by Cynthia L. McGowan
Hy-Vee store in Overland Park, Kan., takes top honors in the
“2005 Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest.
The phrase “summer cruise,” to many people, evokes thoughts of a
leisurely voyage on a luxurious ocean liner. But to Donna
Bennett, floral manager of the Hy-Vee Overland Park No. 1 in
Overland Park, Kan., it meant something entirely different, and
her creative twist on the theme made Ms. Bennett and her staff
the Grand Award winners in the “2005 Merchandising Award of
Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and
Hy-Vee, Inc. sponsors merchandising contests among the chain’s
floral departments, and the theme for the 2004 summer promotion
was “summer cruise.” Ms. Bennett and the floral staff designed a
creative, exciting promotion that not only won the Hy-Vee
contest but also the coveted Börgen Cup, which Bill Carlson,
vice president of sales and marketing of Börgen Systems,
presented to Ms. Bennett at The Super Floral Show in June in
Houston, Texas. She also received airfare and hotel
MAKING IT DIFFERENT
Ms. Bennett decided to take her customers on a cruise back in
time, to summer nights when teenagers went to drive-in movie
theaters in cars like Ford Mustangs and girls wore poodle skirts
and bobby socks. To come up with the idea, she gathered her
staff, she says, and told them, “I want everybody’s ideas on
what we can do to make this display different.”
The result of their brainstorming sessions was a display that
wowed customers as soon as they walked in the door. A huge,
brightly colored sign that said “Mel’s Drive-In” hung from the
ceiling. Below it, tables full of floral and cross-merchandised
products enticed customers to make purchases. Foam-core
waitresses and a jukebox, made by the store’s artist, Vicky
Olson, added to the initial interest. The jukebox offered “Red
Roses for a Blue Lady” and “A White Sport Coat and a Pink
Carnation,” both hit songs from the 1950s and 1960s.
As shoppers continued into the store and went right, down the
“power alley,” they came to a “drive-in movie theater,”
featuring a 1966 cherry red Mustang with a movie speaker at a
window, lawn chairs in front of the car for viewing the “movie”
and, overhead, the artist’s version of a drive-in movie screen
featuring James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
During the weeklong promotion in July, floral staffers in their
poodle skirts went to the front of the store every 30 to 45
minutes and danced and Hula Hooped to music that matched the
theme. “It created great rapport with our clientele,” Ms.
Bennett says. “They loved it! Because the first thing when they
walked in the door was these three ladies in poodle skirts with
Hula Hoops and music going and flowers everywhere. It was a
Ms. Bennett and her team created a display that had all the
elements of a winner, including:
The overhead “Mel’s Drive-In” banner that greeted customers
when they walked into the store immediately told them that
something special was going on. Product signage was brightly
colored, abundant, descriptive and easy to read.
The promotion’s big push items were red roses and pink
carnations, sold by the dozen in vased arrangements and in
hand-tied bouquets. Although Hy-Vee declined to release sales
figures, Ms. Bennett reports they sold very well. She also added
a touch of whimsy to her offerings by selling “carnation cones,”
“Mel’s splits” and “flower floats,” all made with carnations.
“They went over really great,” Ms. Bennett says. The low-priced,
fun items were conversation pieces, and even better, she says,
“they let our customers know how creative we can be and what we
The display had a dynamic feel from start to finish. The
dancing and Hula Hooping created action. Overhead, balloon
guitars and hanging musical notes attracted attention. And, of
course, the Mustang implied movement.
Cases of Coca-Cola surrounded the Mustang and served a dual
purpose. They provided additional rings through the registers,
and they also served as a barrier to keep customers from
touching the vintage car. They fit in perfectly with the summer
theme and matched the color of the car.
The color scheme was cohesive and well-thought-out. Neon colors
used for the jukebox also were used for the signage and the
foam-board waitresses. The colors complemented the red roses and
GETTING IT DONE
The display took a full month of planning to pull off. Ms.
Bennett’s biggest challenge was to find a car that would fit
down the 6-foot-wide produce aisle. A nearby classic-auto
dealership let her borrow the car of her choice in exchange for
promotional signage in the store. Next, she planned the signage
with the store’s artist, Ms. Olson. One of the store’s floral
designers, Donna Eisenbarth, is a seamstress, and she made
poodle skirts for the floral staff.
After the planning was finished, the display took just a day to
put up, “once I got through the gray hairs of getting the car
down the produce aisle,” Ms. Bennett says. In the end, the hard
work paid off both in sales and accolades.
The contest Ms. Bennett won at Hy-Vee was one of about three the
chain conducts every year, says Rita Peters, assistant vice
president of floral operations.
Floral is an important part of Hy-Vee’s operation, Ms. Peters
says, and the contests are a way to get employees’ creative
juices flowing as well as increase sales. “We choose them when
it’s kind of a lull month when we need those extra sales, but
more than anything, it gives excitement to the employees,” she
Contests can revolve around themes, like the “summer cruise”
theme with which Ms. Bennett won; items, such as a tropical
plant sale the chain promoted last year; or other topics, such
as color. The promotions are based on an ad item that the
corporate office chooses, but the individual floral departments
may choose additional items to purchase, “so they can create
their own displays and go in whatever direction they want to
take it,” says Ms. Peters.
That local control extends to day-to-day purchasing decisions,
she says. Floral managers buy for their own locations, “so they
run their shops like they feel they need to be run,” she says,
letting the local Hy-Vees meet the needs of their own
For Ms. Bennett, whose store is in a suburb of Kansas City, this
means carrying a wide range of products to satisfy a
sophisticated clientele. Vase arrangements of cut flowers are
her No. 1-selling product, and she does well with contemporary
designs, making sure to always have some in the walk-in cooler.
“I like to make sure that people understand that we can do
everything that every other shop can do,” says Ms. Bennett, who
owned her own flower shop for 23 years before joining Hy-Vee in
Ms. Bennett’s store has a European Flower Market, which consists
of buckets of cut flowers ranging from Dendrobium orchids to
tropicals to Hydrangeas. She receives shipments of products at
least twice a week. The chain’s main supplier is Florist
Distributing, Inc., of Des Moines, Iowa, a Hy-Vee-owned supplier
of flowers, plants and florist products.
Foliage and blooming plants are also popular sellers in Ms.
Bennett’s store. “I bring in the basics that I know everybody’s
going to ask for, but I also make sure that I have the unusual
ones,” she says. “One of the plants that’s been selling really
great for us right now is a Calathea.” It’s offered in a black
jardiniere, and, she says, it’s a great gift for men.
Other good sellers are ivies, Pothoses, Philodendrons and
All Hy-Vee flower departments are full service, offering FTD,
wedding services and custom design work. In fact, Ms. Peters
says, “in many of our locations, we are considered the florist
Ms. Bennett has cultivated that customer loyalty in her store by
treating shoppers well and offering them the finest, freshest
products. “My philosophy has always been, ‘Good quality plus
good customer service equals sales,” she says. “It’s as simple
It is a philosophy that is serving Ms. Bennett and Hy-Vee well,
as evidenced by the first-time entrant’s showing in the
Merchandising Award of Excellence contest. Ms. Bennett says she
was ecstatic when she learned she had won. “It’s awesome to get
an award for something you love to do,” she says.
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
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