Photo by John Sobczak In the early 1990s, Wesley Berry Flowers saw a growth opportunity not in storefronts but in e-commerce.The 70-year-old Wesley Berry Flowers florist chain is shutting down local company-owned stores.
It's unclear whether FlowerDeliveryExpress.com, the national, online floral business that put Wesley Berry on Inc. magazine's 2014 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the country, is still operating.
Attempts to order flowers through FlowerDeliveryExpress.com led to an automated message and voicemail box, and messages left were not returned last week.
The company's owner, Wesley Berry II, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Commerce Township-based florist was operating four brick-and-mortar stores in the region: two in Detroit and one each in Commerce Township and West Bloomfield Township.
As of Friday, only its downtown Detroit store in the Penobscot Building and its West Bloomfield store at Orchard Lake and West Maple roads remained open, fulfilling advance orders that had been placed, said Jerry Baker, manager of the downtown Detroit store.
Its original store, which opened in 1946 on Schoolcraft Avenue near Greenfield Road on Detroit's west side, and its Commerce Township location on Haggerty Road north of Pontiac Trail had been shuttered.
Baker said he has orders placed at the downtown Detroit store for events taking place the next three weekends. As it winds down, the store also continues to fill small walk-in orders.
Wesley Berry's corporate leadership informed him it was closing some of its stores last week, without giving any reason for the closure, he said.
"It was a surprise; I didn't see it coming."
The company took all of its equipment from the Penobscot Building shop, including computers and a fax machine, last week, Baker said, and it disconnected the phone line for the store.
Signs on the Detroit store's windows let customers know the shop is operating on a cash-only basis now.
The lone Wesley Berry franchised store left, in Canton Township, was still operating last week. Its owner declined any comment.
Under the Wesley Berry Flowers name, the combined brick-and-mortar and online businesses ranked No. 1,755 on Inc.'s 2014 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S., with $40.2 million in reported revenue for 2013, up from $11.9 million in 2010.
Wesley Berry Florist Inc. sold its first franchise about 30 years ago. It went on to establish 30 franchises across five states before selling most of them in the 1990s and launching an e-commerce business in 1994.
As of June 2015, Wesley Berry Flowers' Michigan operations and online business employed 100 people in Michigan and 50 at a call center in the Philippines, owner and CEO Wesley Berry II told Crain's at the time.
At that point, he said the companies were dealing with 5,000 to 6,000 customers each day, either placing orders or receiving flowers through the company from online orders. Several hundred of those orders came from other countries, Berry said, noting his companies work closely with 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. and Florists' Transworld Delivery through FTD.com.
Amid it all, consumer complaints about the service and products delivered by FlowerDeliveryExpress.com and Wesley Berry ramped up online. In May, the Better Business Bureau/Detroit and Eastern Michigan said on its website that it had revoked its accreditation due to Wesley Berry's failure to, among other things, promptly respond to all complaints forwarded to the agency and to make a good-faith effort to resolve disputes.
Berry told Crain's last year that his company makes every effort to follow up on issues and doesn't have any greater failure rate on orders than its major competitors.
FDE's growing footprint — with deliveries in 152 countries — put it into conflict and court with online florist giant Teleflora LLC, as Crain's reported last year.
FDE had been a member of the Teleflora network going back to the 1950s and used its services for order fulfillment and credit card processing. But the two began sparring over issues stemming from a large number of refunds to credit card transactions. Teleflora cut Wesley Berry from its floral network in April 2015, and lawsuits filed by each side ensued.
After Wesley Berry was dropped from the Teleflora network, it filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging that Teleflora didn't make promised technology upgrades in its point-of-sale and e-commerce systems which would have helped reduce order fulfillment issues. As a result, the lawsuit said, Wesley Berry had to design and implement its own technology "at great expense."
The lawsuit also alleged Teleflora didn't communicate chargeback issues in a timely manner to allow Wesley Berry to respond to them and that the high rate of refunds was "a direct result of Teleflora's failure to enforce its delivery requirements."
Wesley Berry dropped that lawsuit after Teleflora filed two lawsuits in California in favor of bringing counterclaims in those cases.
The remaining federal case in California in which Teleflora accused Wesley Berry of false advertising, trademark infringement and unfair competition, through, among other things, its alleged continued use of the Teleflora and Make Someone Smile trademarks, was dismissed Aug. 4 after a joint motion from the two companies. Teleflora had sought damages in excess of $20 million in the case.
Teleflora's charges were dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot reintroduce those claims.
Wesley Berry's counterclaims, however, were dismissed without prejudice, with the understanding they will be reasserted in an ongoing state case between the two companies.
In the state case, Teleflora is claiming breach of contract and seeking about $2 million from Wesley Berry. A January court date is set in the case.
The Clark Hill PLC attorney representing Wesley Berry in both cases did not return calls seeking comment.
Teleflora's attorneys declined to comment.
"My read is there was an agreement between these parties regarding the use of (Teleflora's) marks, and ultimately this dispute would land on breach of contract principles," said Rudy Telscher, partner and head of litigation in the St. Louis office of Troy-based Harness, Dickey & Pierce PLC.
Teleflora voluntarily dismissed its claims in the federal case in favor of the state case, which would indicate it believes its best claims are in the state case, he said.
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