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Year-round excitement at Lin's Marketplace

A floral manager’s knack for promotions wins customer loyalty at this Utah store.
by Cynthia L. McGowan

     Year-round customer excitement is the goal at Lin’s Marketplace in St. George, Utah, where Floral Manager and Events Coordinator Sandi Probst combines her passion for flowers and a talent for organization to create over-the-top celebrations that bring in new shoppers and keep loyal ones coming back.

     At the five-store Lin’s Marketplace, a banner of cooperatively owned wholesaler Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS) of Salt Lake City, Utah, management recognizes that in this difficult economy, “We’ve got to do something other than just offer grocery products on a shelf,” reminds Rich Jensen, Lin’s regional vice president. “We’ve got to create some type of excitement and a fun atmosphere in our stores.”

     That’s why the company has events coordinators in each store, something it started about three years ago. “Each store evaluates its team members and identifies those individuals who have the energy and the foresight to pull those plans together and create something fun for the community as well as the team members,” Mr. Jensen explains.

     The enthusiastic Ms. Probst was a logical choice for the St. George events coordinator position. “Creating displays with themes has been my passion for many years,” Ms. Probst shares. “It brings a new energy to our store.”

Confirms Mr. Jensen, “She’s a poster child for keeping things lively and staying active in the community.” The strategy is working, too. In addition to regular customers, “We see a nice influx of new faces when we have these events,” he shares.

a year’s worth of celebrations

     Ms. Probst and a team of store employees plan and carry out the promotions, which often involve floral in a prominent way. The events start with Valentine’s Day and culminate with a huge open house for the Christmas holidays, now in its 10th year.

VALENTINE’S DAY “Each year it gets bigger and bigger,” Ms. Probst remarks. For 2009, she threw a “Fabulous Fifties”-themed rock-’n’-roll party featuring cardboard Elvis Presley and jukebox props, associates dressed in 1950s-style clothing, music from the decade and a local car club’s ’50s-era automobiles in the parking lot for customers to admire.

Bouquets, arrangements and plants were cross-merchandised with candy, cards, “dinner for two” from the meat department and baked goods. Customers “were just overwhelmed,” Ms. Probst recalls, and she heard a lot of “wows.” The promotion also won an Honor Award for Best Theme Development from the “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and Börgen Systems.

OUTDOOR NURSERY Because St. George, in southern Utah, is a desert community, Lin’s can open the outdoor nursery during Valentine’s Day. “The patio area entering the store transforms into a fragrant garden full of mixed pots, baskets, five-gallon containers of Jackson & Perkins roses, and racks of annuals and vegetables,” Ms. Probst describes. The colorful spectacle delights customers through Memorial Day, earning 40 percent of the store’s floral sales during that time. Last season’s top sellers were vegetables, which Ms. Probst attributes to the recession.

The nursery is an area that the store uses to further Lin’s Marketplace’s reputation for community commitment. “Lin’s wants to create an extraordinary experience for our guests through being partners in the community we serve,” Ms. Probst shares. Last spring, she invited students from the high school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) program to display their garden crops in the nursery, with signage indicating Lin’s support. Everything sold in three weeks, and the profits financed FFA events. Ms. Probst already has plans for a bigger partnership next spring.

COMPANY FOUNDERS DAY In August, the store celebrated Founders Day in honor of Lin and Reva Ortin, who began the company in 1955. This first-time event was so successful that all five Lin’s Marketplace locations will celebrate Founders Day next year. Ms. Probst and her team found antique photos of the company and displayed them in the store, invited Ortin family members and encouraged reminiscing. The celebration was a way of “telling our story of who we are,” Ms. Probst offers. A local television station and St. George Magazine covered the event.

FALL OPPORTUNITIES “As we move into the fall and our snowbirds come home to the warmer climate, we are ready to show off our next big event with ‘Pelee’ mums in all varieties,” Ms. Probst recounts. Pumpkins also are showcased. In addition, football season brings opportunities for floral and other departments to cross-merchandise.

HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE “This is our biggest event,” Ms. Probst confides, with giveaways, entertainment, product sampling and more. The November open house “is an opportunity to show our community what we can do in our store to help [customers] with their holiday plans.”

     Ms. Probst and her committee decorate the entire store, both inside and out. Ms. Probst commissions local schools, with a $25 donation to each one, to create artwork, and the store hangs it from garland for customers to see. The floral department is prominently featured in the promotion, showcasing a huge display of poinsettias, Christmas cacti and centerpieces for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

     School choirs, some as large as 185 children, also come and sing, with the entertainment changing every half hour. Each department offers giveaways to thank customers for their patronage; floral’s freebies include roses, bouquets and scented cones and, toward the end of the day, the display centerpieces.

