Mahwah-based Avas Flowers sold enough roses in 2014 to present one to each first-time mother in the U.S. since 2012, says Matthew Neuenhaus, founder and president.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, that's about 3.2 million roses.
What a way to pitch a growing business just in time for Mother's Day.
Neuenhaus — a U.S. Navy veteran with a background in finance — found himself working in brick-and-mortar retail floristry in New City, New York, since 2000, using contacts within the Hollywood scene to provide high-end flower and plant designs for major social events and luxurious weddings.
With the arrival of his children, however, Neuenhaus switched gears in 2008 to create an innovative business model that would achieve bigger growth and more stability in the floral industry and compete in the e-commerce space.
Instead of purchasing through wholesalers — as traditional retail florists normally do — Avas Flowers would work directly with growers to provide customers nationwide with a better product at a lower price.
Simply by removing the middle man, Avas Flowers has been able to compete with other more established online players including 1-800-Flowers and FTD.com.
Neuenhaus said that for large companies, such massive overhead may translate into both higher prices and longer supply chain.
“The majority of shareholders at those companies never see the flowers,” Neuenhaus said. “And on the East Coast, almost all flowers come from South America — they enter Miami, sit there for up to a week, and are then trucked up the East Coast to wholesalers who hold them for up to a week before selling them to brick-and-mortar florists — who may hold them for as long as another week.”
The fact that Avas Flowers can secure its flowers and plants within two days has made it a multimillion-dollar company, with a fulfillment center and floral designers in Mahwah, additional office space in Hackensack and support facilities in South America and Asia.
“We hand-pick and score our growers, so we have a lot more control over the process and product,” Neuenhaus said, “And our inventory turns over within two days, so our less expensive product is a lot fresher.”
That's also because Avas Flowers can either ship items directly or will work with florists in local markets to fulfill same-day orders.
“There's always ways to make a process better and more efficient,” Neuenhaus said, “And we're not so large that we can't keep in touch with everything.”
As a seasonal business, Avas Flowers employs anywhere from 100 to 250 New Jersey residents and nearly 500 people globally.
“When you have a fast-growing company, there is lots of opportunity,” Neuenhaus said. “People have come in for their first job and now, we're able to give them incredible advancements.”
While the floral industry itself has been static, Avas Flowers has been experiencing tremendous growth for the past six years, doubling its business annually.
In fact, the company is currently looking at additional facilities in the Midwest and Southeast.
“We're ideally situated to provide consumers with excellent value — as long as that's our primary focus, we'll do just fine,” Neuenhaus said.
But most of the time, it's not just about business.
“Flowers are not like milk — they're not a daily routine,” Neuenhaus said. “There's emotional attachment with occasions such as anniversaries or funerals — we have a connection to people and we do our best during these highly emotional times to provide them with ways to make those situations better.”
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COMPANY: Avas Flowers
EMPLOYEES: 100 to 250 in New Jersey; about 500 globally.
ONE MORE THING: Avas Flowers prides itself on being philanthropic; not only has it launched its own program, “Sunshine for the Soul,” to donate flowers to nonprofit fundraising events, but it also works with “Operation Homefront” to provide flowers for baby showers, funerals, homecomings, memorial ceremonies and other events for active duty members and veterans.
Matthew Neuenhaus knows firsthand how difficult it is to be a business owner in New Jersey.
“To operate customer service and sales personnel in this competitive environment is difficult due to the high cost of living,” he said. “Employees have to be very productive in order to pay them at a rate that is suitable and competitive in the market. However, the quality of employees here is better than in other areas of the country.”
He also applauded Gov. Chris Christie for cutting back on the state’s bureaucracy to make New Jersey much more business-friendly than previously.
The fact that a consumer can walk to their local grocery store and immediately pick up fresh flowers doesn’t faze Matthew Neuenhaus at all.
“Flowers are widely available now,” Neuenhaus said. “Times have changed, and our product is offered more widely. And I think that’s a good thing.”
But only when one’s business revolves around e-commerce.
According to IBISWorld, the $6 billion U.S. floral industry’s considerable consolidation since the 2008 economic recession has continued into this year, with a reduction of growth by 1.2 percent.
“Retail florists need to sell their product at higher prices now,” Neuenhaus said.