Getting the goods

Here's a retail tale that just might say something about gender-based perspectives on the importance of where we buy.

In the chatty first minutes of a staff meeting before Valentine's Day, I mentioned the terrific price of cut flowers at the giant wholesale club not far from my home.

Several women colleagues then assailed me for being far too thrifty around a holiday that was intended for extravagance.

They impugned my cut-rate stems - which they clearly imagined to be set-to-wilt surplus stock, stacked on warehouse pallets and slung around by forklifts. And they suggested that I'd be better off, in terms of marital diplomacy, buying from a cute (upscale) florist.

One of them named a favorite shop, a national chain. And I wasn't sure where I'd recently seen its name up close until I went back to my wholesale club that weekend for a case of Pellegrino and a pillow-sized sack of rolls.

The main flower section at my wholesaler is, in fact, a branded outlet of that vaunted boutique. You even get that impressive name on your plastic bouquet wrap.

The best part: While the actual boutique hiked its price for a dozen roses from $16.79 to $41.99 for Valentine's week, the wholesaler was moving its buds - the boutique's buds - for $15, as always.

So are they sub-par "seconds"? Well, I bought some pink tulips - in my house, they're preferred over roses - that stayed tight, bright, and upright for more than a week.

Today's lead story looks at a twist on the phenomenon of wholesale-hunting consumers. Some small shopkeepers not backed by national networks now turn to mass retailers - as well as wholesalers - to buy goods for resale.

Can the little guys shop side-by-side with the customers they aim to serve - and survive?

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