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Feature Story
 
The Wedding
               EXPERTS
         
by Cynthia L. McGowan


No detail goes overlooked in Clemens Family Markets’ nuptial business.

Wedding flowers are an important part of Clemens Family Markets’ floral business. The upscale, 20-store chain can provide flowers, cakes and catering services.

Weddings can be profitable, rewarding and add cachet to your floral business. According to The Wedding Report, a wedding industry Web site, a couple today spends, on average, $2,640 on wedding flowers.

To help you get your share of that market, we spoke with representatives from Clemens Family Markets, a 20-store, family-owned, upscale chain that excels at wedding business, with some stores handling 25 to 30 weddings a year. Clemens’ floral departments, which are called “Gatherings,” serve all types of weddings, from simple affairs in which the couples pick up the flowers at the store to elaborate events that require delivery and set-up. The cost of Clemens’ wedding services has ranged from $100 to $8,000.

A PLAN FOR SUCCESS
The key to success for weddings, says Floral Director Rose Clayton, is planning. Most Gatherings have two floral employees: the full-time floral manager and a part-time clerk. “We do [weddings] on a pretty slim staff,” she says, which keeps labor costs down but requires careful organization, especially for the large ones.

“The largest ones are usually quite involved,” Ms. Clayton says. The company is based in Kulpsville, Pa., near Philadelphia, and has handled flowers for weddings in Philadelphia’s most prestigious venues, including The Franklin Institute Science Museum, named for statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin; The Union League of Philadelphia, a private club whose French Renaissance-style head quarters was built in 1865; the Four Seasons Hotel; and the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.

Danielle Lepore, floral manager of the Center Square, Pa., Clemens store, says coordinating flowers for weddings at a venue like The Franklin Institute, with its breathtaking marble rotunda and huge main hall, can be a challenge because of the size and scale of the event, but “it’s so exciting because of its grandeur. It’s something we like to do.”

It’s also prestigious to be asked to provide the flowers for such weddings, Ms. Lepore acknowledges, and she is gratified “that a bride would be comfortable enough to come to a supermarket to have a wedding where they have pulled all the stops and whistles.”

To make sure the weddings are successful, Ms. Clayton advises the floral managers to map out their production days, hour by hour, and to plan backward. For example, if a wedding starts at 6 p.m. and the setup needs to be finished by 5 p.m., Ms. Clayton urges designers to ask themselves, “Where do we need to be at 4:30 or 3:30 or 1:30 that day, and what work needs to be completed by that time?

“When the managers plan backwards, they begin to understand the importance of timing,” she continues. “They are then able to schedule their labor more effectively to accomplish the goals of prepping the product, producing the designs, packing up the completed creations and making the delivery, all with time to spare.”
The wedding florists also schedule emergency time into that planning. “If they finish and deliver on the mark, wonderful,” Ms. Clayton says. “But what if an unforeseen accident happens? The van won’t start? Lost three boutonnieres? The wrong color bow on the mother’s corsage? So that emergency time is a very important inclusion.”
Another crucial part of the planning is a wedding file that is created for every nuptial that Clemens handles. The extremely detailed files contain all the information needed to ensure each wedding is successful—including the types and quantities of flowers, the supplies to be used, a calendar with dates that products will arrive, notes, correspondence, color swatches, and phone calls made and received.

“It’s a total documentary file,” Ms. Clayton says. “Everything is in there so that if I have to go in and assist, or, say, someone gets sick, or there’s some type of emergency, anybody—the store director—anybody can go into that file and find the information that they need about that specific wedding.”

GETTING THE WORD OUT
Most of the company’s wedding business comes from word of mouth. The rest comes from in-store displays showcasing wedding

designs such as bouquets, corsages and the company’s wedding cake styles.
The meeting places for consultations depend on the size of the weddings. For small, simple ones, brides may meet right in the floral departments.
For the more-involved weddings, Ms. Lepore says, “We have this charming little cafe within the supermarket that is close enough to the floral department that everything is in view.” If she wants to show a bride a particular flower, she just walks over and picks one up to give the bride a “hands-on” feel for the flowers she might have in her wedding.

Brides are asked to bring photos, magazines or any other materials that will give the floral managers an idea of what they want. They also look at wedding books in the stores. The floral managers get a good feel for the brides’ tastes that way, Ms. Clayton notes.

SETTING PRICES
At the consultations, the floral managers will give price ranges. “We’ll say, ‘We can do this bouquet for $40, $50 or $60; the difference is the number of roses that are in it,’” Ms. Clayton says, or perhaps the type of ribbon. Bridal bouquets range from $30 to $250, with the average going for $125. After the consultations, the floral managers take the brides’ ideas and formulate plans for the weddings. “Sometimes they’ll call either me or each other and say, ‘This is what she wants; what do you think?’” Ms. Clayton says. “They bounce ideas off each other, and then they’ll come back to the brides and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve come up with, and here’s the pricing structure,’ or ‘This is what we can offer you.’” Brides who choose Clemens’ wedding services are asked to sign off on their orders and put down deposits. “We tell them if there are any cancellations—it depends on how far into the wedding week we are—if we can cancel the fresh orders, we can give them some of their deposit back,” Ms. Clayton says. “The closer it gets, the more work you do. And that work has to be paid for.”
Clemens has established relationships with several local flower wholesalers that give the company excellent service. If an order is incorrect—for example, if flowers aren’t the color that the stores wanted—the wholesalers quickly make a switch. “That turnaround time for errors—you cannot replace that,” Ms. Clayton says. The floral managers do their own ordering, and deliveries are made two or three times a week.
The stores own most of the equipment couples want for their weddings, such as arches, garden urns and pillars. “We find that we do not get a lot of other requests for aisle candelabra,” Ms. Clayton relates. “That type of business seems to have shied away a little bit” as people are putting their money into the personal and reception flowers more.

PROFITABLE BUSINESS
And those wedding flowers are a profitable and important aspect of the Clemens floral business. Not only do weddings provide a valuable source of revenue but they also bring in new customers. “We find that weddings are an excellent source to expand our customer base,” Ms. Clayton confides. “If Jane Doe is getting married, and her three girlfriends are all going to get married, and they see the quality work that comes from Gatherings, suddenly you have three other girls that want to book weddings with you,” she says. “Maybe they have brothers and sisters who are still in high school, and they say, ‘Oh! Let’s get our prom flowers there.’ So it’s a domino effect.”

For Ms. Lepore, who has more than 30 years in the floral industry, weddings offer more than a boost to her store’s bottom line: “They are all memorable because they’re so much fun, and it’s always challenging, and personally, I’m a challenge kind of person. I like that part of the whole thing.”




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