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store profile

A high standard of service at Newton Farms

This gourmet grocery store’s floral design studio entices customers with top service and unique products.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     Newton Farms calls itself “an extraordinary market,” and it is an apt description for this South Carolina gourmet grocery store whose mission is to offer unique products and outstanding service to a discerning clientele. At the entrance is a floral design studio that “sets the tone for the whole experience,” describes the store director.

     The store, in Johns Island, S.C., near Charleston, serves vacationers and residents of two barrier islands, Kiawah and Seabrook. The islands boast golf resorts designed by luminaries such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, beautiful beaches and million-dollar homes.

     And they attract visitors with both high incomes and high standards for service and amenities. Customers’ expectations “are seriously high,” confirms Jeff Harrell, Newton Farms’ store director.

a new concept
     Everything about Newton Farms is designed to meet and exceed those expectations. The store, which opened in 2005, was developed as a new concept for its parent company, 106-store Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company Inc., based in Charleston. Executives visited gourmet grocery stores in Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco to gather ideas for the new store, Mr. Harrell says.

     The resulting store gives customers an upscale experience while offering touches that underscore the importance of community ties. The exterior of the 33,000-square-foot store resembles a barn, paying homage to the area’s agricultural roots. Inside, tall ceilings and steel beams contribute to an open, airy atmosphere.

     The floral design studio, artfully merchandised with flowers by the stem, blooming plants, unusual foliages and branches, and local artisans’ wares, is the first area customers see when they walk in, notes Mr. Harrell. “What you see, well before you see any food, whether it be prepared food or produce, is the flowers,” he says, “and that’s the feel we wanted when we were developing this concept.”

     The store also offers a made-from-scratch bakery, a meat department with Kobe beef, hundreds of wines, a dine-in prepared foods section and a concierge desk. Mr. Harrell points out that the store serves two clientele—vacationers and residents. “It’s really designed to be upscale but still have the basic staples that mom and dad want,” he explains.


newton farms


Johns Island, S.C.
PARENT COMPANY Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company Inc., of Charleston, S.C. ; the Newton in the store name is for the company’s founders, the Newton family
SALES $20 million (estimated)
STORE SIZE 33,000 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 2 full time and 1 part time
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs including weddings; delivery
1.75 percent on average
FLORAL'S WEEKLY SALES Average $5,500 a week

culture of service
     In the floral design studio, Floral Director Tina Dear has created a “can-do” culture. “We’re very big on customer service,” she says of her department, which also includes one other full-time and one part-time florist. “We really cater to our guests and give them what it is that they need.”

     That culture of service means no prewrapped bouquets. “We do only custom-wrapped bouquets,” Ms. Dear remarks. Shoppers choose stems and foliages from the many available, and one of the florists will wrap them for free.

     The custom bouquets also serve as an entry for interaction with customers. “We guide them in terms of color and texture and what will work and what goes well together,” Ms. Dear explains. “We try to be very active in participating with our guests rather than leaving them there to find what they need. It’s very
important to have someone out on the sales floor working with people each time that they come in to make a purchase.”

     The department also has clients who bring in containers from home for permanent and fresh arrangements. Some even bring in swatches of fabric and ask Ms. Dear to create designs to match their décor. “That’s the kind of work we really love because those are the clients who are repeat [customers],” she points out.

     Vacation rental agencies
often contract with the department to decorate fresh Christmas trees for resort homes. “Oftentimes, we’ll be asked to have a fully decorated tree installed into these vacation homes before the guests arrive,” Ms. Dear says. The department decorates the trees in the homes or in the store and transports them to their destinations. The cost can range from $300 to $700 per tree.

     The store also provides flowers for guests’ destination weddings.
Ms. Dear estimates the department serves about seven full-service weddings a year, with set-up and delivery for $75, and about 40 in which the participants pick up bouquets in the store.

earning customers’ trust
     To earn the trust of customers with their biggest events, the department took action as soon as the store opened. The store director suggested Ms. Dear place an attention-getting $200 to $300 arrangement in the middle of the store every week. “That created a buzz about, ‘Wow, they can do these big event pieces,’” she recalls, “and so people got to know the type of work that we could do.”

