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Earning customers' trust

Floral is a key part of Pennington Quality Market’s reputation for service and quality.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

How does a one-store independent thrive in a competitive market? For Pennington Quality Market in Pennington, N.J., the key is earning customers’ trust by providing excellent service and high-quality products in all departments of the store, including a floral shop with a staff of 10 who handle events from weddings to corporate gatherings.

“We believe the whole subject of trust is so critical in a business like ours, where you’re serving people’s families,” shares Michael Rothwell, who owns the store with his father, Larry Rothwell, and two sisters, Barbara Rothwell Henderson and Terri Rothwell Orlando. “That’s what we’ve built our reputation on.”

the importance of service
     Founded in 1960, the store, known as PQM in the community, was purchased in 1981 by Larry Rothwell, who immediately began remodeling and adding service departments. Today, the store offers an inviting shopping experience, with amenities that include a sit-down café; full-service butcher, seafood and bakery departments; a large deli; locally grown produce; gourmet cheese; and catering as well as its full-service floral department.

     Those services have helped the store thrive amid what Michael Rothwell terms major competition in the area, including national chains and other strong independents. The store’s staff also plays an important role in its success, Mr. Rothwell comments. “We’ve always felt that what helps distinguish us from our competition is our people.”
     The store has a loyal veteran staff, and turnover is low, Mr. Rothwell shares. PQM attracts and retains its topnotch staff with competitive salary, good benefits and what Mr. Rothwell calls “a real culture of family and closeness.”

     The company emphasizes the importance of customer service with orientation sessions for new hires that Mr. Rothwell conducts himself; an employee handbook that sets out expectations, including this mission statement: “We’re out to earn the trust of our customers in the community that we serve”; and annual meetings that reinforce the store’s core principles.

in floral, “the sky’s the limit”
     The beautifully merchandised floral department, brimming with fresh cuts, blooming plants, giftware and three coolers full of arrangements, embodies PQM’s traits of customer service and employee loyalty. Led by Mrs. Henderson, the department has three full-time and three part-time designers, each of whom has more than 20 years of design experience. In addition, the department has three support staff, plus eight to 10 drivers (and more on holidays).

     “The sky’s the limit,” shares Mrs. Henderson. “We’ve been able to handle affairs from small house parties to major weddings and events. We truly have the advantage of being both sides of the fence: a topnotch floral department  in a great independent supermarket in addition to being a full-service custom florist with a well-trained staff.”

     The store aimed for that kind of full-service success when Mrs. Henderson launched the department, branded “The Flower Shop of Pennington Quality Market,” in 1992. The owners built the 1,100-square-foot department from scratch, adding a separate entrance from the outside, a 1,200-square-foot workroom and a loading dock for floral deliveries—essentially creating a store within the store. “Spacewise,” Mrs. Henderson describes, “it’s pretty similar to what a nice size florist operation would have; it’s just that we’re within the confines of our supermarket.”

  pennington quality market  

LOCATION Pennington, N.J.
OWNERS Larry Rothwell, Michael Rothwell, Barbara Rothwell Henderson and Terri Rothwell Orlando
STORE SIZE 44,475 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE Retail space, 1,100 square feet; workroom, 1,200 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 10 (floral owner, six designers and three
support staff) as well as eight to 10 delivery drivers
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs; weddings, sympathy
and events; delivery; FTD, Teleflora and
flowers-by-wire service
FLORAL OWNER Barbara Rothwell Henderson


room to grow
     The large retail and work space, coupled with the talented staff, allow the department to handle floral needs for the businesses and affluent residents of Pennington and its surrounding communities. Pennington, just a few miles from Princeton and home to people who work in New York City and Philadelphia, also is where divisions of several major U.S. companies are, including Merrill Lynch and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

     The floral department has made corporate business as well as services for law firms, banks and medical practices an important part of its strategy for success. The department teams up with catering to handle both small and large events, and it also provides gifts to clients during holidays and other occasions—often resulting in bulk orders.
     The department has grown this lucrative business thanks to its reputation for service and by showing clients it can be trusted to get the job done right, Mrs. Henderson remarks. “They know they can depend on us,” she affirms.

     That reputation for service and dependability extends to weddings and sympathy, another important part of PQM’s business. The department provides full-service florals, from delivery to setup, for about 30 weddings a year, with prices averaging $3,000 and some as high as $10,000.