     Customers also can make donations to local assisted living centers through an “angel tree” that has cards requesting gifts. The customers bring the gifts back to the store, and Ms. Probst delivers the gifts to the centers. The open house “is really giving back to our community and telling them thanks for all of their support over the years,” she explains.
 
 

  lin's marketplace:


 


HEADQUARTERS
St. George, Utah
PARENT COMPANY Associated Retail Stores (ARS), a subsidiary of wholesale distributor Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS)
YEAR FOUNDED 1955, by Lin and Reva Ortin
STORES Five (four in Utah and one in Nevada)
STORE SIZE Averages 33,000 to 36,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES 500 to 600 companywide
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE varies
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 1-2 per store
FLORAL SERVICES Some custom design service; free delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
ST. GEORGE FLORAL MANAGER Sandi Probst
WEBSITE www.linsgrocery.com
 


 

marketing to the community

     To make sure customers know about upcoming events, the store takes advantage of all available marketing outlets. Events are advertised on the radio and in the newspaper, and the store also participates in many off-site events. “Sandi does a great job in staying in the community’s eyes,” Mr. Jensen comments, by representing the store at local chamber of commerce events and business expos.

     For example, Lin’s Marketplace is the only supermarket invited to an annual “What Women Want” expo, which draws as many as 30,000 women in the fall. “We are over there to advertise our holiday open house plus give people an opportunity to know where we are located and who we are,” Ms. Probst shares. “I love taking the store out of the store.”
 

 

   keys to success


 
 


MARKETING Sandi Probst is both floral manager and events coordinator at the Lin’s Marketplace store in St. George, Utah. She helps plan events that create customer excitement about the store and its products. The floral department also uses newspaper and radio advertising, in-store signage created by parent company Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS) and fliers to get the word out.

PRODUCTS Stores can order through AFS or local wholesalers, allowing for greater flexibility and catering to their own customers’ needs. Products are delivered twice a week to ensure freshness.

MERCHANDISING Expert in-store merchandising keeps customers interested in floral. Ms. Probst changes the look of the department weekly, and when she visits other retail locations, she checks out and takes photos of their displays for inspiration. AFS also encourages excellent merchandising by offering a “Masters of Merchandising” competition for all store departments.
 

 

floral showcase

     Inside the store, the floral department serves as its own powerful marketing tool. Floral is at the entrance, where a colorful showcase of bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, and giftware entices customers to stop and make impulse buys.

     Mr. Jensen says floral adds more than ambience to Lin’s Marketplace’s stores; it is important to the company’s competitive strategy. “Any supermarket these days has to have that fresh presence in floral to round out a shopper’s visit,” he emphasizes. “Without it, you can leave many shoppers going to your competition. If you’re not in the floral business, they’re going to find someone that is, so you can lose a lot of sales.”

     Ms. Probst changes displays weekly to keep customer interest high. She usually resets the department on a Thursday to help boost weekend sales.

flexibility in ordering

     The department procures most of its products from wholesalers and local growers, with advertised items coming from AFS. Each Lin’s Marketplace floral manager orders for his or her store, and products are delivered twice a week.

     The biggest-selling item at the St. George store is a dozen-rose bouquet for $12.99. Ms. Probst estimates she sells about 30 a week during the winter, the store’s busiest time. Mixed bouquets range from $7.99 to $19.99.

     Arrangements, from $14.99 to $39.99, are purchased ready-made from a wholesaler in Nevada. The reliance on ready-made arrangements is a result of tightened labor dollars, Ms. Probst says. “I miss [designing arrangements] terribly,” she admits. She does create vase designs for customers who pick out bouquets and ask for that service, and she also designs most of the dozen-rose arrangements the store sells.

     Foliage plants are big sellers in the St. George store, especially for funerals and hospital visits. Dish gardens and planter baskets do especially well for those occasions, carrying price points from $14.99 to $99.99. Fall mums and African violets are favorites in the blooming plant category, averaging $3.99 for 4-inch plants. Ms. Probst says customers love her 6-inch poinsettias, which she procures from a local grower and sells for $7.99.

a loyal following

     Another key to the store’s floral success is customer service. Ms. Probst, who has a part-time associate in the department, offers free delivery as a courtesy and spends time talking with customers about their needs, what grows best in the desert climate and their day-to-day lives. As a result, “I have very loyal customers,” she says. “They become your family after a while.”

     Mr. Jensen says those kinds of relationships, nurtured by caring associates and enhanced by store events, help Lin’s retain its core customers. “They’re the ones that keep coming back,” he points out. “They’re the ones that shop your entire store rather than just cherry-pick your ad items, and those are the ones that really have made us what we are.”  

Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at cmcgowan@superfloralretailing.com or (800) 355-8086.

Photos courtesy of Lin’s Marketplace
 

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2009
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.