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Store Profile

Spotlight on fresh

A new program at Giant Eagle moves flowers and plants to center stage.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

Giant Eagle, Inc. is all about making shopping easy and convenient. That’s why its stores offer services from dry cleaning to child care. And that’s why the company has overhauled its floral departments during the past year and a half to create a more focused, streamlined operation that’s easy for customers to shop.
The Pittsburgh, Pa.-based privately owned chain is constantly innovating to differentiate itself from its competitors in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It has 223 corporate-owned and franchised, independently owned supermarkets operating under the Giant Eagle banner, and in 2003, the company launched GetGo convenience and fuel outlets. Customers responded to the combination of Giant Eagle products and in-and-out convenience, and the number of GetGo outlets has quickly grown to more than 100. In 2006, the company debuted an upscale gourmet concept called Giant Eagle Market District with two prototype stores in Pittsburgh.
The company’s growth efforts are paying off, with $6.2 billion in sales in 2006, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains, and the No. 32 ranking on Forbes magazine’s list of the nation’s largest private companies, up two spots from 2005. It has a 50 percent market share in its hometown of Pittsburgh as well as in the combined Ohio markets of Cleveland, Akron and Canton, Grocery Headquarters magazine reports.
In the competitive market of Columbus, Ohio, where Super Floral Retailing visited one of Giant Eagle’s traditional supermarkets last summer, the company has a 12 percent market share, for fourth place, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. In first place is The Kroger Co. at 38.2 percent, followed by Meijer Inc. at 14.6 percent and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. at 14.2 percent. The company entered the Columbus market seven years ago and currently has 22 stores in the area.
  giant eagle, inc.

HEADQUARTERS Pittsburgh, Pa.
STORES 223 Giant Eagle supermarkets in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia; two Market District gourmet supermarkets; 110 GetGo convenience stores
SALES $6.2 billion in fiscal 2006, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
STORES' AVERAGE SIZE 75,000 square feet, with stores varying from 60,000 square feet to more than 100,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES 36,000, averaging 200 per store
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Depends on store size; averages two to five per store
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs and events; some stores offer delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
KEY FLORAL PERSONNEL Debbie Snyder, floral category manager for buying and merchandising; Dan Moison, fresh-plant buyer; and Lisa Simmons, floral hard-goods buyer



meeting shoppers’ needs
The store that Super Floral Retailing visited seeks to stand out from that competitive environment by offering 100,000 square feet of merchandising excitement. The expansive store has exposed ductwork and a color palette of stylish reds and browns for a trendy effect. The service-heavy supermarket is laid out in the “store within a store” concept, and each department has its own look.
The huge “Farmers Market” produce department, at the front of the store, has distinctive merchandisers filled with colorful selections and its own stone tile flooring. In the café, customers can sip Starbucks cappuccinos or enjoy fresh sushi under a tin-style ceiling. The spirits department, called “The Wine Collection,” has a walk-in, closed-door room for its finer selections, including bottles of Dom Pérignon champagne for $150 each. The greeting card area—“The Card Party”—has wood flooring and is as big as a stand-alone card shop. The pharmacy has the feel of a free-standing drug store, with several aisles of health-and-beauty products.
The store takes care to meet shoppers’ every need, as well. The “Eagle’s Nest” offers free child care while parents shop. Customers can drop off or pick up clothes at the “Dress for Success Dry Cleaners” at the front of the store. The deli offers entrees like Cajun salmon and grilled flank steak for busy families, and the meat department has cut-to-order service.

floral sets the tone
The spacious floral department, at the front next to produce, sets a tone of freshness for the entire store. It, too, is set on stone tile flooring, helping to differentiate it from the rest of the store. A large work station at the center is surrounded by bouquets, consumer bunches and green plants, enticing customers to come near. Tables and step merchandisers are filled with cut flowers and blooming plants. Coolers offer more bouquets and artfully designed arrangements for customers to grab and go.
Giant Eagle began retooling its floral departments in August 2006 to create inviting, easy-to-shop departments that put the spotlight on flowers and plants. Debbie Snyder, floral category manager for buying and merchandising, explains that the departments previously promoted their products with vignettes of intermingled flowers, plants and hard goods. The company found, however, that too many choices overwhelmed customers. “We watched them, and we saw that a lot of them, especially men, would turn away because they were confused,” she confides. “They didn’t know what they wanted to buy.”
To eliminate customer confusion and make shopping choices easier, Giant Eagle streamlined and condensed its offerings by putting the focus on fresh. Now customers see mass, colorful displays of flowers and plants, grouped by variety, color and price points. “It’s getting away from a lot of the show that we used to do,” remarks Dan Moison, fresh-plant buyer. “It’s not about the show as much as about the product.”
Although Giant Eagle has gotten away from giftware in its floral overhaul, it continues to sell vases and containers—“anything that can do with upgrading plants or fresh bouquets or bunches,” Ms. Snyder says. Mr. Moison, Ms. Snyder and Lisa Simmons, the floral hard-goods buyer, work together to select the products based on the company’s streamlined approach. “We try to coordinate the plants and fresh bouquets along with the hard goods to get the look we want in the departments,” Ms. Snyder remarks. The vases aren’t intermingled with the fresh products; they’re on shelving in separate areas.

