new kind of partnership
At Harps Food
Stores, floral and general merchandise team up for success.
by Cynthia L.
Floral operations in supermarket chains often are
stand-alone departments or under the produce umbrella. So
when Harps Food Stores, based in Springdale, Ark., decided
to merge floral with general merchandise (GMD) in 2001, the
company was venturing into unchartered territory.
“I’ve yet to run into anyone that has floral with
general merchandise,” acknowledges Bob Yehling, Harps’
director of general merchandise operations. “It is unique.”
The unconventional marriage has proved to be a
successful one for both floral and GMD, and the move
reflects Harps’ ability to develop creative strategies in a
competitive marketplace, a key reason it has thrived in
Harps has 65 locations in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma,
with a goal to have 100 stores within the next five years,
through both new construction and acquisitions. “We are
definitely growing,” Mr. Yehling offers.
In the past, Harps built stores as big as 68,000 square
feet, but the company discovered that those large stores
were not the way to compete with Walmart, which is based in
Bentonville, Ark., fewer than 20 miles from Harps’
headquarters. Instead, Harps’ standard store design is now
31,500 square feet, which allows the company to build more
locations and increase sales volume.
It’s a strategy that is working, Mr. Yehling says.
“We’ve been battling Walmart since 1963, and we’re the only
one that has survived in this area,” he remarks.
Another way Harps has
differentiated itself is through its general merchandise
department. “We’re pretty strong in GMD,” Mr. Yehling
reports. The company offers high-quality products at
competitive prices and promotes them well. “We are very big
in seasonal and holiday promotion in GMD,” Mr. Yehling
shares. “We have designated space in our stores for this,”
including on nearly every end cap. In addition, the stores
make sure to cross-merchandise fresh products with GMD
That’s why, in 2001, it made sense to Harps to build on
that strength and add floral to the GMD umbrella. It already
had full-service floral departments in about 20 stores, but
the longtime floral director, Jean Ann Boyer, was preparing
to retire. She proposed the floral-GMD merger to the company
president, Mr. Yehling recalls.
Ms. Boyer saw that GMD had the buying power and
expertise needed to purchase the right hard goods to enhance
the floral departments and their fresh products, such as
containers and plush. “She thought
we could incorporate that
with floral and make a better program,” Mr. Yehling
Nine years later, Mr.
Yehling says, the move “has worked out really well.” The two
departments complement one another, with flowers and GMD’s
upscale offerings pairing well. The merger’s success, he
says, is thanks to cooperation between the GMD staff and Ms.
Boyer, who stayed on as a consultant, giving the company the
benefit of her floral expertise.
“We’re on the phone with her at least every week to two
weeks,” Mr. Yehling shares. “We fly her up here five or six
times a year, she will help us through all the major
holidays and she will assist us at some of the buying shows
that we go to for the holidays.” Harps also sends her to the
International Floriculture Expo (formerly The Super Floral
Show) every year.
The merchandising and administrative duties go to Mr.
Yehling and the other members of the GMD team, including
Randi Sharp, the floral coordinator, and four GMD
merchandisers. At the store level, floral merchandisers
report to the general merchandise managers.
Floral and GMD work together to add to the overall
ambiance of the stores and enhance customers’ shopping
experience, Mr. Yehling remarks. The departments are at the
front of the stores and are merchandised under strict
guidelines to reflect a high-end look.
“We do not clutter our departments,” Mr. Yehling
declares. “We try to keep them very clean and neat and with
simple price points.” If hard goods aren’t selling, they
aren’t marked down in the floral departments; instead they
are moved elsewhere. “We want the floral departments to have
a positive, upscale image,” he emphasizes.
In addition, all signage must be printed—nothing can be
handwritten. Signage is posted in black frames that are
standard for every department. Cooler doors must be free of
signage so customers can see inside. All buckets must have
price signage. “We go through a lot of signs,” Mr. Yehling
range of floral services
The floral departments are a mixture of
full, limited and cash-and-carry service. The newly built
31,500-square-foot stores offer end caps for bouquets and
arrangements, with room to expand during holidays. “Because
[the stores] are smaller, we can’t put full-service
departments in,” Mr. Yehling laments. “I’d like to, but
there’s just not enough room.”
