Marco is the most valued business partner of Amy Bunch and Christopher "Kip" Tirone. Yet they never have met the man or spoken to him on the phone.
Bunch and Tirone are the owners of Tall Tulips Flower Shop in Wildhorse Marketplace. Marco is so important to their business that they are reluctant to divulge his last name. He is a broker at the giant Aalsmeer Flower Auction in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Once a week, Marco hand selects unusual cut flowers, packs them carefully and overnights them to Steamboat Springs. All of his communications with Tall Tulips' owners are by e-mail. He charges the flowers to their business credit card.
The transaction speeds exotic flowers from across Europe and the Mediterranean to Steam--boat.
An armful of brilliant iris blossoms that were picked on Monday in Israel are at the flower auction on Tuesday and in the cooler at Tall Tulips on Wednesday.
Bunch, who worked at another floral shop in Steamboat for four years, said that when she began planning her shop, she searched for a niche.
"We knew it needed to have something completely different," she said. "When I was still working at the other shop, I remember a customer coming in and asking, 'How come you never have tall tulips available?'"
The remark opened her eyes to the possibility of making floral arrangements out of less common blossoms.
Bunch and Tirone, her fiance, began to explore alternatives to buying flowers from a distributor on Colorado's Front Range, like most floral shops in the state.
Florists whose shops are in close proximity to a major airport usually arrange to purchase their flowers through a broker. They rely on another representative to expedite the boxes of flowers through customs, Bunch said.
Driving to DIA to pick up boxes of flowers once a week would be possible, but not convenient for the owners of Tall Tulips.
Still, it wasn't convenience that drove Tall Tulips' business plan. Bunch knew from experience that most florists choose from a list of 80 flowers each week. At the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, she views a 16-page calendar each week offering thousands of varieties of cut flowers.
Bunch realized that if she could deal directly with an agent in Amsterdam, she could access blossoms not typically seen in Steamboat.
"If I want pink- and white-striped tulips that are fringled (fringed petals) with 40-centimeter stems, I can get them," she said.
Bunch identified a sympathetic broker in a major city who put her in touch with Marco. Before long, they had established a basis for working together.
Marco receives Tall Tulips' order, visits the auction floor -- which covers an area equivalent to the size of 165 football fields -- and hand selects the blossoms he'll pack for his client in Steamboat. The order for Tall Tulips is a small drop in the flowerpot compared with the 20 million cut flowers sold at Aalsmeer every day, according to the auction's Web site.
The flowers are shipped from Amsterdam to the FedEx regional distribution facility in Memphis, Tenn., and on to Casper, Wyo., and finally to Yampa Valley Regional Airport west of Steamboat.
When the flowers arrive at Tall Tulips, Bunch strives to make creative arrangements for her clients. She describes her work as "European-style garden designs."
Floral arranging is a form of self-expression to Bunch. She points to a snowy white ranunculus with a big S-curve in its stem. Rather than discarding that flower, she would attempt to design an arrangement that accentuates the curvy stem.
Tall Tulips is next to Amante in Wildhorse Marketplace. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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