by Cynthia L. McGowan
Customers flock to Hubbell & Hudson Market and Bistro, in The Woodlands, Texas, for a delightful shopping experience. And the beautiful floral department, at the entrance, helps sets the tone for this high-end gourmet specialty store.
“We’re the first thing [customers] see and the last thing they see,” explains Floral Manager Barbie Wineger. “It plays a huge, huge part in the whole image of the store.”
The store is the vision of CEO Cary Attar, who has held executive posts at such upscale markets as Fox & Obel in Chicago, Dean & DeLuca in Kansas City and New York, and Central Market in Houston. He and a team of investors founded Hubbell & Hudson in November 2008 “out of a desire to bring a world-class culinary destination to The Woodlands,” the company’s website,www.hubbellandhudson.com, says.
Despite opening in the midst of the recession, the affluent residents of The Woodlands, a planned community of homes, businesses and world-class shopping north of Houston, immediately embraced the new store’s gourmet concept. It has proved so successful, in fact, that the company recently opened a second, smaller location called Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen, which it bills as “a convenient stop-in market with an upscale flair.”
In the beautifully merchandised main location, no detail is overlooked to ensure customer satisfaction. As the sounds of soft jazz waft overhead, customers can sip wine and peruse the 25,000-square-foot market, where they will find locally grown and organic produce; an artisan bakery; a gourmet deli; a boutique “wine district” with an in-house expert; a “beer alley” with a walk-through cooler; specialty meat, seafood and cheese shops; and much more. The store even has a hands-on Viking Cooking School.
The market’s full-service bistro, which accepts reservations, was reviewed in the Houston Chronicle newspaper as “a serious entry on The Woodlands scene, drawing on excellent ingredients from the adjacent market and neatly bridging the tricky gap between casual and fine dining.”
Employees, known as guest services partners, wear chef coats and are known for their excellent customer service. In addition, complimentary concierge service is available for shoppers who need advice for their next dinner party, reservations in the bistro or information about the cooking school.
flower market concept
The floral department embodies Hubbell & Hudson’s high-end, service-friendly concept. The full-service department looks like an open-air European flower market, with French buckets bursting with flowers—most of them unwrapped, individual stems. The buckets are attractively stacked on wood crates that surround the work station of Ms. Wineger and her floral associate, Jamie Butler.
Although she does carry a large supply of vases, “My merchandise is all about flowers,” Ms. Wineger emphasizes. She changes the selection every month to keep the product mix exciting. “I want it to be unique,” she continues. “I want it to change all the time so people don’t say, ‘They always have that.’”
There appears to be little worry that customers will tire of the store’s extensive single-stem selection, which includes from 15 to 20 flower types every day. Ms. Wineger credits her two primary wholesalers, Pikes Peak of Texas, Inc. and Southern Floral Company, for providing high-quality flowers that keep customers coming back. Flowers are delivered twice a week to ensure freshness.
`Roses from Ecuador are the most-popular flower, selling for $1.89 a stem. Many customers buy an average of six at a time, with ‘Big Fun,’ a bicolor variety with coral and pink, selling best.
Hydrangeas, at $3.19 a stem, are customers’ second favorite. Also selling well are lilies, at $4.99 a stem, and tulips, which sell for $11.99 for a 10-stem bunch. Other popular flowers are Lisianthuses, Irises, Alstroemerias and mums.
Although the department creates most of its bouquets in-house, it orders 20 ready-made bouquets a week from California grower The Sun Valley Group. Ranging in price from $15.99 to $32.99, they are displayed in large French buckets and usually sell out, Ms.Wineger discloses. Businessmen are the biggest clientele for the bouquets—“They just grab and go,” she says.
Arrangement prices average between $50 and $100. There is no display cooler in the department, so all designs are created to customer specifications.
Potted and bedding plants, from local growers, are good sellers. Customer favorites include potted 4-inch Phalaenopsis orchids, at $36.99; staghorn ferns at $18; and dish gardens, called “Happy Gardens,” ranging from $24.99 to $36.99.
full range of floral services
Ms. Wineger says her customers enjoy choosing from the large selection of flowers. Some will take them home to create their own arrangements, and others will ask the floral staff to design an arrangement while they shop using vases they have brought from home or that they purchase in the store. The staff hand-wraps all loose-stemmed flowers with natural waxed tissue and ties them with raffia for a finished presentation.
Area office buildings and restaurants are clients, too. The department delivers arrangements using the catering van for a $15 fee; if the business is close enough, Ms. Wineger will walk them over.
Although wedding services aren’t in high demand, the department will provide them when asked. However, Ms. Wineger acknowledges, “We just don’t have the space to handle a large wedding.” To work around that problem, she gets wholesaler Southern Floral Company involved.
“I meet with the client, I make all the notes, and then I meet with them[SouthernFloral],”Ms. Wineger shares.The wholesaler, which has designers on staff, provides the floral designs, and the client gets the service. “It’s apartnership,” she says. “It works very well.”
The department’s services also include working with other areas of the store to provide flowers for their needs. The highly successful catering department often asks floral to provide arrangements for its events, such as lunches and parties. “I do the arrangements per their request, and they give me a lot of input and then they transport them,” Ms. Wineger says. “It works out well for me.”
The bistro often features two large arrangements as part of its décor as well as several small table centerpieces. In addition, “Sometimes they display their special featured wines, and they’ll want my florals for that,” she remarks.
The floral department also is a natural complement to the nearby tabletop department, which is managed by Kathy Krause. The departments often partner to create custom gift baskets for shoppers and offer other gift ideas. Ms. Krause also buys vases and other decorative accessories for the floral department when she goes to the Dallas Market Center to shop for her department.
|hubbell & hudson market and bistro|
LOCATION The Woodlands, Texas (a suburb of Houston)
keys to success
PRODUCTS The floral department at Hubbell & Hudson Market and Bistro wows customers with French buckets filled with freshly procured flowers by the stem, enticing bouquets and beautiful plants.
getting it all done
It can be a challenge to provide the services customers expect with a limited staff, Ms. Wineger acknowledges. She works four days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (often stretching to 3 p.m.), and her floral associate, Ms. Butler, works three days from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “We have a whole lot to do in a little amount of time,” Ms. Wineger laments.
But they make it work. “It’s a matter of being organized and working double time,” she shares. “I do the work of 10 hours in six hours.” She also is a list maker and is detail oriented. For example, when extra help is needed for holidays, she makes sure to have schedules worked out six weeks in advance.
The store is open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The tabletop department can help customers after the floral staff has left, and Ms. Wineger is always just a phone call away. And despite the challenges, “It’s working,” Ms. Wineger remarks.
That’s apparent from the positive response to the store and its services. If repeat customers are a measure, Hubbell & Hudson Market and Bistro has made a strong impression in just three years in The Woodlands. “Some people I will see in here three or four times a day. It’s amazing,” Ms. Wineger enthuses. “They’re here every morning for coffee and back again for lunch and then come for breaks. It’s a great place.”
Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at email@example.com
or (800) 355-8086.