ALEXANDRIA, USA, September 26, 2012: A delighted audience of more than 300 industry members repeatedly came cheering to its feet as three visionary leaders, in succession, Herman Meinders, Walter Preston and Tom Butler, AAF, became the newest members of the SAF Floriculture Hall of Fame on Sept. 22. The presentation in Palm Beach, Fla. was the crowning moment of the Society of American Florists 128th Annual Convention. Induction into the Hall of Fame is the greatest honor in the floral industry. It recognizes individuals who have made significant, permanent contributions to the advancement of floriculture.
SAF Awards Committee Chairman Terril Nell, AAF, Ph.D., described Herman Meinders career as “a quintessentially American story of a meager beginning that turned into a larger than life success.”
As a young man, Meinders traveled an average of 88,000 miles a year selling listings and ads for the National Florist Directory. He talked at length with florists, learning as much as he could about their businesses and the challenges they faced, as well as their interests and insights. “He found out that florists were among the hardest working people in America and he gladly walked in their shoes, knowing what it took to make a profit and survive,” said Nell.
In 1970 with $500 in his pocket and a 900 square foot garage apartment, Meinders launched American Floral Services (AFS). Within 15 years, AFS was serving thousands of florists in cities all across the country. Many of those florists were the same ones he had befriended in his days with the National Florist Directory.
Under his direction, AFS pioneered new concepts in education and introduced state of the art point of sale systems. By the time AFS merged with Teleflora in 2000, the company had expanded into Canada, Mexico and 200 other countries.
“Through a unique blend of tenacity and kindness, Herman Meinders epitomizes the spirit of the American dream and all that is possible when hard work and passion meet face-to-face,” said Nell.
“Over and again, Walter Preston has been called a man before his time – a visionary who understood that florists, wholesalers, growers and suppliers had to come together and make each other and the industry better,” said Nell.
As an industry leader and businessman, Preston and his family set a high bar for stellar products and high caliber customer service through their 120-year-old company, Manatee Floral, Inc., in Bradenton and Palmetto, Fla.
One of the industry’s pioneering leaders in gladiolus production and distribution, Preston helped develop processes to eliminate viruses in gladiolus and was instrumental in advancing propagation of gladiolus bulbs via tissue culture. In the process, Manatee Floral Inc., became the largest gladiolus producer in the nation, and now also produces a wide range of fresh flowers, foliage and potted flowering plants.
In the 1980s Preston became a vocal leader in the industry’s effort to create a national marketing campaign. He was the co-chairman of Floraboard, the industry’s first attempt to pass legislation to collect marketing funds, similar to the “Incredible Edible Egg” program.
“He made countless appearances before growers, speaking decisively and eloquently about the industry’s need for national marketing,” said Nell. “He truly became an ambassador for Floraboard, spending a considerable amount of time away from his business to help shepherd the effort through industry channels and on Capitol Hill.”
While ultimately that effort did not succeed, “it helped lay the foundation for the industry’s PromoFlor campaign passed by Congress 1993, which he also supported,” Nell said. “His career is a testament to the idea and proof positive that when you dedicate your life to improving the world for others, you’re able to achieve great things.”
Tom Butler, AAF
Teleflora chairman Tom Butler is one of the most influential leaders in the floral industry today, and the recipient of some of its highest honors, “but even the most prestigious accolades fail to capture the deep well of talent, intellect and humility that have been the hallmarks of his career,” said Nell.
Butler was with FTD for 13 years, where he held a variety of senior positions, and then worked for three years as vice president of sales and marketing at Syndicate Sales. He joined American Floral Services (AFS) in 1985 as executive vice president and then became president. He was instrumental in the merger of AFS with Teleflora in 2000 and subsequently became chairman.
“Far beyond any single campaign or effort, the one consistent attribute that epitomizes the career of Teleflora chairman Tom Butler “has been his relentless and genuine love for the industry and the people who work in it,” Nell said. One by one, Butler has visited close to 125 florists annually for the past 25 years, to get to know them and to understand their issues and concerns.
Part counselor, part cheerleader and part therapist, “Tom’s visits to shops touched the lives of those individuals in ways that can only be described as inspiring, stimulating and motivational,” said Nell. His visits raised the spirits of retailers facing tough challenges, helped new owners break into the business and applauded the success of established retail operations nationwide. Perpetually shining the spotlight on florists’ achievements, Butler always deflected any positive attention back to their doors.
He has also lobbied actively on behalf of florists before local, state and national political leaders — supporting legislation to improve the business climate and opposing bills that could hurt the industry.
“He’s considered by many to be the chief champion of the florist — always there when they need him, understanding their issues and representing their cause,” Nell said.
Herman Meinders, founder of American Floral Services, accepts the Floriculture Hall of Fame.