Last year’s Produce Marketing Association floral marketer of the year, Juan Carlos Hannaford (left), president of Miami-based The Elite Flower, and Debora Steir, vice president of floral for Albertsons’ Cos., and Produce Marketing Association Floral Council chairwoman, congratulate this year’s winner, Carlos Oramas, CEO and co-founder of Miami-based Gems Group Inc. ( Photo courtesy Produce Marketing Association )

Carlos Oramas’ introduction to the floral industry came just over 25 years ago in what he calls a “nondescript, windowless building” in Miami.

Atlantic Bouquet was one of three companies a recruiter suggested he check out after earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida International University, Miami. 

The company’s tiny office was anything but impressive, but when Oramas went through a back door into a huge warehouse where 300 workers were hand making floral bouquets, he says his world changed.

“Each one of those bouquets was going to end up as part of someone’s life — someone’s story,” he says. “Immediately I thought ‘This is where I want to be.’”

Time has proven that Oramas made the right career choice. He was named the Produce Marketing Association’s floral marketer of the year in October.

His job at Atlantic Bouquet, which eventually was absorbed by what is now USA Bouquet, was the first of a handful of floral sales and marketing posts he held before partnering with Bonnie Armellini — who gave him his first job — to form Gems Group Inc. in Miami in 2003.

Oramas chose to focus on supermarket business since, he says, flower shops tend to emphasize events that occur only once in a lifetime, like weddings or funerals, but supermarkets specialize in events that repeat every year — like birthdays and anniversaries.

Carlos Oramas quote“That was a lot more interesting to me,” Oramas says. “That is where I thought marketing has the biggest place.”

About 95% of Gems Group’s business is with supermarket chains, including Walmart, The Kroger Co., Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc. and Harris-Teeter Supermarkets Inc.

“They are our partners, and that’s who we work with,” he says.

Gems Group sources more than 50 kinds of flowers from nearly 500 acres in two locations in Colombia.

“Colombia has focused on the North American market more than any other country in the flower-growing regions of the world,” he says. 

“They’ve invested in the technology, processes and know-how that make sense for this market.”

But while Gems Group’s flowers are grown and assembled offshore, the packaging design, product development and innovation are handled at the company’s home campus in Miami.

Consumer-ready mixed bouquets are the firm’s leading stock-keeping unit.

Oramas, who eventually earned a master’s degree in international business administration from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., focused on marketing in college and says he is eager to apply his expertise in that field to the floral industry.

Flowers project a positive feeling for both the giver and the receiver, he says, but market data indicates that U.S. consumers buy flowers an average of only twice a year.

“We felt there was an opportunity to grow the business by focusing on marketing,” he says.

Consumers have come to realize that they can purchase a wide range of flowers in their local supermarkets, Oramas says, but he believes the industry should encourage them to buy more of them.

“We need to move the needle on purchase frequency,” he says.

Oramas sees PMA as a catalyst to help the industry continue to grow.

“When you have an association that advocates for networking, connecting, creating and representing the greater good of an industry, we all win,” he says.

“All of us, as business people on any side of the channel, benefit from the opportunity to connect with each other.”