For several centuries the hegemony of flower trading has been in the hands of the Dutch. Nowadays this has translated into the biggest flower auctions in the world happening every day in several parts of the Netherlands. One of the most famous ones is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction.
Aalsmeer Flower Auction is the largest one in the world. Every day thousands of flowers from all the continents are sold in this Dutch auction. Besides being a business, it has become a famous touristic attraction. Visitors can book tours during the week and get to see the whole process.
Would you like to take a peek inside the world’s largest flower auction before your visit? Would you like to understand how it works, what is going on and what to expect? In this article, you will be able to find a lot of useful information for before and during your visit to Aalsmeer Flower Auction.
Aalsmeer Flower Auction
Going to Aalsmeer Flower Auction is a breathtaking experience for all the senses. First of all, almost 20 million flowers are sold every day. This number increases by 15 percent on weeks when special days take place, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, All Saints and so on. Secondly, it is the third-largest building by footprint in the world, covering 518,000 m2. And last, but not least, you are allowed to visit it.
History of the Flower Auction
It all started with the star of the show, the tulip. During the 17th Century, Dutch Golden Ages, tulips were introduced in the Netherlands by Ottoman traders (tulips are originally from Kazakistan). This peculiar flower caught everybody’s attention and quickly became everybody’s desire.
With the desire for this unique and luxurious product, the law of demand and supply was introduced: the instant demand that occurred in the tulip market (due to the people wanting to own the flower for themselves) started to grow quickly. It suddenly a demand curve that didn’t exist initially, moving up quickly.
The impossibility to provide people with their demand changed it all: the botanical limitations of the tulip serve to constrain the supply curve. It takes approximately 10 years to grow a tulip from a seed to its tradable asset, the bulb. This is the only way it can be easily transportable: each bulb indicated what type of tulips will bloom from it, the bulb only needs to be in solid during spring, to bloom and then it can easily be stored anywhere. With this quickly growing demand curve, and a relatively fixed supply curve with an extremely long production cycle, it meant there was the need to find a way to find the best buyer for this precious good.
So, how can you trade a product that is visible during 3 months a year, but that is demanded all year round? What Dutch came up with in the 17th Century is the base of modern contracts. These contracts would stipulate that at any time during the year, tulip sellers and tulip buyers would sign a contract to deliver a said amount of tulips on a given date in the Summer at price X.
Afterwards, the first functional markets were created by the trade of these contracts of goods among buyers, instead of the direct B2C way. If you want to know more about this, I recommend you watch the movie, Tulip Fever.
It is easy to picture the panorama of the 17th Centuries, where Dutch tradesmen would join flamboyant “auctions” milling around talking loudly and the contracts flying around. To sum up, picture total commotion, noise, and very hard to keep everything organised. Basically, the beginning of nowadays auctions. They came up with the strategy that the best solution to selling the bulbs was to do it quickly, to do it with as few bids as possible, while at the same time getting as high a price as possible. How so? With the Dutch Clock.
Auction Clock: how does it work?
In a nutshell, the auction clock is a wheel where the auctioneer informs the bidders of the time and price of the lot, in this case, flowers. All the participants in the auction have a screen with all the relevant information about the lot at all times, which makes it easier for them to know in a short period of time all the characteristics of the products they are bidding for, what is the lowest price they can pay for it, what is the starting price of the lot, when the bid is over and much more. If you want to know more about it, Royal FloraHolland provides information, videos and more.
Since the 17th Century, the dutch flower auctions have always owed its strong position to “the clock”: already back in the day the Dutch invented their own method to obtain the highest possible profit with the lowest number of bids. This method of selling is known as the ‘Dutch auction’ or “Dutch Clock“. This type of auction works in a way that for those familiar with auctions would be described as a reverse auction.
Basically, the price starts high (the highest price this product is expected to cost) and drops until the product is sold. Therefore, what has to be taken into account with buying here is: what your needs are; the availability of the product, in this case, flowers; your budget and more information available in every screen. This works well, because it means that products get sold at a higher price when demand is high and a lower price when there isn’t as much of a demand. It means that growers can plan their seasons based on demand predictions and try to optimise their production to match the demand on the auction.
Royal FloraHolland is the biggest flower action of the world. There is a very wide and deep assortment of flowers of different types, sizes and colours, and plants though the Flora Holland auction clocks on a daily basis. Every day, 39 auction clocks are in operation at FloraHolland. Each of these clocks is controlled by an expert dealer who controls the screen and represents sellers from all over the world in one room. This means 125,000 auction transactions every day: 12 billion cut flowers and over half a million plants a year.
