Selling specialty sympathy flowers can increase your flower shop profits.

“Specialty sympathy flowers deliver a message,” says Edward Von Bargen of Entenmann’s Florist in Jersey City, New Jersey. “They tell a person’s story – what they did or loved in life.”

All photos: Edward Von Bargen

Specialty sympathy flowers comfort the living by celebrating a loved one’s uniqueness.

What led Ed of Entenmann’s Florist to this niche?

Responding to Requests

“When a dear friend passed, his wife requested a Yankee emblem for his service,” explains Ed.

Jersey customers are “big on sports” due to the many major league teams in the area. Specialty sympathy sports designs became popular quickly.

“Someone might have gameday tickets for 30 years. That memory sells the sports piece to their loved one,” Ed continues. “It sure helps a flower shop get your name around.”

The personalized designs run about $400 – $500 on average. “People who order specialty sympathy flowers are willing to pay for them,” assures Ed.

Estimating Costs

Each design is unique, it takes practice to know what works best. “Experimenting with construction is the fun part,” Ed confides.

He bases his estimate of first-time expenses on similar sympathy designs. He carefully tracks material and labor costs to get a more accurate price for the next order. “I’ve underestimated and lost money on some first ones,” he confides.

Labor is the biggest expense.

Ed recommends keeping records of price estimates, patterns, and photographs for future sales. He suggests reviewing prices every few months due to escalating costs.

Start with a Pattern

In the beginning, design patterns had to be free-handed. Now they can be printed from a computer. This sports logo was requested by a soccer fan.

Soccer team logo in fresh flowers for specialty sympathy work.

2 x 12 x 36-inch Styrofoam sheets are used to create most forms. Sheets can be hot glued together if the form needs to be larger. Or, rolled out with a rolling pin to be thinner.

A hacksaw – taped on one end to make a handle, is used for cutting.

Ed offers these construction tips:

  • Print small accents, letters, and numbers on heavy paper.
  • Glue them into place with floral adhesive.
  • Use Chenille stems:
    • Cut them into small pieces and bend into a V-shapes.
    • Glue atop a design to replicate the stitching on balls.
    • Trim letters like the NY Mets logo.
  • Create fine lines by spray-painting flocked wire black; glue into place.
  • Trim pom-pom petals with scissors to create a straight edge.
  • Keep a bucket of small Styrofoam scraps for creating 3-D forms.
  • Post photos (with pricing) online.

Customers are asked to give at least a day’s notice for labor-intensive custom designs.

Labor-Intensive Designs

These intricate flags share an Italian-American’s pride in both his home and his chosen country.

Italian and American flags in fresh flowers. Motorcycle in flowers . LeHigh in flowers. Musical notes in flowers.

Ed’s staff, including wife Debbie, handle the lesser-priced traditional designs so he can concentrate on labor-intensive specialty sympathy designs.

 “So, it’s you-know-who that gets to stay up here at night finishing orders,” he laughs.

The mouse is #1

America’s favorite mouse is the #1 request, though all the characters are popular. This famous cartoon couple was ordered for an 85-year-old lady.

Cartoon characters in fresh flowers for specialty sympathy work.

To create mouse heads, hand-draw one-half of the face and ear; make a copy, then flip it over to the other side to be sure both ears are cut the same.

“A custom specialty sympathy flower design by itself is a little cold,” says Ed. He encourages clients to invest a little more in a decorative spray of flowers at the base to keep it from looking dated.

“Even an extra $100 allows us to dress the easel with flowers to look like they belong in a funeral setting.”

Adding a Spray of Flowers

Depending on the size of the arrangement, Ed secures a Floracage or Floracage Grande holder to the wire easel.

Specialty Sympathy work showcases occupations of the deceased.

The cage is wired into place and waterproof floral tape is wrapped around the handle for extra- security.

Oasis Floracage Grande attached to funeral easel stand to secure fresh flowers in sympathy work.

A couple of 18-inch hyacinth stakes are inserted into the cage foam and anchored firmly on the opposite easel leg.

See ‘Creating Custom Shapes with Midnight Floral Foam Sheets’ in this video.

sculpting sheet keeps flowers fresher, but “it’s usually unnecessary since funerals have become one-day events,” Ed explains.

See ‘How to Hang a Sculpting Sheet on Easel’ in this video.

Cars and Trucks

Cars, trucks, and company vehicles are often requested.

Cars and trucks made in fresh flowers for sympathy work.

Ed prefers to use pom-poms. “They don’t curl like a carnation will,” he explains.

Paint sprayed out of a can is freezing to a carnation. If carnations are used, spray paint must be carefully misted from a distance.

Unlike most florists, Ed doesn’t use steel picks or steel banking pins. “My dad once told me about a funeral director whose hand was injured by a steel pick so I just never used either product.”

He prefers inserting a double-pointed toothpick into the poms and Styrofoam or using one-half of a 4-inch wood pick.

Sharing Stories

Flowers tell stories without words. Customers often bring in a favorite item or photo for inspiration.

Favorite things designed in fresh flowers for sympathy work .

One lady loved purses. A lifelong music fan asked for their favorite emblem.

A young lady lost her boyfriend. They loved going crabbing together. She requested a flowered crab for the funeral, then placed it in her yard at home.

Pets are Popular

Pets are popular requests.

Favorite pets made in flowers for specialty sympathy work.

Styrofoam scraps are used to create this dog. To create the cat’s tail, painted poms are stacked on a flocked wire and positioned horizontally. Hold a folded newspaper over sections of the white flowers while spray-painting to help blend the color.

Remembering Good Times

Care must be taken that the novelty designs aren’t considered a joke.

Casino favorites and Lady Liberty made in fresh flowers for specialty sympathy work.

“We do a lot of slot machines,” says Ed. “Adding the traditional spray of flowers establishes that it’s a funeral piece.”

 Entenmann’s created a Lady Liberty for someone who knew the people that run the park. Another for a lady who worked at the park for over 30 years and one for a gentleman in New York who sought liberty for others.

“My theory is ‘you never know what it means to the sender’,” confides Ed.

Fast Food

Even fast-food becomes a conversation piece for friends and family searching for words.

Fast food favorites made of fresh flowers in specialty sympathy work.

To create fries, 2-inch strips of Styrofoam were cut and shaved on long angles and painted.

The container is made of ½-inch Styrofoam and covered in pom-poms.

Delivering a Message

Why is Ed willing to invest his time and talent in creating specialty sympathy designs?

The flower images represent emotions. “You often develop a new, loyal customer when you can deliver their message in flowers.” It’s a good way to increase profits for your floral business.

Visit the Entenmann’s Florist website to see 160 photos of their specialty sympathy designs.

Do you have specialty sympathy design tips or photos you can share with us?