Flowers and special days

Business thrives thrice in Spring

Rezvi Newaz

It is growing and growing without much notice in a crowded city of Dhaka, the central point of many activities in Bangladesh. The business with flowers is turning into an industry with a lot of promises for domestic market and for exports.

And the month of February has a tremendous role in helping the flower industry to flourish. The Pahela Falgun (the beginning of the spring), the Valentine’s Day and the International Mother Language Day on February 21 are the days in February that sees jump in sales of flower, especially windfall profit made by sellers.

On February 9, 2015, a boy was selling a stick of flower for Tk 15 in front of DCC market in Gulshan. ‘I will charge Tk 80 for this piece on the Valentine’s Day,’ he said with a broad smile on his face, when we asked him about the prospect of sales on special days.

Shahbag has emerged as major hub of flower trading – both wholesale and retail – in view of its proximity with Dhaka University campus, central Shaheed Minar and banking on the higher demand for flower on special days. Khamarbari is another point of wholesale trading with flower and foliage. Thousands of people are involved in the value chain.

Bangladeshi people started showing respect to the valiant sons of the soil who sacrificed their lives for the cause of mother language in 1952 with flowers and never stopped afterwards. Thousands of mourners came in processions with wreaths to offer them at the altar of the Shaheed Minar (the monument for martyrs) at zero hour and afterwards on February 21.

In recent decades, the people started cerebrating Pahela Falgun, if not like Pahela Baishakh, but in the manner that shows its own festivity with colourful flowers being used by women and bouquet and flower sticks presented to dear ones. The decoration with flowers increases its business.

However, the biggest charm of the month February to the youths is February 14 or the Valentine’s Day. Young people take great enthusiasm to present flowers to their loved ones. This celebration is a recent introduction in this part of the world and getting popularity day by day.

A large quantity of flowers is made available in the market across the country for a brisk business. The flowers of high demand on the Valentine’s Day are rose, gladiolus, gerbera and tuberose. The president of Bangladesh Flower Society Mr Abdur Rahim told ICE Business Times that on the two days (Pahela Falgun and Valentine’s Day) flower trade increased manifold compared to normal days.

Traders say they produce flowers round the year but they always target the special days like 31 December, Valentine’s Day, national days and the religious festivals and important days. The annual turnover of the flower industry is no less than Tk 500 crore, according to Mr Rahim.

His farmland is in Godkhali, the country’s flower hub located in Jessore. Flowers are grown in some other pockets such as Birulia of Savar in Dhaka. Flower cultivation is now being extended to hilly districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Altogether the floriculture is extended to at least 20 districts as commercial basis.

I had the opportunity to see a local wholesale market in Godkhali last year two days before the Valentine’s Day, when US ambassador Dan Mozena visited Godkhali and Panisara of Jhikorgachha. Thousands of acres of land are used for flower cultivation. In the early morning, hundreds of people were seen carrying flowers from the nearby villages. Wholesalers collect flowers and foliage from the farmers, and they load them on trucks to be send to Dhaka and some other destinations all over the country. Ambassador Mozena promised that the US government would help build a specialised cold storage in Godkhali in the coming days.

However, when asked, Sher Ali, the pioneer of floriculture in Jessore and founder president of Godkhali Flower Cultivators and Flower Traders Welfare Samity, said they were yet to know any development regarding the cold storage. He expressed confidence that Godkhali would make Bangladesh proud of its achievement.

The flower trade has changed the fortune of Towhidul Islam who has been in the trade for 15 years. From a mediocre start he became a wholesaler in Khamarbari. Currently his average profit margin is 40-50%.

Fates of many like him are related with the Valentine’s Day and other important days that could be used for promotion of flower industry in Bangladesh.

What else is in the offering?

The run up to Pohela Falgun and Valentine’s Day is filled with all things mushy, red and heart-shaped. As nothing sells better than emotions, V-Day has also become a booming business. But in an age where e-versions of everything is preferred, we wondered if gift stores across the city have been clocking in the same sales. The result, curiously, is that these special days, especially Valentine’s Day, sell better and bigger.

A walk in to any of the many novelty stores across the city sees them covered in a blanket of red. From velvet-covered props to cushions to wall hangings to heart-shaped confetti, stores cater to the imaginative minds of the besotted and love-struck.

Teddy bears, the poster animal for cute and cuddly, come in a variety of merchandise – snowglobes, keepsakes, key chains, greeting cards, etc. With advertisements centred around celebrating the day and a miscellany of deals and packages for people looking for a getaway, the focus on February 14 has been rather intensive over the past few years.

Says Mahbubul Alam, a 25-year old software employee, “For Valentine’s Day, we buy stuff like photo frames, mugs with messages written on them, etc. It’s like a memory to celebrate love and what we have. Sometimes you cannot express your feelings by yourself, so we gift each other to celebrate love. Which is what makes shopping at these stores pretty cool.”

Considering that we’re still a country that’s nascent to online retail, it also probably explains why gift shopping has definitely not seen a decline, feels Asif Ali, a manager of Hallmark’s at New Market for the past 10 years. “There has never been a decrease. In fact, the number of cards sold goes up during the week preceding Valentine’s Day. The musical cards are the most popular cards right now,” he shares.

For many, the gesture of gifting also stems from the watching their favourite stars do so on the big screen. From shots of them shopping at stores like Archies, to dramatic dialogues inspired from love tokens, Asif says stores can thank film culture for their sales. “I feel it is okay to give cute things that express your love, and one certainly does not need a particular day for it. But these days, it’s like a ritual where people give gifts because others are doing so or they find it interesting when celebrities do it on television or in films.’

Greeting card companies actually have teams of copywriters dedicated to writing these awww… inspiring messages. Over years, these companies have managed to stay in touch with these rapidly changing trends. Plus the art of 3D presentation seems to beat the digital any day. From pop-up cards to scented cards to musical cards, an e-card slightly fades in comparison, making physical store owners quite the happy lot.

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