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Store Profile

Investment in floral pays off

Pete’s County Market sees a big jump in sales after expanding department, products and services.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

When Floral Specialist Judy Ivers joined the floral department at Pete’s County Market four years ago this month, she asked if she could “change things around a little bit.” Store management agreed, and floral at the independent grocery store in Alexandria, Minn., has been growing ever since.
The floral department in 2003 consisted of a small round merchandiser of bouquets and another set of shelves that held plants. It was strictly cash and carry, and sales were measured in the hundreds of dollars a week. Now, the department offers complete floral services, from custom designs to weddings, and sales are counted in the thousands of dollars a week. The store’s staff achieved that level of success so quickly by working together to build a floral program based on a strong foundation of fresh products, excellent customer service, creative merchandising and savvy promotion efforts.
Pete’s County Market
LOCATION Alexandria, Minn.
OWNERS Maynard and Neil Peterson
STORE'S SIZE 54,000 square feet
FLORAL SERVICES Full service including custom designs, weddings and delivery
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One full time and one part time
FLORAL SPECIALIST Judy Ivers (pictured)


innovating store
Family-owned Pete’s County Market has served Alexandria, a growing community of 11,000 in west-central Minnesota, since 1938. It has thrived by innovating while staying true to its core values. Its Web site says, “While our family traditions of quality and service remain the same, our commitment to bring you the newest products means constant change.”
That change includes ways to increase shoppers’ convenience, including online shopping. Pete’s customers simply go to the Web site and make their selections, and their groceries are delivered for a small fee, Monday through Saturday.
Pete’s has a bakery that offers freshly made pastries every morning, a full-service deli and photo processing. In the meat department, shoppers find “Certified Angus Beef.” They can ask for special cuts, and for added convenience, they can call ahead and the meat will be ready when they come in. The produce department has a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Comments Mark Klein, Pete’s general manager, “We set high standards for ourselves to ensure complete customer satisfaction during each shopping visit.”

growing sales
With Pete’s record of innovating to meet customers’ needs, it isn’t surprising that Ms. Ivers’ request to increase floral’s presence in the store was embraced. She came to Pete’s from Ahold USA subsidiary Giant Food in Maryland, where she became a certified floral designer and where she learned the power that high-impact displays can have on floral sales. At Pete’s four years ago, she told the store manager at the time that with just a little effort, the floral department could double its sales. “He said, ‘Do what you need to do. Let’s make some money,’” she recalls.
Her plan of action began with ordering more products in larger quantities to give displays better impact. She also introduced the idea of building holiday displays at the front of the store.
As Ms. Ivers predicted, sales increased, so when the owners decided to remodel the store two years ago, they expanded the floral department even more and moved it to the front. That’s when floral really took off. “The consumer response was awesome, and we grew 10 to 15 times” in sales after the move, Mr. Klein says.

keys to success
FRESH PRODUCTS Pete’s County Market gets products from both a local wholesaler and Supervalu, Inc. The floral specialist works closely with her vendors to ensure she has fresh products that will keep her customers’ interest. Floral deliveries are made twice a week.
FLORAL COMMITMENT The store has invested in floral, expanding the department and moving it to the front of the store.
MERCHANDISING Products are displayed for impact. The look of the department changes frequently and often revolves around a trendy theme and color.
SERVICES The store offers custom designs, wedding services and delivery and is constantly innovating to meet customers’ needs.
PROMOTION Pete’s advertises its florals in the newspaper, on the radio, through fliers and on its Web site. Customers, too, spread the word.


