To Joost Bongaerts, choosing to go into the flower business shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“I like to joke that once you’re in the flower business, you never leave,” he said.
That’s been the case for Bongaerts, who has been selling flowers in one form or another for 40 years. Since 2002, he has been a wholesaler via Florabundance, a Carpinteria, Calif., company that supplies florists and designers with flowers and greenery from 300 growers. Bongaerts started as a partner in the business and became the sole owner in 2008.
Florabundance was founded in 1994 as a grower-owned vehicle to sell to retailers. It aimed to reduce the amount of time from when a flower was cut to when it was in a retailer’s hands. Over the years, the company has grown through its strong internet presence, marketing efforts, and acquisitions.
Florabundance’s customers are professionals who can choose from a vast offering of flowers and greens, which can often be packaged in the same box and shipped nationwide.
“If you’re a flower expert, which I consider myself, it’s nice to get the best of the best from growers,” Bongaerts said. “We are not a wholesaler that fills up the cooler and hopes for people to come by and pick stuff up or push it out the door. That’s not our model. Our model is we buy premium quality flowers, sell them, pack them up, and ship them to customers.”
Florabundance also has a related website, Fabulousflorals.com, where consumers can buy flowers and greens.
“If you want a bunch of olive branches from California for your dinner table in New York, you can get it as long as you pay the shipping,” he said. “We’re the only ones in the country who can do that because we already have flowers coming in.”
Fabulousflorals.com also sells DIY packages of wedding flowers and offers instruction on making bouquets and arrangements.
Florabundance recently became a Certified American Grown business. Bongaerts sees it as one more way to support the industry.
“People like it. Made-in-America is very popular right now,” he said. “Certified American Grown has a lot of field crops, which is great. Some people claim that the flowers are better. They’ve traveled less, that’s for sure. And we like to promote our growers and help keep them alive.”
Bongaerts said 70% to 80% of Florabundance’s offerings have always come from California. The rest come from around the nation, with some imports that help bridge the winter production gap. Florabundance has been in the same location for 26 years, Bongaerts said. “We’re good-sized, but we’re not a mega-wholesaler,” he said.
Bongaerts was well acquainted with Florabundance before he came onboard. As the owner of a flower shop in New Canaan, Connecticut, he had been a customer of the company.
Since buying out his partners in 2008, Bongaerts has guided the business through some tough times: the Great Recession, fire and mudslides in 2017-18, and the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also been the rise of imported flowers and the decline of flower shops.
Bongaerts sees his acquisition of the company as a move that has helped the company thrive. His commitment and the move away from multiple owners made it easier for the company to navigate changes and stay on the cutting edge, he said. The company currently employs 17 people.
Bongaerts’ connection to plants goes back to his years growing up in the Netherlands, where his father managed agricultural landholdings, and he worked on the family farm during the summers. In college, he majored in plant science. He later thought he would be a veterinarian. During an exchange program at Michigan State University, he decided he wanted to live and work in the U.S.
Flowers provided the bridge for Bongaerts to establish himself in the United States. His first job was with the Dutch Flower Auctions & Exporters Organization as a marketer in the Netherlands and then in the U.S. In 1983, he started selling flower bulbs and perennial plants from Dutch companies to growers in the U.S. and Canada. He put 40,000 miles a year on his car as he traveled his territory in the Eastern U.S.
In 1991, he and his wife started Bon Fleur, their retail store in New Canaan. In addition to running the retail operation, Bongaerts imported flowers from the Netherlands and sold them online via First American Florist. Bongaerts sold his flower shop to its manager in 2002, and the shop is still in business today.
Over his 40-year career, Bongaerts has seen huge changes in the American flower business, increasing imports and a decline in retailers. With the Certified American Grown label, he sees a chance to promote the growers the company works with when only 20 percent of cut flowers and greens sold in the United States are domestic.
“A lot of our growers are already certified,” he said. “This is a chance to promote them as such.”
Retail florists and floral designers can now search by the Certified American Grown category. The iconic heart logo further identifies certified flowers and greens. Visit Florabundance.com today for premium Certified American Grown wholesale flowers and greens and join the movement to support our American flower and greens farmers.