In a room, the whole world is fully represented. This method of remote buying is ideal for the new market demand, economic developments and technological possibilities. Dealers buy a lot of their products remotely. With the help of such services as Remote Buying FloraHolland is able to attract an increasing number of (international) buyers to the auction (represented by the expert dealer). This justifies the size and amount of goods trade in Aalsmeer.
The whole process is done quickly and following the most incredible logistics: flower enter the facilities of Aalsmeer at 10pm, every night. During the night the flowers are classified, each gets a number and description and photos of all of these are taken. This information appears on the 39 screens of the dealers and this facilitates the process. The products don’t have to be displayed in the auction room and that means the flowers can be in the cooling rooms and keep their freshness until these are bought. Since the flowers are on the spot, they can be sent immediately to the buyer once the payment is effective.
Part of the innovation of Aalsmeer Flower Auction consist on this Dutch clock: the large screens with information are renewed and updated. The screens share more information to the dealers than even: brand of the flower, the type of care, environmental laws they have followed while growing them, length, amount, a sample of the colour, name, amount of these flowers available and much more.
Visit Aalsmeer Flower Auction
From Monday until Friday you will be able to visit the auction from 7am -11am. If you are interested in visiting the facilities, you can either get a self-guided tour or a professional one:
- Professional tour: on the professional tour, you will be guided by 4 experts who would explain you everything and answer all your questions.
- Self-guided tour
- The opening hour and the start is always at 7am and only during weekdays.
- You can get a combi-ticket, which gives you entrance to Aalsmeer’s three tourist high points, all in one day, besides the auction: at 10:00 the Historic Garden (living history in 13,000 m² of Aalsmeer) and at 11:00, 13.30 or 15.00 you can board a ‘Westeinder Rondvaart‘ boat for a tour of discovery of the Westeinderplassen
- If you want to see what to expect during the tour, check out this video.
The prices are the following:
|Entrance Adult||€ 8 per person|
|Entrance Child (until 11 years old)||€ 5 per child|
|Groups (from 15 people)||€ 7 per person (tour guide and bus driver free of charge)|
|Guided tours (max 25 people)||€ 125 plus entrance fee (only by booking)|
|Aalsmeer Combi ticket (adult)||€ 18 per person|
|Aalsmeer Combi ticket (child)||€ 10,75 per child (up to 11 years)|
Extra information you need to know before you visit:
- You will not be allowed to touch the flowers or get remotely close to them. For a flower approach, Keukenhof is the best option. Going to the auction means keeping your distance and enjoying the discovery of the process and the logistics applied to the auction.
- You can see everything beforehand on Google Street View, where you will be able to see the auction room, the auction clock explained, the flowers and more.
- You can download the free app (available in Dutch, English, German, Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese) that they offer for visitors to get to know more about the process: explained here.
- The tour will last no more than two hours.
- Parking is free.
- During Christmas holidays visitors won’t be allowed in the facilities.
- If you want to know more terminology for your visit, here there is some extra terms.
How Can I get there?
From Amsterdam Central Station: the best option is to go by train to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and from there take busses 357 or 358 (direction Aalsmeer Hortensiaplain). It takes over 1 hour to get there. Another option is going to South and taking the same bus.
From Amsterdam Zuid: you can the Bus 358 (direction Aalsmeer via Amstelveen). The stop is always FloraHolland.
From Schiphol Airport: the simplest option is to take Bus 300 (direction Bijlmer Arena) to stop at Amstelveen, Busstation and from there taking Bus 357 or 358 (direction Aalsmeer Hortensiaplain). The expected traveling time is around 45 minutes. A taxi from the airport costs around 40 euros and takes 20 minutes.
From Utrecht: take an intercity to Schiphol airport and from there you can easily reach following the same directions.
From Keukenhof: the best option, once again, is going from Schiphol airport. You can either take the Keukenhof Express back to the airport or walk to Lisse Centrum and take Bus 361 (direction Schiphol Airport) from there.
More About Aalsmeer Flower Auction
There is much more to know about the biggest flower auction in the world. Each season changes and things are different so depending on when you get to visit it, it is not the only auction point in the Netherlands, it is in the Netherlands for its strategic position and more. Curious? Keep reading.
High Season-High Demand
For the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, there are also seasons. Since this Flower centre provides flowers for the whole world, most important events and dates for other countries are also important. The high season is these important dates. For instance, the moment of the highest demand for flowers happens to be Valentine’s day (with the highest demand and the highest prices) and the moment when most roses are sold. Other important dates are Mother’s day, Christmas (when there are no tours and the facilities are is closed for visitors) and Spring, when mostly tulips are sold and shipped everywhere in the world.
