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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Na Taymany ties ribbons for smaller bouquets at Gassafy Wholesale Florist.

  • The two weeks before Valentine’s Day is a busy time for Gassafy Wholesale.

  • Ashley Vandervelde adds baby’s breath to a vase of red roses at Gassafy Wholesale.

  • A team assembles coffee cup bouquets with small stuffed bears at Gassafy Wholesale in preparation for Valentine’s Day. Gassafy sells between 400,000 and 500,000 roses for the holiday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette From left, Sarah Burns, Candace Harris and Na Nga assemble bouquets destined for local stores.

Saturday, February 11, 2017 10:02 pm

Business blooming this month

Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette

The lobby inside Gassafy Wholesale is filled with furniture, plants and various home decor – all remnants of a Christmas display that showed customers how they could decorate with items Gassafy offers.

It’s early January, and now that the busy holiday is over, the items are being moved to make way for a spring display.

But before thoughts can really turn to spring, the wholesale supplier of flowers and plants on Racquet Drive, just off Coldwater Road, has to get ready for its next big holiday – Valentine’s Day.

The family-owned business will sell between 400,000 to 500,000 roses and 300,000 carnations for the February day that celebrates love and relationships.

The two weeks before the holiday is Gassafy’s busiest time.

"It’s a stressful holiday," says Jeff Stoppenhagen, president and cut flower buyer for Gassafy.

He says 10 percent of the wholesale supplier’s business is done during the holiday, which means a lot of long hours – sometimes 70 to 80 hours a week – for employees.

Gassafy is not open to the general public. Instead, it sells to floral shops, mass retail stores, merchants and special events. Stoppenhagen says it is the primary floral wholesale supplier in Fort Wayne. In addition, the business also sells into Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and as far south as Bloomington in Indiana.

The business also has refrigerated trucks full of flowers and plants that travel to different places and allow customers to buy right off the truck.

Walking through Gassafy’s is a floral decorator or designer’s dream. Metal shelves that extend to the ceiling in the warehouse are filled with different vases and containers of all sizes, shapes and colors. There are a number of silk flowers and ribbons. Oh, the ribbons. There are even dainty floral tea cups.

It’s anything a floral shop needs to decorate or design, Stoppenhagen says.

On this day, the sample room, which is where workers put together fresh floral displays that will be taken to area businesses, is filled with romance. Well, really flowers, but the Valentine’s Day samples are definitely being done with love. Workers place roses and greenery in vases that are then tied with red or pink bows. 

There are only a few workers now, but in the coming weeks, the room will be crazy, Stoppenhagen says. About 30 additional workers are hired just for Valentine’s orders, he says.

The most common flowers Gassafy sells are roses, carnations, daisies, snapdragons and lilies. The flowers come from around the world: Colombia, Ecuador, Canada, Holland, Thailand, California and Florida.

In one part of the warehouse, many white buckets are stacked up, waiting for shipments of flowers.

When the flowers arrive, the buckets are filled with water and then the flowers. Some flowers come in damaged because of security checks at the airport. The flowers are crushed or the petals are damaged after customs agents search through them.

They are not necessarily looking for drugs or contraband but insects and other foreign creatures not native to the United States.

Ben Ault, warehouse manager, says sometimes workers will find lizards or slugs in the greens from South America.

Walking past the many flowers and plants at various locations in the warehouse, Ault describes the different fragrances, tips for taking care of them and gets excited when he shows visitors a new breed of a purple carnation.

Ault enjoys gardening – always has, he says. Stoppenhagen, not so much.

Ault, a master gardener, teases Stoppenhagen for his lack of gardening ability. But Stoppenhagen definitely knows the business side of things, especially when it comes to what flowers to buy.

They describe themselves as the yin and yang of the floral business. After all, they have been together for 20 years. They were friends in high school, and Ault then later joined the business.

Gassafy’s is definitely a family affair. Stoppenhagen’s stepdad started the wholesale supply store in 1965. Stoppenhagen came on in 1995.

His mom works there, as well as his stepdad. So does his sister, niece and brother-in-law.

Stoppenhagen admits it’s not the easiest thing to work with family. But it has proved successful so far.

Because just like the varieties of flowers and plants that Gassafy’s sells, it takes all kinds to grow a business.