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More info on the weird Valentine's Day business from the past!
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From the East Hampton Star, Feb. 12, 1998.
Say It With Flowers, You Rat
"You can send me dead flowers every morning,
Send me dead flowers by the U.S. mail,
Say it with dead flowers at my wedding,
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave."
- Keith Richards and Mick Jagger
Like lemmings to the sea, men will swarm into florists this Valentine's Day, shelling out up to 75 bucks for a dozen long-stemmed red roses and just the right mushy card to keep them out of trouble with their wives and girlfriends for another year.
But what about the miserable rodent who forgets, or doesn't even bother?
William Verderosa of East Hampton has an answer for the jilted lover or ignored wife that is a little more subtle than a rolling pin or cast-iron skillet over the head.
Love's Labors' Losers
For just $37.50, Mr. Verderosa's company, Drop Dead Flowers, will wrap a dozen roses - well-preserved, but plainly deceased - in a black lacquered box with purple tissue and ribbons, and ship it, with a somber card expressing the sender's disdain for the recipient, anywhere in the world.
While a wilted bouquet, sent with an appropriately sentimental card that reads, say, "Drop Dead," makes for a great Valentine's Day gift for losers in the game of love, Mr. Verderosa sees a broader niche for his company.
Dead flowers also come in handy to thank your boss for that agreed-upon promotion which never came, to tweak the nose of a teacher who failed to see the hidden genius in your term paper, or to let your neighbor know you are not pleased he lets his dog roam through your yard and dig through your garbage.
Revenge Is All
"This whole concept is about revenge, to get something off your chest," Mr. Verderosa said.
In one of his most popular arrangements, he said, he cuts the heads off the roses and sends the stems and thorns with a card that reads simply, "Prick."
Other suggested cards include "Let's bury the past" and "Why are you killing me?"
Mr. Verderosa, whose name means green roses in Italian, uses only the highest quality roses for his bouquets, which he purchases at a wholesaler and painstakingly kills by hanging them in the garden shed behind his Pantigo Road house to dry for a month or more.
"They make lovely dried arrangements, too," he remarked.
Customers who think they are too late for Valentine's Day need not fear. "I can send them overnight mail," Mr. Verderosa promised.
During the week, Mr. Verderosa works as a probation officer for the Westchester County Criminal Court. The job's four-day work week leaves him plenty of time for his moonlighting.
He started Drop Dead Flowers early in 1987, when he was living in New York City. The summer before, he had had a share in a house on Fire Island, and one of his housemates was a florist who brought out exquisite arrangements each week.
"One weekend, I looked at the flowers that were already a week old, and I said, 'Those are still drop-dead beautiful.' " Then he thought about what he'd just said, and the wheels started to turn.
"You have to be a twisted person to do this," he said.
Mr. Verderosa took out an ad in The New Yorker, offering his flowers as "an elegant alternative to a pie in the face."
The advertisement caught the attention of a Wall Street Journal reporter. The story was picked up, in turn, by CNN, Channel 7, Channel 2, over 30 radio stations, and newspapers as far away as Japan and the Netherlands.
"It was a flash," Mr. Verderosa said. "It was a novel idea that really took off."
Within weeks, he and his then partner, Mark McConnell, found themselves selling up to 100 bouquets a week.
At $37.50 and more a bunch, that made for a fat profit margin, especially since the overhead was so low. "I used to get the flowers from cemeteries," Mr. Verderosa confided. "I was a garbage-picker."
Living in an apartment building that had its own post office made deliveries a snap. "If there was a big enough shipment, the post office would pick them up," said Mr. Verderosa. "I didn't even have to leave my apartment."
Local deliveries were made personally. "The funny thing is, people would tip you. They'd give you five bucks."
The partners rarely waited for a reaction. "We'd turn around and run like hell," Mr. Verderosa said.
Not The Same Thing
While most recipients were good sports, Mr. Verderosa did receive a few complaints.
One came from the Nassau County Police. It seemed that a woman who had been receiving a weekly bouquet from her mother-in-law felt threatened.
"I told them, 'To tell someone to drop dead is not the same thing as telling them you are going to kill them,' " Mr. Verderosa said.
"But it's not all so serious. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek."
Looking for a new challenge, Mr. Verderosa sold Drop Dead Flowers just two years after launching it. The buyer planned to market it nationally with a toll-free telephone number, but the idea never got off the ground and the company languished.
Last year, Mr. Verderosa, who had never received full payment, got the name back and decided to take the company on line. He invested $5,000 designing and launching a Web site on America Online and waited for the flood of orders. Instead, he received a trickle, four or five a week.
"The problem with A.O.L. is, who would ever think of buying dead flowers?" he said. "This idea has to slap you in the face."
Next Up: Mail Order
Mr. Verderosa considered a mass E-mail campaign, but dismissed the idea. He does not like junk mail himself, he explained, and besides, the cost was prohibitive.
He has now taken a detour from the information superhighway and plans to advertise in major metropolitan papers in an effort to turn the company into a successful mail-order house.
"For now, this is a hobby," he said. "It's a goof. It's fun."
STEPHEN J. KOTZ
Last edited by Dien Rice : February 14, 2012 at 04:48 PM. Reason: formatting
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