LINWOOD - An Atlantic County florist is using his customers' interest in floral design as a recruiting tool in a niche industry where it is especially hard to find experienced help.

Fischer Flowers in Linwood employs about seven designers or drivers, said owner Charles Fischer, 43, of Ventnor. But like most florists, he found he had to provide on-the-job training for new employees.

"A lot of people will come to us looking for employment in the field, but we don't have the time to train them. There are no local design schools," he said.

To keep up with the latest trends, the company's florists attend out-of-state trade shows, particularly the annual Philadelphia Flower Show.

"That's one thing we have in our region that's peerless," Fischer said.

This year, he invited nationally renowned Philadelphia designer Bill Schaffer to teach a design course to a dozen novice students at Fischer's store on Shore Road.

Schaffer, owner of the Philadelphia event company Schaffer Designs, is a four-time winner of best-in-show at the Philadelphia Flower Show. He has taken the top prize in each of the past three years, including for his interpretation of Jack the Ripper for the show's theme in February.

"I have a great team," Schaffer said. "It's hard to be successful in this business. It's a perishable product that relies on discretionary income. If you do it right, there is money to be made."

Fischer said he thought the class might be a good recruitment tool if he needs to hire a new designer.

"It's a good way to find potential candidates for employment," he said. "Some people are more naturally talented than others. It's an art."

People's tastes in flowers can change with the trends, but a lot of displays are traditional. "The flower business is like the fashion industry that way," he said.

Fischer Flowers serves most of Atlantic and northern Cape May counties, but it can arrange deliveries for customers anywhere in the world.

Fischer offers corporate gifts, including custom-made gift, fruit and gourmet baskets. And it provides flowers for all of life's milestones: weddings, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals.

"You meet a lot of nice people. You hear a lot of interesting stories," he said. "For that moment, you share that person's life - the best and worst of times."

Fischer grew up around the shop as a child and returned to the family business after college, taking over now from his father, Charles Fischer, who is semi-retired.

The business has survived several downturns in the economy, including the most recent in 2008.

"Despite what the media would lead you to believe, the economy is still really bad. The downturn has affected all of us, compounded by Hurricane Sandy. We're all feeling it," he said.

Eleven students paid to take part in the course over seven weeks.

For the final class, students were given the same "recipe," the type and number of flowers, including carnations, roses and daisies, and were given the chance to create their own original design. Each of the 11 was different.

Michelle Holzinger, of Little Egg Harbor Township, worked as a florist years ago and eventually plans to get back into the business.

"I got hired as a driver. But it's always nice to take ownership of an arrangement that's yours," she said.

"An awful lot of people start out in this business as delivery drivers," Fischer said. "People who have a knack for it gravitate to it."

Dana Sheppard, of Ocean City, said she likes working with stained glass and gardening. Designing floral arrangements was a fresh challenge, she said.

"I'm trying," she said. "It's another creative outlet."

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217

Fischer Flowers

Location: 2322 Shore Road, Linwood

Owner: Charles Fischer, of Ventnor

Founded: 1876

Employees: 7

Revenues: Not disclosed

Phone: 609-927-3823