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It’s Christmastime! Well, it is if you’re in the decorating biz

It’s Christmastime! Well, it’s time for Christmas if you’re in the business of selling things to decorate for the season.

Come October 6 and 7, several hundred people looking for novel Christmas products and decorating ideas will descend on Magnolia Wholesale Florist Inc. in Tupelo. There, those hundreds of floral and gift-shop retailers will be treated to workshops, sales specials and a couple dozen “vignettes” that offer ideas for decorating their own shops.

Indeed, weeks before the event, Peggy Bishop and her staff at the large, nondescript building in a central Tupelo business park work furiously to get the place into shape for the visitors.

“They will come from seven states,” Bishop predicts. Most of them, she explains, are already her customers. The October event is the big one of the year. The other, the spring open house in March, is not quite as large.

Bishop, who started the enterprise with her son, Brock Bishop, in 1989, also attends eight floral and gift shows a year. The wholesaler carries her goods in a bobtail truck with five or six employees in tow. She estimates her annual investment attending the shows in primarily southeastern U.S. cities costs approximately $25,000 and returns $150,000 in written orders.

While the vignettes and the road shows bring in sales — Magnolia’s gross sales last year were $1.7 million — the real profit is in flowers. Fresh flowers are one of the primary products the firm’s customers count on. Flower sales comprise 72% of Magnolia’s business.

“We run seven vans in a 100-mile radius,” Bishop says of the flower delivery effort. Two large refrigerated lockers are stocked with flowers purchased from Hawaii, Ecuador, Colombia and “all over the world,” according to Bishop.

Brock Bishop surmises that Magnolia’s success in the fresh-flower arena comes from providing as fresh a product as is possible. “It’s the cold chain,” he says. The “cold chain” is the refrigeration of flowers from field to retailer.

“For every eight hours that fresh flowers sit outside refrigeration, they lose a day of their life,” Brock explains.

Harold Brock, Brock’s father and Peggy’s husband of 46 years, is still active in the business, though he’s into his 70s. Harold explains that the service angle is especially important to the business. “We’re open seven days, even on Sunday.”

Harold’s green thumb comes into play during the warm months. He grows zinnias, dahlias and 10,000 sunflowers on the family’s Pontotoc County farmland. Brock maintains four greenhouses there, currently used to grow out plants for the wholesale florist operation, which is also where Harold’s homegrown flowers are sold.

At Valentine’s, most florists’ busiest season, Magnolia handles 80,000 roses. Christmas, of course, ranks high in the seasons florists like. Peggy Bishop says there are only three months of the year — February, March and April — she and the staff are not involved with Christmas in some way.

“It’s been very good,” Bill Watt says of the past 18 months he’s been a Magnolia customer. The owner of University Florist in Oxford and The Flower Company in Batesville has been in the floral business since 1979. He has dealt with a half-dozen wholesalers during that time.

His association with Magnolia began with a telephone call made on the suggestion of one of Watt’s other suppliers. The Tupelo wholesaler got his attention by offering him some “good prices” during the phone conversation. Since then, Watt says Magnolia’s service has proven to be at least as valuable as the pricing.

“It’s just so easy dealing with them,” says Watt. “I deal with them on a daily basis and the service is very dependable.”

Besides the everyday wholesale duties, Bishop twice yearly travels to Hong Kong, where she and two other designers work for Patrick Koo, owner of an accessories manufacturing business in China. Koo employs 3,000 workers in 10 factories.

Bishop is charged with developing products for Koo’s employees to make and sell to firms such as Neiman-Marcus, Sam’s Club, Hobby Lobby and Pier 1.

“We set trends,” says Bishop. She and the other designers study fashion and furniture to see what colors and patterns are coming into the marketplace. They develop lines that incorporate those colors and patterns, which Koo makes in his factories.

“I incorporate what I’ve done over there into the stock I offer here,” explains Bishop.

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