Supermarket floral departments across the country are capitalizing on the booming business of prom with custom corsages and boutonnieres.

Though it’s more labor intensive, the custom offerings make these floral departments stand out.

“Everybody wants their corsage different. And I think that’s what sets us apart as far as a company because we try to have whatever color ribbon, whatever color — a lot of people use wire, crystals, rhinestones, colored rhinestones. We even put brooches in them now,” said Bradley Gaines, floral supervisor at United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas.

Customers often go out of their way to buy prom flowers from United.

“It depends on how big the towns are around but sometimes people drive 30 minutes because they have to because they don’t have flower shops anymore. So it’s a service,” said Gaines.

The custom work also allows floral managers to show off their creativity.

“And I have customers that know me as a florist and they know their best bet is to come in and say, you know what, this is the color of the dress and I just need a boutonniere or I need a wrist corsage and this is the top dollar I want to spend. Do whatever you want to do. And that’s when I do my best work, as far as design or creativity,” said Judith Moehr, floral manager at a Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly in Hartland, Wis.

Some shoppers may be surprised by what today’s florists can do.

“And I think that moms need to let go and just remember it’s not their prom. And I don’t mean it in a bad way. I just sometimes want them to realize that there’s more out there. I mean, I don’t get too many people that want baby’s breath or gypsophila anymore,” said Moehr, who has over 30 years of floral experience.

To stay up to date with the latest trends, floral managers from Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., take a yearly refresher course run by one of the retailer’s floral distributors.

“This year we learned how to make scepters and corsages on the neck, things you can do on the hair. Other options other than the traditional wrist corsage. So they’re fun. Every year they’re different. Kind of keeping us up with the latest trends and styles,” said Jen Pizzutti, floral designer at Roche Bros.’ Wellesley store.

Pizzutti recently won Roche Bros.’ second annual Facebook PROMising Corsage Contest, where designers from 14 of the retailer’s 18 stores created arrangements based on a dress and customers “liked” their  favorites.

“We were given a dress that was orange and it had some nice silver accents, so I kind of just wanted something that would accent the dress without taking away from it. Because girls, they spend a lot of money on their dresses. It’s one of the things that they’re most excited picking out. So you want something that’s going to complement it,” said Pizzutti.

The contest garnered 16,000 views and 4,800 “likes.” Debbie Loche, floral buyer and merchandiser, said the contest’s popularity was probably due to the target demographic.

“And it’s a great way for us to get exposure out there that we do do a lot of prom business, that come to see us for your needs, as opposed to a traditional florist, or if they hadn’t thought that we do that kind of work, to show them some of the designs and what we can do in-house,” said Loche.

Custom designs don’t come cheap. At Fox Bros., corsages range from $25 to $60, but Moehr recalled one that cost $75.

“She wanted lots of glitz, a few flowers, and she picked out some really expensive orchids that I had to special order for her,” said Moehr.

Corsages at United start at $29.99; expensive accents can significantly increase the price.

“Some of the rhinestone bracelets can go $20 more. So it just depends. We have something for everybody’s price range. But some people really want to go all out,” said Gaines.

United’s floral associates are encouraged to promote the keepsake bracelets.

“We push the gift on them that they’ll have a bracelet that they can wear later on or as a memory. That adds a lot to the cost. So we have to be salespeople and sell,” said Gaines. 

Fox Bros. also uses bracelets for wristlet corsages.

“We don’t do too many what I call the elastic underwear bands. Most of our customers will either do like a simple beaded bracelet or a simple sequins bracelet,” said Moehr, who stays up on corsage trends with classes from the Wisconsin Floral Association.

During the typical prom season, it’s not unusual for a store to produce hundreds of corsages.

At Roche Bros., most stores sell 300 to 400 corsages, although some larger stores go as high as 600, Loche said.

“Mother’s Day weekend is typically a huge prom weekend. So it gets crazy, because it’s Mother’s Day, it’s prom, there’s a lot of college graduations that weekend. So there’s really a lot of events happening in the next five or six weeks,” said Loche.

To stay organized, her floral departments make use of produce towers with trays where corsages can be lined up in alphabetical order by the purchaser’s name.

At United, customers sign up for a specific pick-up time for the corsage when they place their order. This encourages customers to place orders in advance rather than wait until the last minute.

“And I think we’ve trained our guests to come in earlier. Because the earlier they come in, the sooner they can get it,” said Gaines.

Even with that in mind, last-minute orders are bound to happen, and floral departments must be prepared to whip something up the day of the dance.

Loche encourages her managers to put together a few generic corsages just in case.

“We’ll do a few just white wristlets at the end. Because there’s always going to be a few people that forgot about it,” said Loche.

“White will pretty much match anything. Because we certainly would never want to turn anyone away,” she added.