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Artificial-Flower Company Exudes Sweet Non-Smell of Success

September 09, 1986|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

Arose by any other name would smell as sweet except at a firm like Aldik. There, the roses don't smell at all.

Neither do the chrysanthemums, fuchsias, azaleas or hundreds of other flowers and plants that the Van Nuys company sells. They're all artificial. All the same, Aldik's business is blossoming, with annual sales up about fourfold in five years, to $12 million now.

Aldik, the West's largest importer of artificial flowers, has grown by carving out a sizable chunk of a business that is flourishing largely because of production refinements and new materials that give artificial flowers a more realistic look.

Until about 10 years ago, artificial flowers usually were made of plastic, and more often than not, looked like it. Silk also was tried, but it didn't work out well either because it is expensive and wrinkles easily.

"Frankly, we didn't think anything could ever replace the plastic flower," said Joseph A. Sacchetti, a half-owner of Aldik who joined the firm as a sales staffer in the early 1960s.

But eventually manufacturers started using cheap, wrinkle-resistant polyester, and business took off. Now, industry leaders boast, the occasional flower buyer can barely distinguish a fake from the real thing.

"There still is that stigma of being artificial that sticks in people's minds, but it's being eroded," said Joseph Roppolo, president of Roppolo Flowers & Trees, an artificial-flower manufacturer and importer based in Marlin, Tex.

Nearly all artificial flowers are made overseas--particularly in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and China--to reduce manufacturing costs. Aldik and other U. S. importers have benefited from price wars among foreign producers that, over the past five years, have cut prices on some products as much as 50% to 75%. Lower prices for oil, a major ingredient in the materials used to make fake flowers, also have trimmed costs.

Executives of artificial-flower firms say theirs is a highly fragmented industry with domestic sales of perhaps $100 million. They generally rank Aldik among the top five importers in the United States and say it's clearly the largest west of the Mississippi River.

Aldik is owned by Sacchetti and Larry Gold. They bought the company over several years ending in 1984 from Gold's father, Dick, who still helps in buying flowers and who holds the title of president.

Dick Gold founded the company in 1951 along with a partner, Al Haskin. Although Haskin soon pulled out of the business, his legacy remains: The name Aldik was derived from the two original partners' first names.

At first, the senior Gold worked with artificial flowers part time while he was employed as a talent scout for a music publisher. Within a few years, the business was doing so well that he went into it full time.

Like his father, Larry Gold also planned to work for Aldik only part time. After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in biology, he was planning to enter dental school. While working at Aldik to pay for tuition in the mid-1970s, however, he decided that he liked his father's line of work.

The company today ships 5,000 dozen flowers a day from facilities in Van Nuys and San Fernando, and hopes to move most of the Van Nuys operation to a larger facility in Valencia. Employment varies seasonally, ranging from 85 when business is slow to 115 in late summer and early fall, when more people are needed to prepare and ship Christmas orders.

Many of Aldik's shipments go to florists who sell artificial flowers as well as real ones. Others go to gift shops or interior decorators looking for particular colors. Sometimes the requests are unusual; a couple of years ago, a movie producer wanted enough purple flowers to cover three acres.

Despite the advances that have made artificial flowers look more realistic, Aldik executives and other importers say they don't compete with florists.

Instead, they say, they sell to customers who want the look of flowers for situations where real ones would be too expensive or troublesome. A hotel chain, for example, that wouldn't buy real poinsettia plants for its lobbies at $20 apiece might be willing to buy artificial ones at $40 each because they last for years and don't need care.

Susan Ashbridge, marketing manager with Sunburst Farms, an importer of fresh flowers in Miami, said people use artificial flowers "as decorations, like they would put a book on a coffee table or a sculpture in their living rooms."

Despite strong sales of artificial flowers recently, some industry executives fear that the domestic market is nearly saturated and that they must do business overseas to expand further.

Still, Gold and Sacchetti see potential for growth. They point to improved production techniques that have made it easier to make flowers fireproof without discoloring them.

That, Aldik's owners say, will boost sales to office buildings and hotels. Gold and Sacchetti say they also might try to increase sales to department stores, which could add artificial flowers to their gift lines.

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