A New Way To Say It With Flowers

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - April 14, 2005
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The 60-year-old kamaaina company Watanabe Floral has a new way to say it with roses, anthuriums or maile leaves.

“I love you.”

“Happy birthday.”

“Thank you.”

“Just because.”

The family business recently signed an exclusive contract with a Mainland company called Speaking Roses to create and distribute flowers that can have a personalized message printed on them — that is, any flowers that can hold a postage stamp-size image. Flowers can also display company logos or even pictures. (The Mainland Speaking Roses products were selected as part of the celebrity gifts for the Grammy Awards and the Radio Music Awards.)

Leland, Shizue, Natalie and Russell Watanabe now
offer Speaking Roses

“It’s gratifying to be doing business with such a high-caliber, trend-setting company, and a testament to the innovation behind our products,” says Blaine Harris, president and CEO of Speaking Roses.

Russell Watanabe, CEO of Watanabe Floral, agrees: “Flowers are the technology.”

Brian Fujita,Watanabe’s chief operating officer, says: “We are always looking for new ways for our customers to express their feelings. Men are tongue-tied, and it helps them express their feelings.”

Other uses for the printed flowers include school events where, for example, a white rose might have blue letters for Kamehameha’s school colors.

Watanabe had a soft unveiling of Speaking Roses for Valentine’s Day, and the feedback was great.

“Some women took the petal with the message on it and they pressed it into a book, so they were able to preserve it,” says Fujita.

Fujita, a Waipahu High School grad and retired florist, joined Watanabe Floral in 1986 as the general manager after selling his four-year-old flower business.

The flowers — for baby luaus, proms, graduations, weddings, funerals or for the holidays such as Christmas,Valentine’s, Easter, May Day, Mother’s Day or Memorial Day — can be purchased at the shop’s 22,000- square-foot Nimitz Highway location. This large space accommodates production and design areas as well as several cold-storage areas for the tons of flowers supplied to local retail florists,Wal- Mart and Foodland. Watanabe Floral grows 25 varieties of roses on eight acres on the Big Island.

Whether it’s tulips, orchids or lilac blossoms, it can be bought in large quantities or small.

The dynasty all started in 1945 when Russell’s father and mother, Ernest and Shizue, sold roses to flower shops from their home on Young Street in McCully. By 1974, they branched out to wholesaling carnations and chrysanthemums. By the 1980s they started to sell retail. By 1987, they moved into their present Nimitz location. They also have a store in Waipahu, and at Daiei on Kaheka Street, in addition to selling from their Big Island farm.

Carrying on the family legacy are Russell’s brother Leland, the flower buyer; younger sister Susan Lo, sales representative; older sister Joanne Watanabe, accounting department; sister-in-law Kathy Watanabe,Waipahu store. Mom Shizue, 86, makes lunch every day and helps with the holidays. Ernest passed away in 2002.

Some nephews and nieces as well as Russell’s own children have worked in the shop on occasion.

The Speaking Roses products are the new standard for florists.

“This will be part of florists’ products just like stuffed animals, leis, roses and balloons,” says Fujita.

“Flowers are not like Spam, where it can sit on the shelf for a while,” adds Watanabe.

Watanabe Floral is located at 1607 Hart St., entrance on Nimitz. The main headquarters is open 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and Sundays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 832-9360 or log onto www.watanabefloral.com

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