Floral Scams

Article From Yahoo Finance

Avoiding floral scams and flowery disappointments
Friday February 4, 6:00 am ET
Amy Fleitas

What's worse than forgetting to buy flowers for your love on Valentine's Day? How about ordering long-stem red roses and yellow carnations arrive? Or, getting charged more than the agreed cost? Or, worse yet, paying for flowers that never arrive.

Unfortunately, these things can happen -- especially if you order your bouquet of love from a florist you've never worked with before. Even if you find the florist listed in your neighborhood phone directory, you could be in for a nasty surprise. Sometimes a company will advertise themselves as a local florist when in reality they're simply a telemarketing firm hawking flowers. The Federal Trade Commission has a name for these unscrupulous florists -- petal pushers.

Weeds in the garden

According to the FTC, these " petal pushers" place bogus listings in local phone directories. When you call the local number listed or given to you by the operator, you're unknowingly forwarded to an out-of-town telemarketing operation.

The telemarketer takes your order and credit card information, and then forwards your order to an area florist. The telemarketer pockets a processing fee and usually a percentage of the total order. You don't know you've been scammed until you learn you've been charged more than you planned, the flowers aren't delivered as ordered or worse -- not delivered at all.

"They're not florists, they're a bank of phones," says Jennifer Sparks, vice president of marketing for the Society of American Florists. "The best way to avoid them is to know where (the florist) is specifically located," she suggests.

What's a romantic to do?

The FTC recommends asking family, friends and co-workers for referrals to a florist they've used. If you find a florist from the phone book, look for a listing that includes a local address. When you call, ask for directions to the store -- if they hesitate or refuse, hang up.

Visiting the shop is another way to determine if your florist is reputable. Check for the quality of the flowers in the shop and the overall appearance of the business.

"A good rule of thumb is to look for Holland-type flowers like lily, tulip or orchid," says Sam Conte, owner of Le Jardin Florist and Interiors in North Palm Beach, Fla.

He says all good florists will be concerned with the appearance of their store. "It's the best way to determine what sort of a florist you're dealing with," says Conte. "Is it neat, presentable?"

You can also ask for a guarantee.

"Professional florists will have a satisfaction guarantee," says Sparks. "You want to buy from someone that will be there the next day. If you buy flowers from a roadside truck and the flowers are dead the next day, chances are the truck will be long gone."

A big loss considering that the average cost of a dozen long-stemmed roses is $50 to $90 and should last up to a week. Conte, whose store is in its 14th year of business, says you should ask how long a florist has been at its present location. "You don't stay in business as long as we have if you don't stand behind your products," says Conte. "Word of mouth can kill you faster than anything else." Kris Kozak, a floral consultant for Alexandria Floral Company in Alexandria, Va., says you should ask if the florist is part of FTD or Teleflora. "They guarantee everything," says Kozak. "If you have a problem with the order, talk to the florist first and if that doesn't work you can always call FTD or Teleflora." Online olfactory satisfaction If you're buying flowers online, you're most likely ordering from one of three types of people -- a local florist, a wire service or the grower. Which of the three it is will make a big difference.

The wire service will forward your order to a local florist and may charge you a fee or percentage of the total. A grower may not have training in professional flower arrangement. While that may seem like a simple task, Sparks says it is an art form -- and an important one at that. "Presentation is often just as important as the flowers themselves," says Sparks. "People want to wow their sweethearts. If you are ordering from a grower instead of a florist, the flowers are not going to be arranged -- they might come in a vase but they are not arranged. If presentation is important, order through a florist."

Sending scents

Ordering flowers to go to another city? Your local florist can still help. Reputable florists have directories of florists they trust in other cities. Your local florist can take your order and ensure it is filled by a quality florist with a satisfaction guarantee.

Did you say $50 to $90 for flowers?

Yes. On Valentine's Day, a dozen roses in a vase is very pricey -- even without the delivery charge. But if you want to spend less, you have alternatives. Tell your florist your budget and ask for suggestions. Be sure to ask for alternatives in case the flowers you choose are not available. "A good florist will work with your budget," says Sparks. "Get half a dozen roses or a single stem. And mixed cut flowers come in all different colors, sizes and budgets." But is straying from the normal dozen roses acceptable? Conte says absolutely. In fact, half of his Valentine's Day orders are for mixed cut flowers. He recommends a mix of flowers called a French bouquet. "You get a beautiful variety of flowers instead of 12 boring flowers all the same color," says Conte. If you must have a dozen roses, shop around for a lower price, but be warned -- a lower price may mean lower quality. "A rose is not a rose is not a rose," says Sparks. "If you are paying a higher price, usually you are paying for a higher quality of rose -- longer stem, higher petal count and more fragrant." Conte adds that while it costs more to buy from a reputable florist, the flowers will last longer because they have been properly cared for. Care is important since more than half the cut flowers sold in the United States on Valentine's Day have to travel all the way from South America. "These flowers were cut at least 10 days ago," says Conte. "By the time they reach Miami, they're basically dehydrated. We condition them and make them ready so they last longer." Another option for controlling costs is to pick up the flowers from the florist and deliver them yourself.

Don't be surprised -- have it itemized

Remember that delivery charges may pack a wallop onto the final cost -- so ask for all charges and fees before agreeing to the purchase. To avoid any other unpleasant surprises, Sparks says you must tell your florist not only what you want but what you don't want. "Florists are experts in a lot of areas, but they are not mind readers," says Sparks. If you're unhappy with the arrangement, let your florist know. "If someone has a legitimate complaint -- and we rarely get complaints -- we will make it good," says Conte. The FTC recommends paying by credit card. If the flowers are never delivered, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company.

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