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Valentine's Day is almost a month away, but the rush is in full swing with its fast pace and frenetic demands. It’s time to sharpen our problem-solving skills so we can service our customers throughout the floral supply chain.

Valentine’s Day is the biggest floral sales event of the year. It puts a strain on the entire system, but supermarket floral departments can capitalize on this seasonal windfall by detailed planning and accurate forecasting. In other words, solve small problems before they turn into big ones.

As John Foster Dulles, U.S. secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, put it, "The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year."

Maybe a good way to look at this Feb. 14 holiday surge is to think of it like planning for a vacation. You decide where and when you want to go, how you want to get there and how much you will spend. You arrive at the airport or cruise ship terminal with confidence and high expectations. This should be the way we approach Valentine’s Day.

You should have already reviewed last year’s sales figures, factored in current sales indicators, and come up with a forecast for your Valentine’s Day orders. How will you get them to your store?

Remember, it’s one of the busiest times of the year, so cargo planes, trains and trucks will be at a premium. Failing to lock in your transport now is like missing your plane at the airport: Your schedule is thrown off and rebooking your flight will probably cost you more.

If you allot time to review your Valentine’s Day forecasting model with your farms, your suppliers and your logistics group, you’ll be like the vacationer who can check on the Internet to see if his or her plane is delayed and still have time to make other arrangements.

When it comes to both vacations and for Valentine’s Day: • Plan ahead. • Avoid late arrivals. • Control expenses. • Give yourself time. If you take care of the little problems, you will avoid the big ones. Now that you’ve got Valentine’s Day covered, go ahead and plan that spring vacation in March. Do it quickly, though, because Easter and Mother’s Day are right around the corner.

James H. Holloway is transportation manager for C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. and heads its Floral Solutions operations. He can be reached at 800/999- 3740 or james.holloway@chrobinson.com.