Belfast firm finds market in petal power

Posted March 08, 2009, at 10:17 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The gift of a rose says everything, and it now says even more.

At Speaking Roses of Maine on Main Street, owner J. Michael Mugford has the ability to print phrases and images on rose petals. The patented process enables Mugford to turn an elegant rose into a personalized item with a more specific purpose.

Petals printed with the names of a bride and groom can celebrate a wedding, and images can be used to memorialize a historic occasion, such as the popular white roses embossed with the face of President Obama. The shop also is able to print personalized messages on plants, fruit, candy and other objects.

Mugford stressed that he was not in competition with the city’s florists. He said he visited them all to show them his product. He said his was a specialty business that would complement the florists.

“I don’t consider myself a florist — I happen to print on flowers,” Mugford said. “We do everything from printing standard or customized messages to logos and photographs for all occasions. It’s really a specialty niche.”

Printing is a new profession for Mugford, a New Hampshire native who spent years as a builder in California before moving to Northport five years ago. He said he discovered the Utah-based Speaking Roses while researching business opportunities on the Internet.

After meeting with company officials he decided the business would be an ideal offering for Belfast. Although branches of Speaking Roses can be found elsewhere in the country, Mugford believes he is the first to bring the business to Maine.

“I guess you could call it a quasi-franchise,” he said. “I use their marketing materials and pay them a small fee each month, but I have the freedom to market the products any way I desire.”

The company has an exclusive patent for printing on live flowers and on the equipment used to transfer the images to the flowers. Mugford also prints on silk flowers.

He said that while many of the “franchises” are home-based businesses, he decided to open a storefront. He said the feel of downtown Belfast just seemed right for it.

“In my opinion it’s the only way to develop credibility with my customers. I just fell in love with Belfast,” he said. “It’s been well-received. For a new business just being launched, we’re managing to get the word out.”

Prices for the products range, of course, based on the number of roses. A dozen red might cost $64.99, or two dozen for Mother’s Day might cost $89.99, according to the firm’s Web site.

Mugford has plates with more than 100 sayings and can produce new ones as well.

He begins with creating an image or saying on a computer, then uses ultraviolet light to etch the image onto a plastic plate.

The plate picks up the ink which is then printed on the flower petal with a marshmallow-like foam press.

For photograph images Mugford uses black ink on white roses. Gold, silver and copper ink are used for script messages.

The flowers are all printed by hand, one at a time. Mugford said he can print six to eight petals a minute once a plate and ink are prepared.

Customers have ordered speaking roses for special events, anniversaries and weddings, fundraisers, proms, graduations, holidays, even funerals.

Mugford has printed roses with the number of someone’s favorite race car driver, and images of Boston Red Sox players. Slogans such as “Father of the Bride” or “Mother of the Groom” have been very popular, he said.

“It’s very versatile,” he said. “You can give a rose for friendship, for love and sympathy. It’s the combination of the flower and the act of saying that gives the impact.”

Mugford said he was aware that starting a new venture during a slumping economy can be risky but he believes Speaking Roses of Maine has the right formula.

“Whether the economy is good or bad people are going to continue to give greeting cards and they are going to continue to give flowers,” he said. To contact the store call 338-3285 or visit speakingrosesofmaine.com

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

338-9546

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