"We must plan strategically as the climate continues to change and more energy and natural resources will be needed to supply food and housing for a growing global population"
As featured friend of the mother's month of may, we spoke with Cynthia Hanauer, founder of Grand Central Flower and 4th generation florist with family lineage beginning in 1875. She has 40+ successful years in the floral business including retail and supply chain operations.
Florverde® Sustainable Flowers: We've heard a lot about you. What can you tell us about how your family began in the flower business in the late 19th century?
Cynthia: My maternal ancestors came over from Germany in 1875, which ultimately became the largest group of immigrants in the history of the United States; 8 Million Germans arrived into the United States in the 19th century. In those times, the trip from Germany to the United States took 6 months, so the commitment was great; one in five babies died in transit due to malnutrition and disease.
The favored German settlement area in the 19th century was the Midwestern United States, and by 1900, 40% of the largest US Midwestern cities were German. Likewise, my ancestors settled in the Midwest. Most of the German immigrants at that time were established farmers and craftsman, where half settled in the cities and half settled on farms. With them, they brought many new skills to the United States: agriculture, shoe-making, tailoring, glass-making, mechanical engineering, and of course, our first beer empires in the United States: Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz!
My ancestors were combined farmers and craftsmen, and began growing flowers and crafting them into sellable products. During the Spring/Summer they grew flowers outside, and during the Fall/Winter they grew flowers in a coal-heated barn which had its roof removed and replaced with old glass windows. From the flowers they grew, they would create small bundles, called nosegays in those times, and take them to market on horse and buggy into nearby towns. This was the very beginning of my ancestry in the flower business, and one which I honor every day.
FSF®: How different is the growing process now? Do you consider it safer for the environment?
Cynthia: Today, 140 years later, the growing process is done on a much larger and global scale, with many more advanced technologies. I’ve seen the generations of my ancestors in the flower business evolve in the same way that many other industries evolved with new methods and technologies. My Grandparents rejoiced with the purchase of their first crank adding machine, which was cutting edge at that time. But they still used whitewashed glass greenhouses to grow, and coal to heat their greenhouse and retail storefront. At that time, in the 1930’s, there were no chemicals used in the greenhouse; my Grandparents were growing solely for their own retail florist businesses. Today, flowers are grown from international farms for mass retail selling and I have great confidence in the protocols and standards that have been put in place by many growers and many dedicated organizations such as Florverde.
FSF®: With more than 40 successful years in the flower business, we all know things are going faster than ever nowadays. How do you see the flower industry in the next 5 years?
Cynthia: I have first-hand experience in seeing how an industry can grow, from both the supply chain and retail environment. History in our business has been built brick by brick, where success comes by carrying the canoe rather than riding in a jet as a first-class passenger. The most successful people in our business have done the mentally and physically hard work to get there. In the next five years, we should expect new and greater retail and supply chain technologies, and at the same time, we must plan strategically as the climate continues to change and more energy and natural resources will be needed to supply food and housing for a growing global population.
FSF®: According to your family traditions, what were your first steps into the floral business?
Cynthia: The legacy I ‘ve inherited is obvious a deep knowledge of the floral industry from its birth in the United States; however, I believe the most important lessons came from a deeply-seeded German work ethic, leadership and personal discipline. These traits are woven within every generation of my family, and are also highly-visible within everyone who has been successful in the floral industry. My grandparents opened their first florist and greenhouse business in 1934, during the depths of the Great Depression when ½ of the nation’s banks had failed and 25% of the population was unemployed. From personal experience, I watched and learned as they carved out a very successful floral and greenhouse business over the next 45 years that began from the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western industrialized world.
I started spending time in my Grandparent’s flower shop/greenhouse as a child in the 1960’s, working along-side both of them. My Grandfather managed the greenhouse, while my Grandmother managed the retail florist shop. I can remember the beautiful smell of the greenhouse, watering and potting plants in the greenhouse, standing up on a step-stool to make arrangements on the work-counter, sweeping floors, cleaning shelves and the excitement and satisfaction I felt each time a customer transaction took place.
In 1974, at my father’s encouragement, I took an evening job at Kroger as a cashier at $3.05 per hour. This was before flower shops, pharmacies, delis, bakeries, seafood and other specialty departments were found in a supermarket. I continued my work in my Grandparent’s florist business at every opportunity, attended school and as the mass market flower business was initiated in the supermarket channel a few years later, I experienced the introduction and growth of this channel hands-on over the next 40 years. My final role at Kroger was managing the floral and plant procurement for all 2400 stores, at the time. Thereafter, I took on strategic roles to broaden my experience in retail operations, transportation, logistics, technology and ecommerce, which were state-of-the-art developments at that time.
Today, I still find my greatest passion is in the new growth areas of the floral business and developing technologies and protocols to create greater efficiencies in the process from seed to consumer. I am raising investment capital for a new platform in this area, which will launch in early Fall, 2014. I also enjoy serving on important industry trade organizations and conducting training and educational seminars. My next seminar is scheduled for June 10th at the International Floriculture Expo and is titled, “The Communication Conundrum”, where we’ll explore new concepts and communication methods to educate and improve our connection with the end floral consumer.
FSF®: What does Mother's Day mean to you and yours? how do you celebrated it?
Cynthia: As everyone else does in the plant/flower business, our families have always celebrated our own holidays well after the actual date. This is normal for us, and historically it’s always been that way. From a business standpoint, we need to make sure that our suppliers and customers all over the globe are sufficiently supported to maximize the holiday, even if that means that our personal family holidays are celebrated afterwards.
From a personal standpoint, Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate my own Mother, who gave me riches that money can’t buy, music that forever fills my voice, and a solace which no words can describe... where life began and love never ends.