Floral impact at
Loson's Big M
help this independent stand out from the competition.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
In 1990, brothers James and Joseph Loson,
owners of independent Loson’s Big M in Lyons and
Clifton Springs, N.Y., had a decision to make about their
floral business—go full service or continue offering flowers
and plants only during the holidays.
“We were building a new building” at the Lyons
location, James Loson recalls, after the previous store was
destroyed by fire, so the brothers had the opportunity to
expand. “Knowing that we did a nice job with flowers and
that it was a lucrative
thing at holiday time,” he says, “we knew we could put in a
florist and make it another resource center.”
The decision paid off immediately, thanks to the steps
the company took to create a professionally run florist,
including building a 900-square-foot department, hiring
experienced designers and subscribing to wire services. “It
proved to be very, very successful right out of the gate,”
Mr. Loson confirms.
department proved so successful that the company added
full-service floral to the other store, in Clifton Springs.
Floral “just adds another
dimension to the grocery business,” Mr. Loson remarks.
In Lyons, a town of 5,000 near Lake Ontario that has
only one other florist, the store draws clientele from
several surrounding communities. Floral is a high-volume
department, and at one point, it contributed 2.5 percent
toward total company sales, but that has declined to 1.5
percent more recently because of the toll the recession has
taken on the area’s economy and people’s wallets. Still, Mr.
Loson comments, “It is an integral part of our business.”
It’s also part of the company’s strategy to stay
competitive as bigger retailers like Walmart move into the
area. With Loson Big M’s 22,000 square feet in Lyons and
16,000 in Clifton Springs, compared with 100,000 for Walmart,
“We’re at a disadvantage in a small town,” Mr. Loson
explains. The company uses its full-service amenities,
including catering, bakery and floral, to set itself apart
from its bigger competitors.
That strategy, coupled with friendly service, appears
to be working. “We have a good name out there,” Mr. Loson
confirms. “The community patronizes us quite well, and we
full range of services
In Lyons, the
department’s services, provided by the floral manager, Julie
Carlson, and part-time designer, Paige Stoep, include custom
designs; FTD flowers by wire; and full-service weddings,
funerals and events. “We do everything a regular florist
does,” confirms Mrs. Carlson, who has been with the store
for 12 years and previously owned her own floral shop.
The two designers also will create arrangements for
customers while they shop, but Mrs. Carlson says most are
happy to choose from the large selection in the cooler. All
the arrangements in the cooler are created by Mrs. Carlson
and Mrs. Stoep, and although they make sure to stock it
before leaving for the evening, it often is depleted by
Weddings and funerals are important business for the
department. The average wedding floral bill at Loson’s
ranges from $500 to $800, and a recent nuptial event had a
flower bill of $3,000. The store doesn’t advertise its
wedding services, preferring to get the word out through
The department works closely with families and the
town’s two funeral directors to make sure all the floral
needs are handled well. “We do all funeral work—casket
sprays, standing sprays, baskets, everything,” Mrs. Stoep
describes. “We really try to cater to the community.”
The department has a full-time driver to handle the
large amount of deliveries—as many as 25 a day during
holidays and 10 a day during normal periods. Loson’s Big M
charges $5 for in-town delivery and more for outlying areas.
The designers interact well with customers, asking
their color choices and flower preferences to ensure they
get orders just right, Mrs. Stoep describes. To further
enhance customer/employee involvement, the work counter is
on the shop floor so that shoppers can watch the creative
process. “They find it interesting,” she continues.
loson's big m
LOCATIONS Lyons and Clifton
OWNERS James and Joseph Loson
YEAR OPENED 1962
STORE SIZE 22,000 square feet
in Lyons; 16,000 in Clifton Springs
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE
900 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Per
store: 1 full time; 1 part time
HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
Full-service florals including custom designs,
weddings, funerals, events, delivery and FTD
TO STORE SALES 1.5 percent
FLORAL MANAGER, LYONS
FLORAL DESIGNER, LYONS
drawing attention to the department
The floral department
is at the back of the Lyons store, so Mrs. Carlson and Mrs.
Stoep employ a variety of visual merchandising techniques to
attract customers. They make sure the department is always
filled with bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage
plants, balloons, and giftware. And because sell-through is
so quick, the merchandise changes often, which helps keep
The staff also designs innovative merchandising
displays. Mrs. Carlson recalls a recent holiday display that
Mrs. Stoep created involving what appeared to be a large
Christmas package on a wall. Creative ideas like that draw
customers—“We have people who come just to look at our
displays,” Mrs. Carlson enthuses.
Signage is another important merchandising tool. During
holidays, the floral staff puts up reminders on plywood
signs next to the nearby highway and at the store’s front
door. “As people drive by or walk in, they are reminded that
we are here,” Mrs. Stoep explains.
Colorful bouquets of
carnations, chrysanthemums and Alstroemerias are the
top-selling floral item, with prices ranging from $5.99 to
$9.99. The department has a limited stem program, offering
roses for $1.99 each and carnations for $1 a stem.
Customers favor centerpiece-style arrangements,
averaging $25 each. The clientele typically chooses more
conservative, traditional styles, but “sometimes we’re
surprised,” Mrs. Stoep describes, and they’ll purchase
Blooming plants, including Cyclamens, mums, various
bulbs, Gerberas and roses, sell well, Mrs. Carlson reveals.
Their prices range from $7.99 to $24.99. Also popular are
dish gardens, from $18.99 to $65.
sourcing for price and quality
Mrs. Carlson sources
floral products from a variety of suppliers including the
company’s distributor, C&S Wholesale Grocers; local
wholesalers; and Canadian growers, in a quest for both the
lowest prices and best quality. “We shop a lot,” Mrs.
Carlson emphasizes. “I have all sorts of people that I call
to find out the most economical price,” which she says is
important to her customers.
Quality is just as important. “Paige and I are
extremely fussy on the freshness of our flowers,” Mrs.
Carlson shares. “If they’re not the way we would want them
for our houses, we don’t use them.”
They receive flowers every day of the week and process
them immediately when they arrive. That attention to quality
ensures customers will come back, remarks James Loson. “Our
reputation is our calling card,” he emphasizes. “Somebody
can get a flower arrangement at home today, and the flowers
aren’t falling on the table in three days. That speaks
volumes for repeat business.”
Loson’s Big M’s flowers also have a 100 percent
guarantee. If someone has a problem with a purchase, Mrs.
Carlson says, she will go to his or her home to replace it.
“I will go after it, even if it’s out of town,” she says.
“When I say it’s 100 percent satisfaction, I want everyone
to be very happy with what they get.”
That kind of
attention to quality and satisfaction results in repeat
business and customer loyalty, Mrs. Carlson reports.
Shoppers write notes to express how happy they were with
their purchases, and some even bring in flowers to show how
well they are faring weeks later.
They also tell others about their experiences at
Loson’s Big M. “Our work is our advertising,” Mr. Loson
shares, “and we have found that the words that come out of
customers’ mouths seem to do us the most justice.”
That response from customers affirms the decision to
add full-service florals the brothers made back in 1990.
“We’ve been at it 20 years,” Mr. Loson remarks, “and it’s
been a wonderful addition to our grocery business.”
keys to success
SERVICE The designers at
Loson’s Big M offer customers a full range of floral
services, from custom designs to weddings and
PRODUCTS Floral products
are sourced for both quality and price. Floral
products are delivered every day, assuring
GETTING THE WORD OUT
The store publicizes its flowers and plants through
word-of-mouth, its website and newspaper ads.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of
Loson's Big M