By Brianna Kudisch | Echo
Don Howlett is one prepared florist.
Armed with a brand new copy of The Farmer's Almanac, a color-coded delivery sticker system and a folder thick with past order information since 2002, Howlett knows the best way to tackle Valentine's Day is to be equipped with the right tools.
As the owner of Kelly's The Florist shop in Marion, Indiana for the past 20 years, Howlett has been through quite a few Valentine's Days and knows the chaos it brings each year. The amiable, bespectacled florist organizes everything for the shop's busiest holiday, totaling over 1,600 orders between Feb. 8 and 14 for this year.
From assigning each delivery driver to a specific area (Upland is one location, for example) to tracking orders to ensure they are delivered to the correct recipient, Howlett plans and prepares to make sure Valentine's Day in Grant County goes as smoothly as possible.
"It's overwhelming because everything needs to go out in a day," Howlett said. "We try to get things out a day ahead of time if we can, too; we talk to customers and say 'Would you care if they went out the day before?'"
But unforeseen circumstances-mostly weather and traffic-sometimes prevent orders from being delivered on time. One year, flowers weren't the only item delivered on Valentine's Day. Couples and singles alike also received 14 inches of snow, which created icy and hazardous roads for delivery trucks.
In the case of bad weather (30 degrees and below or especially windy days), plastic bags are secured around each order, ensuring their safety from the elements. This year, the weather was wonderful, according to Howlett. And weather is something Howlett has on his mind months before the red and pink holiday arrives.
"I buy a Farmer's Almanac in the fall to see what the weather will be like for February," Howlett said. "(But) the last couple years, it hasn't been terribly accurate."
Although Howlett can't control the weather, he can control the way he organizes deliveries-through his color-coded system. Businesses are tagged with a green dot, schools get a yellow dot and funeral-related orders have a blue dot. Green, yellow and blue dot items are sent out first, and then residents' flowers are delivered.
If delivery drivers aren't able to find the recipient on Valentine's Day, the drivers will return to the address until they (hopefully) find them. According to Howlett, being the delivery driver is the best position to have at a flower shop because drivers are the ones who see each recipient's expression and response.
"I had one driver who took flowers to a lady (on Valentine's Day), and he gave it to her, and she started to cry," Howlett said. "And the driver goes, 'Well, it made me cry.'"
Those particular flowers, a dozen white roses, were sent from the recipient's children. Her husband regularly sent the same order to his wife, and once he passed away, their adult children carried it on in his place.
Amidst the sentimentality, the shop experiences crazy days. "It's a zoo," Judy Fornshell, an employee of ten years, says about Valentine's Day.
People also occasionally come along with unusual requests. Fornshell recalled one person who asked if the shop could put lottery tickets in their order. She declined.
Extra drivers were brought in on Valentine's Day to help offset the massive amount of deliveries, but the design team, which consists of Howlett and three others, handled the arrangement of all the orders. Along with the drivers and designers, there are two salespeople, and both Howlett's wife and sister-in-law helped with the big day.
"We try to keep it as tight a ship as we can, yet cover everything," he said.
The aftermath of Valentine's Day brings both relief and exhaustion. Howlett reviews everything, from orders to deliveries to drivers. Becky DeLong, who's worked at Kelly's about 10 months, said the day after consisted of mostly cleanup and getting things back in order.
Despite the craziness of Valentine's week, Howlett finds his job as a florist rewarding. From creatively designing each floral arrangement to imagining the reaction each bouquet will create, he views the shop as a form of ministry.
"I don't own this building; I don't own this shop," Howlett said. "God owns it, and I just work here; that's how it works."
Howlett noticed a photo at Hobby Lobby featuring a bird and a boat, with the verse from Proverbs 16 about committing to the Lord whatever you do. The verse now hangs above his desk both as a reminder of what he believes and as an opportunity to share his faith with others.
"Years ago there was a survey done on what makes people feel good," he said. "Flowers were the number one (answer). There's something about a fresh flower that's pretty and blooming and it just lifts your spirit."