Exploring Dangwa: The Flower Artisans Behind the Blooms
November 10, 2023
Dangwa. As far as flowers are concerned, it's the only place you need to know. Teeming with fresh blooms, blossoms, and bulbs, as well as dried flowers and plants both local and imported, the Dangwa Flower Market has long been a household name among locals for beautiful and bang-for-your-buck floral arrangements for any and every occasion.
Take to Dimasalang Road in Sampaloc, Manila and you'll immediately know you're in Dangwa. More than the sight of colorful and vibrant blooms, the sweet, intoxicating, and cloying scent of flowers punctuates the air amid the sharp fumes of jeepneys and vehicles hurtling along the thoroughfare.
Dangwa, also known as the "Bulaklakan ng Maynila," takes its name from Dangwa Tranco Terminal, the bus station that's just a stone's throw away from the flower market. Although open 24 hours a day, Dangwa is most alive and busy during All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day or Undas, and Valentine's Day.
During these occasions, long-time clients and walk-in customers flock to Dangwa in search of the perfect blooms to honor the departed, celebrate their significant others, and mark special milestones with loved ones.
Throughout the decades, Dangwa has established itself as the "bagsakan" area of the wholesale cutflower industry. Almost daily, traders hailing from Baguio City, Davao City, Tagaytay City, Cotabato City, and Laguna, among others, come to Dangwa with a multitude of flower varieties by the truckload for the market's “suki” retailers and wholesalers, according to the BAR R4D Digest, the official publication of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Research, in its January-March 2007 issue.
Aside from blooms and blossoms, varieties of leaves are also sold in Dangwa as fillers and enhancements for flower arrangements, from Kamuning, cypress, tibatib, anahaw, and fishtail to Formosa, wondering tube, rosal, bottle grass, and more.
On Wednesday afternoon a week before Undas, Dangwa buzzed with life: assistants hard at work on the curb, deft hands weaving arrangements in algorithmic, precise fashion.
The Beat Asia talked with several flower store owners and flower artisans in Dangwa who shared their firsthand experiences about the meticulous preparation of wreaths and floral crosses for gravesites, the creation of beautiful bouquets, and catering to the diverse needs and demands of Dangwa’s customers during off and peak seasons.
Elsie Abigail Vasquez, Egosie Flower Shop
Across the now-closed St. Jude General Hospital and Medical Center is Egosie Flower Shop, owned by 36-year-old entrepreneur Elsie and her husband Ramil. The couple has been managing their floral business for the last seven years. According to Elsie, Ramil was a former employee at a different Dangwa flower shop, who eventually ventured out and established his very own flower store.
Prior to managing their own flower shop, Elsie also worked as an online seller, an experience that attests to her entrepreneurial acumen.
“[Mas] lalo na [business-minded] ‘yung husband ko. Mas magaling lang ako mag-market pero yung vision at pag-iisip ng pwede mo’ng ibenta, siya talaga. Parang nagkaro’n lang ng magandang tandem kasi magaling siya mag-isip, tapos [ako] magbebenta,” she shared.
(My husband is especially [business-minded]. I excel in marketing but when it comes to vision and product selection, that's really him. It's like having a good tandem because he's a strategic thinker, and I'm the one who brings our ideas to life through effective selling.)
Egosie Flower Shop specializes in sympathy flowers, also known as sympathy bouquets or sympathy arrangements. Common flower choices for these arrangements include lilies, roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and other white or pastel-colored flowers, although the selection can vary based on cultural and regional customs.
“Hindi siya (sympathy flowers) seasonal na [flower], unlike [special] bouquets na kailangan may [special events like] Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day lang. [Yung] sympathy [flowers] parang all year round naman siya, tuloy-tuloy. Pero ‘pag [special days like] Valentine’s [day], kaunti lang ‘yung ganyan namin, more on bouquet naman ‘yung tinda. Kami ‘yung nag-a-adjust,” she said.
([Sympathy flowers are] not seasonal [flowers], unlike [special] bouquets that are popular during occasions [like] Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. Sympathy [flowers] are needed consistently, all year round. On special days like Valentine's Day, our sales of sympathy flowers are relatively limited, we sell more [special] bouquets. We also adapt our offerings based on the changing seasons).
According to Elsie, the demand for flowers during Undas in Dangwa surges up to three times its regular levels. In the evenings, three to four trucks carrying flowers arrive behind the market where shop owners can procure their products.
During this season, they experience a substantial influx of orders, often reaching orders of around 3,000 baskets. To meet this demand, their preparations begin as early as Oct. 27, in anticipation of Undas, which falls on Oct. 30-31. Each basket is priced at P150, but for wholesale purchases, the total cost can be reduced by at least P20. The shop sources the majority of its local flowers, including sympathy blooms, from Baguio, while its orchids are imported from Thailand.
Given the multitude of flower shops lining Dangwa, it can be challenging to make a choice on where to shop. For those who are wondering, Elsie suggested looking for shops that source their flowers directly from suppliers, such as theirs. These shops, in contrast to those that import their blooms, typically provide more cost-effective pricing options.
Moreover, Elsie firmly believes that despite the fierce competition among the numerous flower shops, they all manage to generate enough earnings. This is because each shop has its own set of personal contacts and networks. The key, she emphasized, lies in employing strategic marketing techniques, particularly in the online realm.
Egosie Flower Shop is open to accommodate custom orders for special designs and arrangements from clients. Nevertheless, Elsie always reminds clients to keep their expectations in check and take into account various factors.