wide selection
Today, the 350-square-foot floral department includes a three-door cooler that holds bouquets, consumer bunches and arrangements as well as island merchandisers and shelves that brim with blooming and green plants, giftware, vases, plant food and greeting cards. “Since we have put a full floral department in, our customers have come to rely on us for quality flowers for gift giving and home use,” Mr. Klein says.
The department gets most of those products from Hermes Floral Company, a wholesaler in St. Paul, Minn., that grows its own roses and tulips. “I find that people in the area like it when you buy locally,” Ms. Ivers says. The department also gets floral products from Supervalu, Inc. They are delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Bouquets, ranging from $5.99 to $24.99, are the best-selling items. Customers’ favorites are the $12.99 dozen-rose bouquets—Ms. Ivers reports she sells 360 a week. The $24.99 bouquet is an upscale mix with about 14 stems including roses, tulips, spray mums, waxflowers and sometimes Hydrangeas or birds-of-paradise.
Ms. Ivers and a part-time staff member keep the cooler stocked with arrangements designed in the store. “We’ll do a bunch of them and have them here on a Friday, and I’ll come in Monday and we’ll be wiped out,” she says. She keeps a wide selection on hand for occasions including new babies, anniversaries or hospital visits, with prices ranging from $9.99 to $24.99.
She also creates custom designs and often makes arrangements for customers while they complete their grocery shopping. Prices for custom designs can go to $79.99.
Blooming and green plants are also important to the department, and the selection includes Hydrangeas, bromeliads, Anthuriums, pothoses, Boston ferns and the best-selling plant, baby’s tears (Soleirolia). “Customers love the baby’s tears,” she says. “We probably sell a case a week.”
A high school is near the store, and Ms. Ivers likes to keep teachers’ interest in her plant selection high by stocking unusual items. “I like to get different things like the goldfish [Columnea] hanging baskets,” she says. “When I put them in the ad, they come in just to see what it is.” Another item that draws in teachers is the lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus). The teachers discuss the interesting plants in school with fellow teachers and students, spurring further sales.

promoting the department
The store also advertises floral specials every week in the local newspaper, increasing the size of the ads to a full page for big holidays. A full-color Valentine’s Day ad included the names of bouquets—such as “Nestled with Love Bouquet” and “The Tango Bouquet”—and featured blooms like roses, Anthuriums and lady’s slippers (Cypri- pedium), which is Minnesota’s state flower. It also included Ms. Ivers’ photo, name and e-mail address, putting a face to the department and adding to Pete’s image as a friendly, hometown store. Radio ads also tout floral during holidays.
To further spread the word about its florals, the department creates full-color bag stuffers for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day. The fliers have photos and prices of featured items, and they start going into shoppers’ bags about a month before each holiday. Ms. Ivers also takes them to major businesses like a nearby 3M manufacturing plant and asks that they be tacked onto bulletin boards in employees’ break rooms, “so they see it for weeks before the holiday,” she notes.

smart merchandising
In addition to constant promotion, Ms. Ivers often changes the look of the department to attract shoppers’ attention. She builds displays around popular trends—she recently featured gift items with a poker theme—and incorporates the hottest colors.
To promote the fact that the store offers complete wedding services including wedding cakes and flowers, the store had a “bridal extravaganza,” and Ms. Ivers featured white callas, lime green arrangements and chocolate bows for a fashion-forward look. “You have to follow the trends,” she says.
The department goes all out for holidays, with huge displays and cross-merchandised items from all areas of the store. “The major floral holidays are where we can have some fun promoting floral and really give the store a very colorful look,” Mr. Klein says.

web site presence
Floral has a prominent place on Pete’s County Market’s Web site, Visitors to the site got a virtual tour during Valentine’s Day, with photos of the department and its products. The site urged customers to “stop by Pete’s Floral Department and see what we have to offer in our ‘Tunnel of Love.’”

taking care of customers
Another draw for customers is Pete’s commitment to service. In addition to its custom designs, the department delivers, making an average of four deliveries a week. The department charges a fee for most deliveries but will take arrangements for free to the local hospital.
The store is open 24 hours a day, and the floral department is staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If no one is in the floral department, the shift managers and customer service representatives can wrap flowers and offer other basic floral services. They also can call Ms. Ivers at home. “If somebody needs something,” she says, “I run in, or I tell them what needs to be done. We all work together here.”
And when there is an occasional problem with a floral purchase, as inevitably happens in any floral department, the store refunds the purchase price or exchanges the product, no questions asked. Her goal, Ms. Ivers says, is to turn upset customers into loyal customers. “I just want them to be happy and come back and say, ‘That Pete’s, they’re OK. I had a little complaint, and they fixed it for me.’”

loyal clientele
That combination of service, fresh flowers and promotion has paid off, with Pete’s earning a loyal following in the community. Ms. Ivers tells of a shopper who buys flowers for herself every week.
“When we first put [the new floral department] in, she was so excited,” Ms. Ivers says, adding that the customer calls Pete’s products the nicest flowers she’s ever had and tells others about them. That kind of response is gratifying to the enthusiastic Ms. Ivers, who says of her efforts at Pete’s, “It’s just been a lot of fun. With floral, you really have to love it.”

You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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