Saturday, March 3, 2012

Local floral websites not really in Georgia

Dozens of Internet flower services carrying Georgia names are not in Georgia but rather share toll-free phone numbers with cyber florists in several other states, Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland discovered.

An insider tip and volunteers who posed as customers helped with the investigation into a floral entrepreneur who takes a large commission on every order at a one location in Florida.

Eleanor Washburn called the number on the website and Bill Weresch called Norcross Florist, an Internet florist listing in his town. The websites are virtually identical.

"That rings some alarm bells," said Weresch.
Strickland had them order identical arrangement of alstroemeria, also known as Peruvian lilies. The flowers, with delivery and tax, cost almost $75. Wasburn's delivery came a day late, and resembled the website picture of the $40 arrangement.

"I paid $75 for those flowers. It's a rip," stated Washburn.

The picture shows a vase filled with five different colors of flowers but Weresch received a small arrangement with only two colors.

Strickland discovered the florist who filled the order was not in Norcross, did not know what Weresch had paid and had little clue about the order itself.

"Did you have any idea what our arrangement was supposed to look like when you filled the order?" Strickland asked Atlanta florist Verna Tsunafuji.

"No. I just filled it according to what they told me, which was alstroemerias in a vase," she said.
While Tsunafuji filled the order, Strickland found the man who took the order, and a cut of the cost, was in Palm Harbor, Fla., not Norcross.

"You're saying that's not deceptive?" Strickland asked businessman Gene Cunningham.

"No, because I own the name," Cunningham explained

Cunningham and wife Lisa have to answer the phone generically, simply saying, "Flower Shop."

"How many of those do you own?" asked Strickland

"Around 1,500. Close to 1,500," Cunningham answered.

The Cunninghams really do own a flower shop, and Lisa is a real florist, but a nationwide network of flower shops fills his web orders, less a hefty commission consumers unknowingly pay when they order.

"On a $65 order I get 20 percent of that, because it pays for my time. It also reimburses me to pay for my credit card fees," he explained. The administrator of the order network based in Oregon, called Floral Source, gets another 7 percent.

Cunningham's wife admitted the website mismatched the $40 price tag with the $60 picture of our flowers.
As for the delivery that showed up a day later than anticipated, Cunningham said they never guaranteed the time. He said if either of our testers had a complaint, they should have spoken up.

"If you ever have a problem, whatever it is, just call Gene Cunningham and I'll make whatever it is right. Bottom line."

The florist who filled the late order, Julie McDonald of Tucker Flower Shop, said she didn't even receive the order from Floral Source until near the close of business on the original delivery day. Both McDonald and Tsunafuji said they made no money filling the orders, as the hefty commissions cut into their margins.

"It cost us financially. That will destroy us if we continue to do that," said McDonald, who told Strickland she planned to resign from Floral Source and take only orders sent directly to her shop.

"We know this going into the game. So to sit there and say, 'Unfair,' after you agreed to it, come on," responded Cunningham.

Cunningham said he would rather have local florists rent one of his websites. They'd get the calls directly and no middleman would take a cut.

"We're going to change the way business is done in the floral industry," he proclaimed. "My company's been developed to help other florists increase their orders and become competitive."

As for florists filling orders blindly, as Tsunafuji did with our test order, Cunningham said, "When was the last time you had a Big Mac that looked like the one on the billboard when you were driving down I-95? You tell me that."

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