keys to success
FLORAL OVERHAUL The company has retooled its floral departments to emphasize fresh products and take any confusion out of floral purchases.
COMMUNICATION AND TRAINING The floral managers and corporate team meet at least six times a year to discuss upcoming promotions. The floral buyers send product care sheets to the floral managers with every shipment so they can give correct care to their florals.
FRESH PRODUCTS Deliveries are made at least three times a week, and the company buys from local, high-quality growers when possible.
ADVERTISING The floral operation has a section in the weekly newspaper ads. Radio spots advertise floral during holidays. The company’s Web site touts its floral departments.


weekly promotions
The floral team aims to keep customers interested in the departments by coordinating weekly themes or product “seasons,” planned at least a year in advance. Ms. Snyder sends weekly merchandising plans to all the stores so there’s consistency throughout the company. Typical product seasons include poinsettias, hardy mums, bedding plants and Easter lilies, and during each promotion, the departments brim with those products.
Giant Eagle also has increased its consumer education efforts, offering care and product information on its florals. The idea is that educated customers are more apt to buy, Ms. Snyder says. Signage in a recent Alstroemeria promotion included photos from a May Super Floral Retailing article that showed how long the flowers can last with proper care.
And although the company declines to release sales figures, Ms. Snyder shares that the new floral focus “has been the best thing that we’ve ever done.” Customers say the departments “look fresher, are easier to get in and out of, and it’s easier to make decisions,” she comments.

Many customers are buying consumer bunches and bouquets, the floral operation’s top-sellers. Bright-colored flowers, especially Alstroemerias, roses and Gerberas, sell best. During Super Floral Retailing’s visit, customers could buy mix-and-match bunches, three for $12.99.
Best-selling bouquets range from $12 to $15, and rose bouquets are customers’ favorites. They also prefer a more European, hand-tied look for their bouquets, Ms. Simmons reveals.
In addition, customers can choose from arrangements in the cooler or ask to have designs custom-made while they shop. Most stores offer full design services including for proms and other events.
Mr. Moison, the fresh-plant buyer, reports success with seasonal pushes. “Whether it’s poinsettias or Easter lilies, it definitely seems to be where we’re seeing some of the best growth” in plant sales, he remarks. Foliage plants, mostly in the 4- and 6-inch sizes, also sell well, as do 10-inch floor plants, he says.
Orchid plants are a strong and growing category, Mr. Moison says. As part of its community outreach, Giant Eagle buys orchids at certain times of the year from the horticulture program at Bidwell Training Center, a nonprofit vocational/technical school in Pittsburgh that offers free training to the unemployed and underemployed. “It’s a very good product, so it’s a win-win for everybody,” he shares. Giant Eagle also procures orchids from Hawaii. Orchids in stylish containers sell for $25.99.
A new initiative for floral is its Market District candy line. The private label gourmet candy has its own merchandiser with the Market District logo and offers an option for customers who want to pair candy with their florals.

product sourcing
Giant Eagle sources most of its floral products direct from suppliers, who ship them to the company’s distribution centers in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Floral managers place orders through the corporate office, and deliveries are made to the stores at least three times a week.
“We are very committed to our local growers, as well,” Ms. Snyder comments, for such products as bedding plants and hardy mums. “We’re not just going out there always looking for the best price. We do look at quality and consistency and reliability from our vendors.”
That local connection offers quick turnaround, ensuring optimal freshness and quality, she says. And, Mr. Moison points out, sourcing products locally is important to some customers.

working together
A commitment to quality is seen throughout the floral program, including in the way the new initiative was launched. The corporate floral team, including its six floral specialists, had group meetings with the department managers to explain the change and train them on the new procedures. During the transition period, the floral specialists and Ms. Snyder, Mr. Moison and Ms. Simmons teamed up and reset the stores.
Ms. Snyder reports initial resistance from some floral managers, who, she said, were used to “having all the show, the glitz and the glam” in their floral displays. But after seeing the results, she says, “they will tell you that it’s easier to maintain and take care of.”
Communication is key to working through those kinds of issues. The floral managers, buyers and specialists meet at least six times a year to share information about upcoming sales events and for training. The floral specialists are in the stores regularly, offering support and feedback. In addition, the specialists and the buyers meet at least once a week to discuss ongoing programs.
The company is adding a seventh floral specialist, which Ms. Snyder says underscores Giant Eagle’s commitment to floral. “We put a lot of emphasis on floral,” she points out. “We’re not just there to decorate the store and make it look good.”

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

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2007
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