”
Online sales, which accounted for more than half of her business even before Covid hit, have increased by about 20 per cent.
“Eighty per cent of our business is delivery (now) through online orders. Before, I would get four online orders per day and now it’s up to six,” she said.
However, Nahar hasn’t reaped the same windfall as other businesses in the move to more online sales. Fewer walk-in customers in her store mean fewer peripheral sales.
“When people walk in (to buy flowers) and see lots of chocolate or plants, they buy more products. That’s not happening so I’m losing some sales. Online orders and phone orders cost me more time. It was easier before Covid.”
Her situation also differs from other retailers who shifted partly or completely to online sales while closing their shops because Nahar hasn’t had to shut down. She and her staff of four have consistently come into the shop to water and cut flowers and prepare them for customers. To meet the requisite Covid safety measures, she reduced the hours of her staff instead of laying them off. Two come in for the morning shift and two in the afternoon.
Potential closures in the coming winter months worry her less than the health risks of the fast-expanding second wave in Alberta and other provinces. She has introduced new restrictions in her shop this month, limiting customers inside to two and requiring them to wear face masks.
“I’m panicking now (with) the way Alberta is going,” she said. “I’m worried that some people who come from Alberta and line up at the liquor store are coming into my shop while they’re supposed to be self-isolating. After some people buy some chocolate or flowers they tell me they just flew in from Alberta. I’m really upset by that.”
With the arrival of Christmas season, sales have picked up for Nahar but they’re still below typical levels. She has traditionally been able to earn most of her profits for the year during this season.
“I’m hoping it will get better. Some companies in the communities like in Norman Wells or the Tlicho Government usually order flowers from me for their Christmas parties. The Tlicho Government usually orders thousands of roses for their parties, but not this year,” she said.
Still, Nahar recognizes her shop has made it this far in the pandemic in better shape than some other Yellowknife businesses.
“I can pay my employees and my rent. It could be better but it could be worse,” she said. “I’m still thankful I can run my business.”