Why the Netherlands?
Besides the old tradition of flower trading in the Netherlands, relevant for the Dutch society since the 17th Century (as I explained before), the Netherlands is a strategic location:
- The Netherlands is the number one producer of flowers in the world, with a 52% share in the global market. This makes it a strategic location to trade fresh, well-conserved and ready to go products, making it cheaper for transportation, easy to get to the Aalsmeer distribution centre and cheaper to get flowers there. Even thought the weather is not the best one, the high technology applied to the green houses. With this method, and since the Netherlands is facing a lot of competition , they are trying hard to reduce the cost of production so as to provide with lower price to the buyers.
- The Netherlands has the biggest port in Europe and one of the biggest in the world, Rotterdam’s Port. This is also a key element for the chain, making it also cheaper to send right away any product, from anywhere in the Netherlands.
- The Netherlands is close to everything and in the middle of Europe. The strategic location of this country makes it easy to transport with tracks any type of fresh content and have it anywhere in Europe in less than 24 hours if needed. Having a distribution centre far away from big cities allows the big space Aalsmeer takes over.
- It is close to Amsterdam. Being close to the big economic centres of the country and one of the biggest of Europe means great connections, easy access and other advantages (like it being easy to visit if you want to do it).
- It is close to Schiphol airport. A lot of flower containers are transported by plane to their destination. Being so close to the airport makes it convenient for buyers to distribute the flowers and plants from this hub airport.
What are the Advantages of the Dutch Clock?
The Dutch Clock is referred to this particular method of setting a higher price at the beginning of the bid and making each bid goes cheaper, basically, the prices drops on its own as time passes by until someone gets it. The advantages of this method are the following:
- The seller recognises his fullest economic benefits from the sale at the very beginning.
- Descending prices ensure bidders will bid promptly when their expected price is reached, making it faster.
- Quick and simple to implement, easy to understand for bidders.
- It provides all the information needed at a glans.
- Everything is done out in the open, transparency to everyone involved.
- Prices can easily go up and down following the demand and supply.
Even though this method has proven to be very effective, there are certain disadvantages: buyers buy end up paying higher prices than expected or wanted, they all have to be present and in front of the information to know quickly what they are bidding for and only one product can be bought at a time.
How Does the Auction Work?
What should you expect from the flower auction? Well, these are the steps that are followed every day in the facilities of Aalsmeer:
- The buyers sit in a college-like classroom that is located on one side of the hall – computers plugged in. (Nowadays you can bid electronically, through computers, yet bidders are present in the room).
- There are 39 computers where buyers can see all the information there is available about the lot of flowers.
- On the other side of the hall, the flowers and plants are pulled through the hall on automated trains. For instance, if two auctions are happening simultaneously, two trains go by at the same time.
- There are huge screens in each half of the hall and they display the auction information –
- The clock determines the price, from higher to lower. The blue button represents the highest settled price, whereas the red one the price the lot has been bought for.
- The auctioneer sits behind a glass screen.
- The buyers bid electronically as the flowers move by.
- The flowers lot have a code to identify them and they will be ready for shipment right after the bid.
- Wagons and containers are sorted and sent to the correct loading bay so each buyer receives his goods and can ship it on to the shops, other distribution centres, to Schiphol Airport for export or Rotterdam port.
Every day there are 10 clocks, each has different types of lots and you can get the information of the lots beforehand. These are the auction clocks:
Aalsmeer vs Keukenhof
Are you considering which one you should visit during your trip to the Netherlands in spring? Well, the choice is easy to make: if you want to see flowers, go to Keukenhof, Aalsmeer will only give you a good panorama of how logistics work and the whole internal market, but not necessarily to the flowers.
Keukenhof is the place to go when you want to see flowers during the Dutch spring. If you want to know more about it, read this article. This doesn’t make Aalsmeer a less attractive activity, just a different one. You won’t be able to see flowers from close by because they are all ready to be shipped when the auction is over.
Other Flower Auctions
Royal FloraHolland has not only one location in the country but two. The second location, Eelde, is the only one in the North of the Country, in the province of Friesland. If you want to visit, this is what you should know:
- Tours for up to 10 people can be organised. By appointment only.
- The visiting days are Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays. Tour: from 6 euros per person (maximum group size 40 people)
- Parking is free. You can park your car at the front of the main building.
- The building is accessible.
- Find more about them on their website.
Other centres are Naaldwijk and Rijnsburg, with smaller auctions.