     The department also has earned the trust of local funeral directors, who refer families to the department for sympathy flowers. “They suggest they come here first,” Mrs. Henderson reveals. “That represents a fair amount of our daily work.” For privacy, Mrs. Henderson conducts consultations for weddings, funerals and events in a store conference room.

busy every day
     The busy department also handles FTD, Teleflora and flowers-by-wire orders, Mrs. Henderson shares. The department is staffed every day, with hours that nearly match the store’s; the exception is Saturday and Sunday, when the department closes a little earlier. Walk-in business is brisk, and it is common for customers to request that arrangements be made while they shop.

     Mrs. Henderson relies on the three support staff members to take orders, process flowers and provide the general care of the department, freeing herself and the designers to handle the large volume of floral work. The store sends out 35 orders a day for delivery, on average, but that number goes much higher for holidays. “We’ve had record Valentine’s where we’ve exceeded 500 in a day,” Mrs. Henderson reveals.

     The store’s drivers, who serve both the catering and floral departments, make floral deliveries seven days a week. The department charges $6 to $15 per delivery, depending on distance.

products that entice
     Mrs. Henderson procures fresh products from local wholesalers, receiving shipments five to six days a week, as well as directly from Holland twice a week. She also sources flowers from South American importers, including roses from Ecuador. “I’m connected with a wide range of companies that I can depend on to get a quality product at the best price,” she remarks.

Mixed bouquets are the most popular floral items. They’re ready-made, but the department rewraps them and puts a bow on them with each sale. Prices range from $8.99 to $24.99, with $15 bouquets selling the best.

     The department offers as many as 50 varieties of flowers by the stem and in consumer bunches, with the prices and varieties changing depending on availability. Popular flowers include Hydrangeas, Gerberas, Lisianthuses, callas, bells-of-Ireland, snapdragons, stocks and orchids. Consumer bunches of roses, priced at $9.99 for 10 stems, are a standard item, as are three stems of spray roses for $3.99.
     Prices for arrangements average $50, with customers favoring both traditional and contemporary styles equally. The store makes sure to have a wide variety of designs and price points in the coolers for customers to grab and go. For custom designs, Mrs. Henderson works closely with clients to make sure the finished product exceeds their expectations. “That’s how we define great customer service,” Mr. Rothwell shares.

     The department keeps a wide variety of blooming and foliage plants as well as dish gardens on hand for customers to buy for their own homes or give as gifts. Prices range from $2.99 for a 4-inch ivy to $80 for some of the dish gardens.

Balloons also are important to the department’s sales, Mrs. Henderson reveals. “We sell balloons very consistently,” she says, for both gifts and events. The department keeps some inflated to inspire impulse sales and also has an extensive supply that can be inflated upon request.

     Clients looking for giftware can choose from high-end candles and gourmet candy as well as local and national lines of greeting cards. Mrs. Henderson attends the New York International Gift Fair to find new products, buying individual items in small amounts so the selection changes often and keeps customer interest high. The department also offers custom and ready-made fruit and gourmet baskets, with prices starting at $45.

destination department
     The inviting ambience, high-quality products and excellent service have created loyal shoppers who make the Flower Shop of Pennington Quality Market their destination for flowers and gifts, Mrs. Henderson reports. That was her goal when she launched the department, “and I’m happy to say that has happened.”

     Those loyal customers have helped the successful department contribute 4 percent a year toward total company sales. Just as important, the department helps reinforce the confidence customers have in Pennington Quality Market. Shares Mr. Rothwell: “You earn their trust and confidence not just with a smile but by being able to provide high-quality products with a fair value and a wide variety to choose from. As a single-store independent competing against chains, we’re extremely proud of what we’ve been able to achieve.” 


keys to success


SERVICE  The floral department at Pennington Quality Market has a staff of 10 to serve customers, with more available during holidays. The department is staffed seven days a week, enabling customers to get service when they want. The six designers have extensive floral experience.

FRESH PRODUCTS  The department offers more than 50 varieties of cut flowers every day. Suppliers deliver products five days a week, ensuring quality and freshness.
GETTING THE WORD OUT  The store publicizes its flowers and plants through word-of-mouth, its website and a weekly circular that reaches 35,000 households.


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

Super Floral Retailing  Copyright 2011
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.