Kittelberger Florist & Gifts

Cousins Holly Rund and Matt Horeth

Kittelberger Florist has been serving the Rochester area for over 90 years. Tell us a bit about the history of the business and your family’s connection.

Holly: We’re in our 96th year. We use 1928 as our starting point. Our great-grandfather came here from Germany and was sponsored by the Kittelberger family. He started to work for them — they had a greenhouse and farm business. They didn’t have much family, so when they passed away, he took over the business and developed it into a florist.

He met my great-grandmother in English school. She came here from Germany as well. She came here by boat, and she got so seasick that she couldn’t go back, so she stayed. They got married, and she worked with him at the business. They had three daughters. One of them is our grandmother, who was the only one of the three kids who stayed in the business.

On March 17, 1950, our grandfather came over from Germany as well. He stopped in to see if they had any work for him at the shop, and they did, so he started working the next day. While he was working here, he and my grandmother fell in love and married in 1953. They had five children — four girls and a boy. All of them ended up in the business, so that was generation three. Our generation, there’s six of us that are working here. So right now there are about 10 of us family members who are working in the business. We have a staff of about 50, including us.

We have a retail portion of our business as well, around 20,000 square feet of showroom with all sorts of gift items. It’s a destination for people to come and shop. They like to get a cup of coffee and peruse the store and relax.

What is the importance/benefit of buying from a local flower shop versus a national flower delivery company?

Holly: That’s a good question. The national companies are what we call “order gatherers.” Sometimes they will make it seem like they have a brick-and-mortar store – they’ll advertise that they’re “in the town,” but they’re not. People are always looking for a deal, so they usually offer a percentage off or some sort of promotion. But then they’ll charge fees on top of that. So the person ends up spending just as much, if not more, than if they were to call a local shop.

The importance of calling a local shop is that we pride ourselves on customer service. There are times when someone will call and they will need a funeral arrangement in an hour. We’re on it. We’ll do it if it’s feasible. And we take a lot of pride in our quality.

Matt: A big problem with order gatherers is that they take a percentage from the order. So say you have a $100 order coming from one of those order gatherers. The shop filling the order only gets 72-77% of that order, but they have to fill it to full value. So they don’t make as much money on those orders, whereas the order gatherers take the extra percentage without having to do anything. The shop is the one who has to fill an order and gets undervalued for what they’re paid. If you call the shop, they would get 100% of the order.

Holly: We actually are brick and mortar. We are doing the work, not just paying to advertise to be at the top of the search results.

Where do you source your flowers?

Matt: All over the world. I do all the fresh purchasing for the shop. COVID also got us into the wholesale business – we provide flowers to local shops and event florists in our area. We try to buy as much locally as we can. Dahlias, peonies, sunflowers, cosmos…there are all kinds of flowers we buy here. We also get stuff from Canada, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa, Holland, Italy and South America. We get a lot of the floral greens we use from Florida. We also buy from California and the Pacific Northwest. So really all across the globe.

Holly: The life of a flower is way more detailed than one would ever imagine as far as seed to consumer. It’s crazy what it goes through.

Matt: We get trucks in from Florida and California and Canada. We get flights in from Holland. I get shipments of flowers five to six days a week, if not more. We have decent turnover, so we want our product coming in fresh.

Tell us about the language of flowers and what certain flowers represent.

Holly: Roses are the first thing people think about. Roses, especially red, represent love. Rose colors used to have their own meaning, but I feel like that’s sort of a fading fad.

For me, flowers represent a feeling in general. If people send flowers, they’re doing it to express a feeling or a sentiment that they don’t necessarily know how to say with words. Or it’s to celebrate, like a birthday or someone having a baby. If you think about it, and I might be biased because we’re around it every day, flowers are a huge part of everybody’s lives.

Matt: They’re very uplifting.

Holly: That’s what I like the most about it. When you open your door and there’s a flower arrangement on the other side for you, you’ll remember that feeling. You’re creating a memory. That’s what I love the most.

Explain the process a flower goes through from the farm to its final destination.

Matt: There’s a whole breeding process — the farms have breeders on site. The flowers grow on a farm, let’s say in South America. When the flowers are ready, they’re cut and packaged, and from packaging it goes into a box. They haul the box to the airport to be shipped to the US, where it goes through customs and is distributed to trucks. The trucks are refrigerated, and there are very specific guidelines the trucks have to meet. Once it’s on the truck, it takes a couple of days to get to us. When we get the flowers, they’ve been out of water for a few days, so we give them a fresh cut, and we use a hydration solution to help them rehydrate faster. From there, it goes into our coolers. So they are in a cold chain from the time they’re cut to the time they’re in our coolers. When you get fluctuations in temperature, that’s what affects the life of a flower.

