Monday, March 26, 2012

An Occasion to Remember

A few weeks ago, I visited with Doug Burroughs, the owner and operator of Flower Gallery Florist in the Manaport Shopping Center in Manassas.*  Doug was presiding over a celebration of the shop's 37 years in the business, and I found him standing at the flower preparation counter he seems to frequent when I am there, greeting customers, answering questions and arranging flowers. 

Doug's shop was packed with not only beautiful flowers but also furnishings for the home and apparel, cards, wine, chocolate and some other things I might have missed. Crowds of shoppers, mostly women, surged through the aisles of the store, which, with its banks of exotic flowers of all shades and colors, looked like a locale in which Stanley might have been comfortable finding Livingston. The shoppers to a person looked like they were having a great time.

The shoppers seem to unconsciously work together with Doug and the staff and the setting to create a kind of culture of the Flower Gallery, one of elegance and service, warmth and caring that accounts for the success of the shop. Doug noted that his staff was "everything" in creating the culture. Many of them have been with Doug and the Flower Gallery for decades, and they are friendly and knowledgeable. 

I can testify personally that when an occasion calls for flowers and I visit the shop, I don't get twenty feet into the store where (much like Rice's Hardware) I am given a friendly greeting by a FG employee and asked how I can be helped. And they mean it. The smiling ladies help me make a selection (because I have a typical guy's knowledge of flowers, color and flower arrangement which is to say little to non-existent), bring it to me or write up an order for delivery, efficiently handle the checkout process, hand me my receipt, thank me for my business and invite me to return again soon. 

I don't go to Flower Gallery as often as Becky does,but I am always warmly greeted when I visit. 

Doug loves his customers, noting that he always gets to talk to interesting people. "I am a lucky man because I am able to get up every morning and come in to do what I love to do. I care about the people who come to this store and they care about me. It has been a great 37 years! I have been privileged to work with friends and work for friends whom I care about and who care about me in a small town atmosphere. I look forward to another 37 years!" Let's hope Doug gets what he wants and deserves with that!

A bonus Biscuit City read with more about Doug and the Flower Gallery and the flower business adapted from an earlier article:

A while back, I read a book called Aerotropolis by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. Karsada and Lindsay see large international airports as the nucleus and impetus for new urban centers, like the Route 28 corridor near Dulles, just as rivers and railroad junctions created urban areas before. They’re a little too overenthusiastic about living near an airport for my taste, but they do make a good case that the (relative) economy of big jets, the hub-and-spoke system of air routes and the rise of fast delivery and just-in-time supply have all led to a new economy.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book was the one on the Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands located near the Schipol Airport.  The auction is housed in the third largest building in terms of floor space in the world, with 10.6 million square feet under roof. 48 million plants and flowers  pass through each day from Europe and Africa with a value of 16 million Euros.  Each year, FloraHolland (which runs the auction) sells over 12 billion flowers.  Since it’s an auction, buyers have to bid quickly on lots of flowers. The auction runs from 6 AM until 11 AM and most of the flowers are put on jets to be flown all over the world.

The book didn’t say much about how the flowers got to floral shops once they were placed aboard the aircraft, so I talked to the go-to florist in Manassas, Doug Burroughs of the Flower Gallery.  Doug, who with this wife acquired the shop when he was 19 years old, has been doing business for thirty seven years. He started out delivering flowers for a florist in Fairfax during high school and learned the business in that shop.  The Flower Gallery is known for the quality of its merchandise and service.

Doug told me that he could have two buyers at the auction in Amsterdam and at similar auctions in Colombia and Ecuador, although a 15% tax has been slapped on imports from South America because of a trade bill that didn’t pass. He orders his  flowers from three distributors who take care of  buying at auction.  Roses come from Israel and Kenya; lilies are available from Ecuador and chrysanthemums from Columbia, among other flowers.  From being cut to being stored in the Flower gallery refrigerator takes four or five days. The flowers and plants come through Miami or New York—Doug says Miami is preferable because there is not a problem with cold weather.  They then proceed by refrigerated truck to Manassas.

Doug also uses domestic “niche growers” who provide snapdragons from Florida and tulips from a greenhouse in Trenton New Jersey ten months out of the year.  The blossoms are placed in water and arrive for sale within 48 hours.

Doug noted that the variety of flowers available to him has increased over the years, to the point that carnations which once came in two colors are now available in 27 shades of purple alone.
Flowers from his shop last 7 to 10 days and even longer. He credits the longevity of the blooms to the handling of flowers all along the line.  The key, he says, is cleanliness. Bacteria are the enemy of flowers, so containers, tools and storage spaces are kept immaculately clean. In fact, Doug advises that it’s not a good idea to place flowers in refrigerators with food since gases given off  by food can harm the blooms.

Doug Burroughs’ Flower Gallery received the Tele Flora Award this year as the number 46 shop out of 20,000.  He credits his loyal customers and staff for his continued success.  “Flowers are incredibly important to people,” he said. “I tell my drivers (not to be morbid about it) that the bouquets they deliver could be the last arrangement that person receives.  We never know, so we’re careful with all of them.”

I know I am looking at cut flowers with a new-found respect.  Although I have a brown thumb, I admire anyone who can bring such beauty to all of us, whether they grow them locally or are responsible like Doug Burroughs for making sure they travel thousands of miles and arrive in good shape to brighten our lives, comfort us or remind us of the natural world. 

* The shopping center was so named because it was the site of the original Manassas Airport opened about 1935, and operated by the Town of Manassas from 1945 until 1964 when flight operations were moved to their present location south of the City of Manassas. No kidding. For more information, visit

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