Three stores have departments that offer a complete
range of floral services including designs made while
customers shop, weddings, sympathy and delivery. There are
20 limited-service stores that offer custom designs but no
delivery or weddings.
Floral employees are good at interacting with
customers, and they have extra incentive for making sure
shoppers are satisfied, Randi Sharp, the floral coordinator,
shares. “We’re employee owned, so they own it,” she reminds.
When the company performs well financially, the employees
benefit, too, in the form of stock increases.
“That is a big incentive for working here at Harps,”
Mr. Yehling says, and it helps keep turnover low. In turn,
employees “have incentive to take pride in what they’re
Harps offers several training sessions a year to keep
the floral and GMD associates up to date on trends, design
and new products. Ms. Boyer leads the meetings, with
products provided by Harps’ primary floral supplier,
Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG).
The seminars include hands-on design work, discussion
of pricing and sharing of ideas. “They go back to their
stores all pumped up” and ready to use what they learned,
Ms. Sharp comments.
Ms. Sharp does all the buying and
ordering of fresh goods for the floral departments, with AWG
delivering flowers and plants once or twice a week.
Bouquets, ranging from $3.99 to $14.99, are the top-selling
floral item. A $5.99 “crazy daisy” mix sells best.
Dozen-rose bouquets, at $8.99, also sell well.
Mr. Yehling says the company chose not to offer a
consumer bunch “three for $10” type of program because “to
me, it just doesn’t show a quality image. You look like
you’re just trying to sell a bunch of flowers quickly.”
Arrangements are priced from $14.99 to $59.99 and
higher. Harps often will place a showy arrangement, priced
as high as $89, in a cooler to show customers what the
floral staff can do. It might not sell every time, but it
gets the message to customers that Harps designers have the
skills and creativity for that kind of work, Mr. Yehling
The cash-and-carry stores stock only ready-made
arrangements from AWG. In the full- and limited-service
stores, arrangements priced below about $25 often are
ready-mades, but higher-priced options are made in the
Harps also has a successful outdoor business in the
spring, selling a full line of lawn and garden products
including bedding plants, hanging baskets and hard goods.
The greenhouse business has its own staff from GMD, but
floral associates help out when needed.
buying hard goods
The GMD team visits close-out shows to
buy discontinued but high-quality hard goods, ensuring it
can offer customers low-priced, unique items including
vases, picks, plush, balloons, ribbon and weights. The
purpose of buying from the close-out shows is to give the
floral departments an upscale look without the upscale
price. “We can have a very expensive-looking vase with our
arrangements at a very cheap price compared to everybody
else,” Mr. Yehling shares.
All hard goods go through Harps’ Discount Distributor
warehouse in Springdale before going to the stores. The
warehouse is also where the GMD staff creates Harps’
signature “Just Perfect” gift baskets, with prices ranging
from $3.99 to $59.99. The baskets are offered for both
everyday and holiday occasions.
“Coke Packs,” which feature Coca-Cola products, candy
and assorted items, are huge sellers at Valentine’s Day,
with some stores selling hundreds of them. The prices range
from $4.99 to $15.99. “It’s great for kids to grab for
teachers,” Ms. Sharp relates.
keeping the departments fresh
The floral staff is constantly changing
the look of each department with resets and new products,
Mr. Yehling shares. “It’s changing all the time,” he
emphasizes. “Whatever is in season—we want something fresh.
“We don’t want the same thing in the store week after
week,” he continues. After all, “we have the same customers
week after week, and they want something different.”
And thanks to its
willingness to try a new strategy, Harps is keeping those
loyal customers’ interest high.
keys to success
SETTING THE TONE
The floral departments are at the front of Harps
Food Stores, where they help create a fresh and
inviting ambiance for shoppers.
FLORAL AND GMD
Floral is part of the general merchandise department
(GMD), a match that has worked out well.
The floral and GMD
staff attend training sessions that keep them up to
date on design and new products.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of Harps Food Stores.