The main office room at Seagroatt Riccardi in Latham has the looks of the nerve center of a power plant or even the underground lair of a comic book character.
Employees working at computers need only glance up to a bank of large screens to find a sea of numbers that gives each exactly what they’re looking for.
But this isn’t a power plant or underground lair. It’s a flower distribution business, finding flowers worldwide and sending them around the greater Capital Region and beyond.
“People want to have beauty, they want to have surprise, but they also want to have value,” said Shawn Seagroatt, company president. “The biggest challenge is to take something that’s sourced accurately, of the best value and quality and get it into retailers’ hands as quickly as possible.”
Seagroatt’s roots in the flower business run deep — he marks the fourth generation. His father, Ed Seagroatt, started the current incarnation in 1988 with Jim Riccardi, then purchased Riccardi’s half soon after.
The Seagroatts started in 1927, first growing flowers and then getting into the wholesale business.
In recent years, they’ve been working to grow their distribution business, working with local florists to get them the product they need. The company now has four divisions and counts 100 employees.
They’ve been growing in good economic times and bad.
Flowers, Seagroatt said, can be a cheap fallback in bad economic times.
“Flowers can be a really powerful gift item,” Seagroatt said. “It has a very, very strong emotional tie to it.
“You might not have the money to buy jewelry, but you might be able to spend $20 to get a bouquet.”
But just like any other industry, they must deal with the volatile price of fuel and making sure the flowers arrive in the most efficient way possible and in the best condition.
Down to a science
The flowers the company sells come from around the world — South America, Africa, Australia — as well as domestic suppliers.
Whether it’s sunflowers or mums, somebody has what Seagroatt Riccardi needs.
“Our buyers just know that stuff; they’ve been doing it a long time,” Seagroatt said. “They know if you want something this time of year, you get it at this particular place. They know where to look and where to start.”
Through buying in volume, they also know how to hold down prices.
The company’s reach extends from just north of New York City to the Canadian boarder, east to New Hampshire and west to past Syracuse. In all, it serves more than 700 retail locations.
The area is large, but not so much so that employees lose touch with what sells best and where, Seagroatt said.
Latham, Seagroatt said, provides the perfect spot for their needs. Interstates get their trucks on a fast start toward their destinations. Illustrating that is one of their neighbors down the road, another business that depends on quick access to interstates: UPS.
Seagroatt Riccardi was among the first flower suppliers to provide overnight delivery service, taking orders late into the afternoon and delivering the flowers by the time shops open in the morning.
The company provides more than flowers: It also procures vases and other flower-related materials. Many of those are petroleum-based plastic and vulnerable all the more to spikes in oil prices.
“It’s incredible how many things in our industry and industry in general are petroleum-tied,” Seagroatt said. “We can’t change the price of fuel, but what we can do is look at efficiency.”
The company also boasts a real-time inventory control system it says is the only one in the industry.
Part of that is the large screens with all of the numbers. They show buyers exactly what the company owns, what is available and what the current price is.
It’s methods such as these that Seagroatt said allows them to sidestep rising expenses like fuel.
Fast and fresh
If a retailer is asking for sunflowers, Seagroatt said, it’s already in the chain.
“It’s very likely that I already own the product and have already sold the product while it’s still on the plant and hasn’t even been cut in Ecuador,” Seagroatt said. “We would much rather have that, wait to the last second, cut it and get it up here, and not speculate. Speculation equals risk; risk equals expense.”
One of the local retailers that uses Seagroatt Riccardi as a primary supplier is Frank Gallo and Son, a Schenectady-based chain serving much of the region.
Gallo tries to stock a wide variety of flowers. But if there’s something they don’t have and they need it right away, Seagroatt can get it, Frank Gallo Jr. said.
“They allow us to order right up until 5 or 6 in the evening,” Gallo said. “If we’re so inclined, we can come in the next morning and the product is waiting for us in the building.”
Seagroatt has also been working on their routes to suppliers, getting the most out of their trucks and the diesel they use.
The flower business, Seagroatt said, is a balancing act between speed and preservation.
The quickest way to get flowers here is by air, flying them into Albany. But that isn’t always the best way. They often fly their flowers into New York City or Miami and have them trucked here.
That way, they can make sure they are kept at the right temperature, usually 34 degrees, something that air freight can’t always guarantee.
“Does it take longer?” Seagroatt asked. “Yes. But does it guarantee temperature consistency? Yes. Temperature and time make people satisfied.”
Many of those flowers go to homes and other uses besides the traditional flower-heavy events such as weddings, Seagroatt said. In recent years, he said, they’ve seen a move toward more floral decorating at home.
And as people pull back and spend more time at home, they use their flower money there.
But there are still the flowers for birthdays, sympathy and the holidays.
“People look for opportunities to express things in a fairly affordable way,” Seagroatt said. “Flowers can be a very cost-effective way to demonstrate emotion.”