Holly: Sometimes people might question why flowers cost what they do. It’s a true supply-and-demand situation. These farmers have to plan ahead for however long it takes the flowers to grow. If we need a hundred roses, they can’t just be like, “Here you go.” They need time for them to grow and go through this transportation process. So farmers plan ahead for certain things like Valentine’s Day. Supply and demand is a real thing when it comes to flowers.

Matt: Trucking is a major part of our industry. During the holiday season, trucking employees are working a lot of overtime. They’re putting a lot more work into their jobs, so we get hit with holiday surcharges and other fees. There are a lot of things that add to the price of a flower during the holiday season.

Tell us about your floral design classes and workshops.

Holly: We just started offering them again, after COVID. It’s an informal, fun experience for people to come do. People call all the time inquiring about them. I know people love experiences, so it’s a void I’ve been wanting to fill for a while. I’m really excited that we can start offering them again. We’re hoping for once a month. We limit it to eight spots because of space, but we’ll open up a second class if it fills up and if there’s enough interest.

Florists sometimes have the tough job of providing floral arrangements for funerals. How do you work with a family during such a difficult time and ensure you’re meeting their needs?

Holly: When families come in to visit or order flowers for a funeral or sympathy, we have a designated area that they can sit in and have a consultation. It gives them a little bit of privacy because it is such a sensitive time. It ensures quietness and no distractions. We provide them a selection of books to look through for ideas. Generally, we try to get a feel for what kind of colors they’re looking for, or if they had something in mind, we’ll work with them through that. They don’t just have to pick something from a book. We will tailor it for them.

Matt: We also have Jennifer, who is a really good designer. She will help the family design what they’re looking for. They can come look at the coolers and look at our products and see everything that we have to offer to give them a better visual.

Holly: I sit with families pretty much on a daily basis. Sometimes they tell us to do whatever we want to do. But sometimes they feel like it’s a thing they can control in the grieving process, so they want to be a little bit more hands-on. We’re flexible.

On the other hand, you get to provide flowers for fun occasions like weddings and baby showers. What is your favorite type of floral work, and why? Are there any particularly special moments you’d like to share?

Holly: We do have the privilege to provide flowers and arrangements for all sorts of occasions. For me, “just because” flowers are my favorite kind of work. It truly captures a genuine feeling of “I’m thinking of you, and I wanted to send you something to let you know that.” When it’s unexpected, that creates the memory, the feeling I was talking about earlier.

Most of the time, we don’t get to see the end result of a person receiving their flowers, but recently, someone came to the shop to pick up their order. We brought the package out to this gentleman’s car. He read the card and started crying. And I felt like this is why we do what we do. It was really sweet.

What advice do you give to customers who want to buy flowers for a loved one but don’t know which flowers to send?

Holly: I would suggest mixed bouquets or arrangements because that gives more texture, and it’s more unexpected than a dozen roses.

Matt: Seasonal flowers are always nice to give. For example, right now we’re heavy into tulips. There are so many different varieties of tulips and colors. Having our staff know what we have on hand is important — that’s part of my job.

Holly: When someone calls and they have no idea, I’ll start asking questions to understand the relationship dynamics. For example, if someone is calling because it’s their grandmother’s 100th birthday, that’s a monumental occasion, so we might offer something a little more grand to commemorate it.

We also ask for the card message prior to talking about what they’re sending, because that really gives us an understanding of what the flowers are for.

Matt: It’s not just flowers — we have a full greenhouse as well.

Holly: Yes, plants are very popular, especially for sympathy.

Matt: COVID was a big thing — people were working from home and were on Zoom calls, and they wanted to decorate their space with plants. It’s another way to bring this feeling of fresh flowers or plants into your life.

Holly: And they are stress relievers.

One of my favorite things about working here and being in this business is the relationships and the connections we make with people. Whether the flowers are for a good occasion or a sad one, we’re there for everything. Those connections, especially going back to community, are very important to me.

Matt: A lady stopped in the store last week and I just got to talking with her. She found out who I was, and she said, “You know, your great-grandfather married my husband and I 60 years ago, and we’ve been a customer of yours ever since.” And to me, that’s the best feeling in the world. That’s why I like this company, because it gives you a sense of pride.

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