OCEAN CITY — Mark Videtto, owner of Spinning Wheel Florist, credits a lesson a loyal customer taught him for his store’s perseverance over 40 boom-and-bust years.
The customer, whom Videtto preferred not to name out of respect for his privacy, stopped in to order some fruit baskets he needed on short notice. Videtto asked for more time to fill the order because he was busy with a large casino job in Atlantic City.
“He told me, ‘Your front door is your business,’” Videtto said. “Suddenly, a lightbulb went off.”
Videtto filled the customer’s order and since then has focused more on developing a loyal customer base than pursuing the occasional big-ticket contract. It has been a winning strategy over the years, he said.
Spinning Wheel Florist, which operates from a historic 1894 building with an attached horse barn, is a full-service florist. It does local weddings and social events in Atlantic and Cape May counties, and fills individual orders for customers looking for a gift or flowers for the home.
“We’ll do local weddings and formal functions, but we don’t travel to North Jersey or Philadelphia,” he said. “I’d have to send my whole staff. Then I would lose my loyal customers.”
Videtto, 62, of Ocean City, is a former Cape May County freeholder and Ocean City councilman. He grew up in Camden, but his family vacationed in Ocean City every summer. After graduating from James Madison University in Virginia with a degree in marketing research, Videtto began working for Ocean City entrepreneur Warren Grubb, who had a flower shop in Wildwood Crest.
In Ocean City, Videtto noticed a vacancy on the 800 block of Asbury Avenue in the former Johnstone’s Restaurant across the street from City Hall. With Grubb’s help, he opened his flower store in 1972.
“I knew it would have a lot of foot traffic,” he said.
For its first 20 years, Spinning Wheel had direct competition from the late businessman Howard S. Stainton’s Asbury Avenue department store, which had an in-house florist on the first floor.
“It was extremely difficult to compete with them,” he said. “His store was a cornerstone of the community.”
But Spinning Wheel’s found its momentum with the advent of casino gambling in Atlantic City, which attracted thousands of new families to Ocean City. This presented scores of new potential customers who had no existing business loyalties to overcome.
“So we opened our store early to catch people going to work and stayed open late to catch people coming home,” he said. “We were able to build a loyal clientele.”
His store also served as floral subcontractor for the casino industry. But his first priority remained local customers in northern Cape May County and southern Atlantic County.
“It worked out really well,” he said. “Ocean City has been a real jewel for me.”
When Ocean City’s population swelled beyond 10,000 in the 1990s, Videtto opened a second south-end store on 34th Street. But he closed that store around 2002 when the city saw an exodus of people who were cashing in on their investment homes.
The number of florist businesses has contracted severely in recent years. In 2005, New Jersey had 727 floral shops. But by 2010, that number had shrunk to 524, a decline of 28 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
Locally, there are fewer florists as well, Videtto said. Higher transportation costs are making it more difficult for small shops to compete, he said. Stainton’s closed its flower shop even before the department store closed.
Some of the remaining shops in South Jersey are specializing in big events, he said.
“We can’t close our store to do one job and not take care of my 30 other customers that day,” he said.
Spinning Wheel gets most of its flowers from a single broker with whom Videtto has worked for years. That broker can get most any cut flower grown anywhere in the world with a couple days’ notice, he said.
“They deliver our flowers between 8:30 and 9 a.m. every day, even if there’s a foot of snow on the ground,” he said.
People used to prefer flowers such as roses or carnations. Today, they are more likely to order lilies, Gerber daisies and hydrangeas.
Videtto and his wife, Linda, who also works at the shop, took a trip to the power center of the flower world, Holland, where they visited a flower wholesale market that was packed with flowers in the morning and sold out by late afternoon.
Videtto went to a school in Florida to learn how to make floral arrangements. At first, each piece took 45 minutes. Now he can prepare them in about half that time. But he said he enjoys the challenge each new day presents.
“I look forward to coming in to work every day,” he said. “Every day, I ask, ‘What do I have planned? What can I do first?’”
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