The auction clock

All the companies that I have worked for in the past thirty years, would sell 98% of their flowers through the auction clock. During the decade before that, our flowers were shipped all over the world via the direct sales channels of Florimex. Florimex had offices in more than thirty countries and they were by far the largest flower trader of that time.

The question regarding the best way to sell flowers is not specific to today, but has been discussed for a hundred years. One thing is for sure: we’ll never reach complete agreement on it and maybe that’s a good thing. That would just make life a bit too boring, wouldn’t it?

But the odd thing at the moment, is that many people within FloraHolland seem to consider this issue as something new. They keep going on about web shops and internet sales and seem to forget that things haven’t always been the same up until now.

Take this, for example: in 1974, the total turnover of the auctions, which are now making up FloraHolland, was less than €200 million. In those days, most nurseries were trade nurseries; they had nothing to do with the auction at all.

Not long after the merger in Aalsmeer though, everyone became a member, including the trade nurseries. The auctions were ruled with an iron fist, mostly by the Board, which had the members’ mandate, and less so by the Directors. The 1968 merger of the auctions in Aalsmeer was a huge success – a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The FloraHolland merger on the other hand, has failed in the sense that it has become a huge organisation that doesn’t know which direction to choose. The unique differences of the three branches have fizzled out and there’s no longer any healthy form of competition or sense of identity.

This has led to dissatisfaction among growers, traders and staff. Growers are leaving or maybe they stay on for a little longer because they’re tempted with a Quick Fix. Traders are getting more and more confused – they sometimes have to wait for three hours to get the flowers that they bought through the auction clock 500 metres away. FloraHolland is meanwhile focusing on how to get into the Chinese market.

But worst of all is the unhappiness in the work place. The hard core, the soul of the auction, no longer understands what FloraHolland wants. The organisation is laying off staff at the same rate as they are hiring. Experienced people are leaving, while higher-educated people are coming in.

As a result, FloraHolland doesn’t really know where it’s going and subsequently appoints one committee after another. And this has led to the current situation in which people spend more time in meetings than at the auction floor. Luckily, the world turns and time will turn the tide and there will be a day again when we focus more on auctioning and less on meetings.

Simon van der BurgKenyan grower of roses