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Retailers See Happier Valentine's Day

For you and me, Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate romance. For flower growers and chocolate makers, it's one of the busiest days of the year and a sign of an improving economy.

Jim McCann, founder of 1-800 Flowers, said Valentine's Day is the company's second-biggest holiday of the year after Mother's Day.

"Our business is an 'everyday' business" celebrating everyday occasions like birthdays, "but this is a holiday that is 10-times a normal week. This holiday is responsible for my hairline," the balding McCann told CNBC Tuesday.

Little wonder. It can be a logistical nightmare to ship more than five million roses in one day but "we've been florists for 36 years. [The process] is like watching sausage being made, but we've been doing it a long time."

Those roses, planted well in advance and timed to be perfect for shipping today, are coming from farms around the U.S. and the world, he said. Unlike past years, shipping costs are the same on Valentine's Day as on any other day because of the breadth of 1-800's operations.

"It's a difficult holiday to make money during because it's otherwise a quiet quarter with this one spike in the middle," McCann said. "But it's a good holiday. It introduces us to a lot of new customers and allows us to strut our stuff a little."

Like other companies, 1-800 got "punched in the nose" in 2008 into 2009, but that has been changing. Consumers, he said, "want to shake off the bad news" and that shows in increasing sales of flower arrangements.

If you don't say it with roses, there's always chocolate. Chocolate is the second-biggest gift sold at 1-800 Flowers but at Godiva Chocolatier, Valentine's Day is "our Super Bowl," said Godiva CEO Jim Goldman.

Thirty-six million boxes of chocolate expected to be sold today, he told CNBC in a separate interview Tuesday.

"People want to do the right thing and bring chocolate to those they love," he said. "People will be in our stores, in department stores, in specialty stores looking for Godiva."

Godiva will be ready for them with a variety of chocolate arrangements at a wide spread of prices, he said, from under $10, a good price for youngest children buying for Mom, and on up.

He said sales have been growing in Asia, too, particularly in Japan and even China, where Valentine's Day has become a big deal.

"Valentine's Day has become a global holiday," Goldman said. In China and Japan "they, too, like to celebrate those that they love."

Cocoa prices are down from last year, but demand has been increasing, especially since the economy has shown signs of improvement, which puts Godiva in a sweet spot.

"The demand is not subsiding," Goldman said. "We’ve grown double-digits in each of the last two years. Chocolates are loved in good times [and] in challenging times. You can’t put a price on love. No one has more retail stores than we do, creating the experience we do."

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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