Originally created 11/09/99

Florists form cooperative



Twenty-two independent florists have joined forces to reclaim market share in fresh flower sales -- sales that recently have been eroded by big chain operations, grocery stores and mass-market retailers.

The locally owned florists have formed a cooperative marketing association to pool their advertising dollars and formulate a campaign promoting hometown businesses. Their main objective is to encourage consumers to shop locally.

"The local shops that still do traditional floral work are combining and organizing to try to educate the public that we're still here and we're still giving them the service that they look for in a flower shop," said Louise Weathers, spokeswoman for the group and an Augusta florist since 1960.

The campaign primarily is targeting national chains such as Gerald Stevens, the nation's largest floral and gift retailer. Gerald Stevens owns and operates more than 157 retail locations in 19 markets throughout the nation and has online and other floral order-generation businesses. The company recently acquired four local florists, including Anderson's Flowers & Gifts, Martina's, Suzanne's Floral Co. and Country Florist.

"The main reason I joined (the cooperative), honestly, is because several of the shops have been bought out by a corporation that is a nonlocal corporation," said Amelia Pate, owner of Amelia's Buds and Blooms on Washington Road. "I feel like money that is spent in the community needs to stay in the community. People need to know who is locally owned and operated."

The group plans to develop a logo for members to use in advertisements and at store locations to let customers know they are locally owned.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.