     Now that customers know the department’s capabilities, Ms. Dear says, word-of-mouth is its best advertising method. Ms. Dear also gives floral demonstrations to community groups several times a year. “It’s just a matter of me ... letting them know that this is what we can do, and we’re here to do this for you,” she says.

     To catch customers’ attention when they are in the store, Ms. Dear changes the look of the department “constantly.” She also creates vignettes that show customers how the products will look in their homes.

     Another attention-getter is the department’s “Two for Tuesday” promotion. Customers love getting two stems for the price of one, Ms. Dear reports. Women come every Tuesday to buy flowers for their homes, and husbands come in every week for flowers for their wives. “It’s wonderful,” she shares.

creating a “buzz”
     A key to the floral design studio’s success is getting customers excited about Newton Farms’ flowers, plants and gifts. “We try to carry things that they don’t see everywhere that will create a ‘buzz’ and give them a unique and quality product,” Ms. Dear explains.

     Toward that end, she enlists a broker to source flowers and plants from all over the world, including organic flowers from Oregon, roses from Ecuador and lilies from Central America. She also tells customers that if she doesn’t have a flower they want, and it’s available, she will order it for them.

     Flowers and foliages in the stem program include ‘Safari Sunset’ Leucadendrons, flowering kale, Ilex, curly willow and Nandina. Prices start at 99 cents a stem and top at $8.99 for an Oriental hybrid lily with four to five blooms per stem.

     Arrangements often include foliages that grow naturally in the area including palms and bear and lily grasses. The staff keep the cooler filled with designs and also will create styles for customers who ask to have them made while they shop. The store delivers arrangements to both islands and surrounding areas for $10. Prices for arrangements start at $25, with the average sale at $55 to $65.

     Among blooming plants, orchids are huge sellers. “We sell an amazing amount of orchids,” Ms. Dear shares, “and we’re not selling just the Phalaenopses.” Her customers are savvy orchid lovers who also buy Paphiopedilums, Cattleyas, Vandas and Oncidiums, with prices from $35 to $70. The orchid display “has a big, showy presence right when people walk in the door,” she reports.

     Potted Hydrangeas also are big sellers. “We just cannot carry enough Hydrangeas,” Ms. Dear remarks. Eight- to 10-inch plants, with eight to 12 blooms, range from $25 to $35.

     She also tries to carry plants people may be unfamiliar with, such as ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), tropicals, Alocasias and Anthuriums. “I love it when people ask, ‘I’ve never seen this before. What is it?’” Ms. Dear remarks, adding that customers will think, “‘It’s fun to shop here because we see something we don’t see every day.’”

     In addition to flowers and plants, the floral department carries designer vases from $30 to $70, photo frames, candles and candleholders, baskets, and containers. The store also spotlights local artisans’ wares including hand-painted,
silkscreened pillows featuring beach scenes; greeting cards; and Christmas ornaments.

empowering shoppers
     Flowers are delivered direct from growers and arrive in the store, usually by FedEx overnight, four to five days a week. Ms. Dear, a “huge stickler for plant and flower care,” says the department uses strict care and handling procedures.

     Ms. Dear, who has been a florist for 20 years, also shares her knowledge about flower care with her customers. “The key to having a good customer relationship is to share what knowledge you have,” she confides. “As much as I love to put designs in the case and make arrangements, what I love more is to empower our shoppers and our guests to be able to buy fresh flowers and do it for themselves and their homes, and to enjoy the ability to arrange and play with and work with flowers.”


keys to success


WOWING CUSTOMERS Beautiful displays and unique products in the floral design studio at Newton Farms grab customers’ attention as soon as they enter the gourmet grocery store.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICE Floral products are delivered four to five times a week, assuring freshness. All bouquets are custom wrapped, and the florists make an effort to talk to customers about their needs.

EXPERIENCE Tina Dear, the floral director, has been a florist for 20 years, including time in a traditional retail florist and working on Walt Disney Company events.

GETTING THE WORD OUT The store publicizes its floral capabilities through advertising, word-of-mouth, enticing merchandising displays and in-store signage. Ms. Dear always has a supply of business cards available for customers to take for future use.


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

Photos courtesy of Newton Farms

Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.