“Minsan sinasabi ko sa customer ‘pag sa online nila kinukuha, ‘yung sinasabi nilang picture versus reality, kasi merong flowers na hindi naman sobrang available dito sa’tin. Halimbawa lang, merong roses dito sa’tin pero hindi kasing laki nung nasa ibang bansa kasi usually mga imported ‘yung roses nila. So, kahit gayahin mo ‘yung color nu’n, hindi mo ma-achieve ‘yung ganun dahil sa laki ng flowers. Katulad ng baby’s breath, yan yung local pero may imported din niyan, mas maganda tignan sa pictures ‘yung imported na version niyan.”
(Sometimes, when dealing with online customers seeking personalized floral arrangements, you know what they say about [the concept of] “picture versus reality.” There are flowers that are not readily available here. For instance, while we do have roses here, they may not be as large as those from other countries. Consequently, even if we try to replicate a specific color, achieving the same effect is hindered by the size of the locally sourced flowers. Take, for example, baby's breath. There is a local variety but there is also an imported version, and the imported one tends to look more appealing in photos).
With many years of experience as a flower shop owner, Elsie's personal favorites are orchids and stargazer lilies. These two flowers are renowned for their captivating beauty and have a significant presence in the world of floristry, adorning homes as houseplants, enhancing wedding decorations, and serving as meaningful tokens of appreciation and admiration.
Before achieving a stable flower shop business, Elsie reflected on a time when they simply relied on the hope that each day would bring a steady stream of walk-in customers. It was a gradual process before they could finally shed the worry of not making any sales for the day.
“May time talaga na matumal dahil hindi mo naman i-wi-wish na maraming mamatay.”
(There are really times when business is slow; we earnestly don’t hope for many people to die).
Pia Domingo, MJDHarmony Flowershop
Originally from Nueva Ecija, Pia Domingo is a 39-year-old flower shop owner in Dangwa who has been in the business since 2004. The MJDHarmony Flowershop is a family business owned by Pia’s husband.
During Undas season, Pia shared that she makes sure they have enough supply of dyed dried flowers. This preparation is necessary because the narrow streets of Dangwa make it challenging for delivery trucks to navigate during this time. The dried flowers they offer are locally sourced from her province in Nueva Ecija.
MJDHarmony Flowershop stands as one of the pioneering establishments to introduce dried flowers to the Dangwa market, with prices ranging from P15 to P35. Interestingly, the demand for dried flowers saw a resurgence when the pandemic hit, as these are known for their longevity and do not easily wither. These dried blooms can be used repeatedly without wilting or losing their charm for extended periods in contrast to fresh flowers, which usually go limp within a few days to a week.
"Mas nakakatipid sila kahit ilang beses nila gamitin, hindi nasisira. ‘Di kagaya ng fresh na, [after] three days or one week ganun patay na.”
(People are able to save up more, no matter how many times they use [dried flowers] they don't wilt [easily]. Unlike fresh flowers, [after] three days or one week, they are already withered).
Like many of Dangwa's flower vendors who started small, Pia shared that she and her husband had their fair share of struggles in their early years, one of which was being turned away from their shop’s location.
"[Nung] 2004, pinaalis kami sa pwesto nang walang dahilan... Nakabalik din ako nu’ng 2019 pero hindi na sa dating pwesto," she said.
(In 2004, we were pulled out from our post without any clear reason... I was also able to return to [Dangwa] in 2019, but not to the previous location.]
Maylyn Oliva, Sa Lokal Tayo
Maylyn Oliva of South Caloocan oversees her brother's flower shop, Sa Lokal Tayo, in Dangwa. It first opened in 2008 and operates around the clock. Maylyn's brother also started out as an employee in one of the flower stores in Dangwa. He eventually seized the opportunity to establish his very own shop in the bustling flower district.
The 31-year-old Maylyn revealed that during the Undas season, their flower shop experiences a substantial influx of orders, particularly from online shoppers, who eclipse the number of walk-in customers.
To ensure a vibrant selection, they procure imported orchids from Bangkok, while their dried flowers are sourced from the regions of Quirino, Quezon, and Nueva Ecija. As for their delivery schedules, these vary based on product availability, but customers should place orders at least two days in advance for a smooth and timely delivery experience.
Their most sought-after blossoms during the Undas season are orchids, while dried flowers in captivating shades of blue or red primarily serve as decorative "fillers" for floral offerings that customers bring to the cemetery. The orchids are typically priced between P650 and P850, although it's essential to note that prices tend to rise during peak seasons like Undas.
For those seeking unique and customized floral arrangements, the shop boasts a dedicated in-house florist, offering their artistic expertise for a labor fee ranging from P250 to P500, contingent upon the scale and intricacy of the arrangement.
In the fiercely competitive landscape of Dangwa's bustling flower market, Maylyn openly acknowledged the challenges of increasing sales, particularly when one’s shop is situated in the middle of the marketplace.
“Mahirap pag nasa bandang gitna [‘yung pwesto mo]. Kasi pag may [nagtanong] na dito sa unahan, di’ba? Tapos mas maganda din kasi nasa unahan, kahit pricey ‘yung rent, pag masikip na doon [sa looban] dito na sila [‘yung customers] pupunta."
(It's hard [to earn more] when your store is in the middle [of Dangwa]. Because when someone [asks] here in front, [they won’t bother to go further], right? It's also better to be located in front even if the rent is pricey. When it's crowded there [in the center], this is where [the customers] go.)
As the one who manages her brother’s flower shop, Maylyn has found true fulfillment in witnessing the joy and satisfaction in customers each time they purchase flowers and request special arrangements crafted by the shop’s skilled florists.
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