POLK COUNTY -- Martha Zuck grabs a spider mum from a pile on her work table inside Petals & Vines gift shop in Monmouth, runs her hand down the stem to rake off the leaves and debris, then snips off the bottom.
The Valentine's Day flower delivery for the store arrived earlier on this afternoon. Zuck has been processing the colorful goods nonstop since.
"They're sore," Zuck said, rubbing green and chafed hands. After a few hours, she has several hundred gerbera daisies, alstroemeria and other flowers prepped for refrigeration.
"I haven't even hit those yet," she continued, gesturing to boxes containing 500 Colombian roses. "I'll be getting stuck with a few thorns."
The fun picks up this week for Zuck and her mother, Petals & Vines owner Maggie Triplett. The two have been assembling arrangements and fielding phone calls from customers desperate for the perfect expression of affection.
It will stay this way until closing time on Thursday. While she welcomes the chance to exhale, Triplett is also happy.
"I love the fact that it's busy and hustling and bustling ... instead of just sitting here, waiting," Triplett said. Chances are you've been running on coffee and scant sleep these past few days if you're in the flower, candy or gift game. When you're working through a holiday that's as key to your bottom line as Valentine's Day, however, you embrace it.
"It will be busy on Wednesday," said Linda Taylor, owner of Heartstrings Florist & Artisans in downtown Dallas. "And I'm hoping it will be crazy busy."
According to a National Retail Federation spending survey, Americans will spend about $18.6 billion on flowers, cards and gifts during Valentine's Day 2013, with the average Valentine's spender forking out almost $131.
Photo by Pete Strong
Roses are the most popular flower to give on Valentine's Day, with 51 percent of buyers preferring red roses.
Taylor, who opened her business in Dallas in 2011 and ran a gift store in Alaska for 14 years before that, said she sees a roughly 15 percent bump in sales around Valentine's Day.
Buying habits have changed over time, Taylor noted. Her own retail trends have been far fewer plants and bud vases, with more folks wanting arrangements.
Rose prices always increase this time of year, though prices vary for shops because of the wholesaler used or quantities requested. Taylor charges $4.50 per stem versus the regular $3.50.
Petals & Vines increases its supply of roses for Valentine's season to about 1,200 stems, five times what it normally carries. Zuck estimates she and Triplett will have put together more than 200 arrangements for the holiday.
More customers want cut and wrapped roses instead of in vases because of the economy, she said.
Photo by Pete Strong
Martha Zuck removes the thorns and leaves from approximately 40 dozen roses at Petals & Vines in Monmouth on Friday in preparation for Valentine's Day orders.
"They'll come in and say `I can really only afford something for $20 or $30'" Zuck said.
There hasn't been any national rose supply crisis because of weather, as there was last year, Zuck said. Still, there's fierce competition from online flower sellers marketing a dozen roses for $20, she added.
Judy Friesen, co-owner of Plain & Fancy Gifts in Dallas, said these past few years have seen more people looking for jewelry, frames, clothing and collectibles.
"We only have a limited amount of candy," Friesen said. "I think people are starting to look for things they can use all year round, not just set out for one day."
Triplett adds three employees to help with the Valentine's crush. For her, the holiday generates close to a third of her annual revenue.
Much of the activity will be last minute, she continued, noting how "insane" Thursday will be.
"Men will buy anything that isn't nailed down," Triplett said with a laugh. "They have to go home with something."