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.
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
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
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
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.
Johns Island, S.C.
Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company Inc., of Charleston,
S.C. ; the Newton in the store name is for the
company’s founders, the Newton family
$20 million (estimated)
YEAR OPENED 2005
33,000 square feet
2 full time and 1 part time
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY
Custom designs including weddings; delivery
FLORAL’S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES
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
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
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
silkscreened pillows featuring beach scenes;
greeting cards; and Christmas ornaments.
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
Beautiful displays and unique products in the floral
design studio at Newton Farms grab customers’
attention as soon as they enter the gourmet grocery
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.
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
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