|Soaring to new heights|
A Publix in Sarasota, Fla., wins the 2011 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Matt Winchester looked to the ultimate city of love for inspiration for his Valentine’s Day promotion this year. Mr. Winchester, the produce manager at Publix Super Market No. 828 in Sarasota, Fla., created a 20-foot-tall replica of Paris’ Eiffel Tower in his store, wowing customers and the judges in the 2011 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and Börgen Systems.
“When I think of Paris, I think of love,” Mr. Winchester says of the inspiration for his grand-prizing-winning display. He decided to evoke the romantic feel of the city by creating the huge tower, complete with a French flag atop, and surrounding it with an enticing array of products, including bouquets, potted and cut tulips, arrangements, balloons, plush, candy and more.
The tower and floral coolers featured signage with French love phrases and their American meanings. To add to the ambiance, the store offered product demonstrations, including a chocolate fountain where customers could sample dipped strawberries. They also enjoyed chocolate wine and could purchase bakery products. At the same time, a floral specialist and a floral clerk created custom designs and wrapped flowers for customers.
“What I was trying to do was get the feel for customers that they were in Paris or somewhere close to the Eiffel Tower,” explains Mr. Winchester, who manages both the produce and floral departments. “I wanted them to feel they were somewhere special.”
The judges decided he accomplished that goal, awarding Mr. Winchester a trip to the International Floriculture Expo in Miami Beach, Fla., in June, where he was presented the crystal Orrefors Börgen Cup by Arden Börgen, CEO and founder of Börgen Systems, during the Keynote Breakfast. He also received hotel accommodations.
Although Mr. Winchester’s display is the first grand prize in the “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest for Publix, the company has performed exceptionally well in the competition. Publix has won an Honor Award in every contest since 2006.
Publix encourages outstanding floral merchandising through the help of its retail improvement specialist (RIS) as well as by sharing information on the company’s Intranet, explains Maria Brous, director of media and community relations. “Our floral departments are encouraged to use their creativity to build appealing and engaging displays,” she shares.
Contests also help motivate associates to excel, Ms. Brous reveals. “We use our Intranet to encourage our associates to take pictures of their accomplishments and submit them for contests,” she says. “From time to time, we feature these displays in Publix News, our monthly associate publication. Associates get inspired and share company pride.”
Mr. Winchester is a big believer in the power of “wow” merchandising to influence sales. “It’s about drawing customers to the products,” he remarks.
And “wow” is what he aimed for when building the display. In fact, “I wanted to have that ‘wow’ right when you walked in the door,” he says, and so he placed the tower at the very front of the store. It was so tall that customers could see it from throughout the store, drawing them to the display. “It was the perfect spot for it,” he confirms.
Mr. Winchester notes that the display was a team effort. “Everyone helped out,” he says. The store manager made additional associates available and also helped paint the tower, the assistant store manager helped get materials, the floral staff handled the custom designs and the other departments contributed to the cross-merchandising aspects. “Everything just clicked.”
Mr. Winchester based his design of the tower from photos of the iconic symbol of Paris. “I knew I couldn’t make it true to what the pictures were, but I could make it somewhat close,” he recalls.
He fashioned the tower from furring strips, lattice and plywood, building it in a concealed area in the back of the store so customers wouldn’t see it until it was complete. With the help of the assistant store manager, he assembled the tower on the Saturday before the Monday Valentine’s Day.
Mr. Winchester is happy to report that the surprise tower and surrounding products had the desired effect on customers. “Customers were so excited,” he says, recalling a lot of “wows” from both adults and children.
The huge Eiffel Tower immediately conveyed that the theme was Paris and its reputation for romance. Mr. Winchester and the store team also expressed the theme through the product choices and signage and by covering the floral coolers with the same materials used to make the tower.
Clever signage with French phrases and their American meanings helped further the Paris theme. Mr. Winchester and the assistant produce manager printed the sayings on construction paper using a computer program. Pricing and product identification signage included drawings of the Eiffel Tower.
The reds and pinks in most of the floral products, balloons and signage coordinated perfectly, and they stood out well against the gray tower and coolers.
The display offered easily accessible candy, wine, baked goods and more. In addition, store associates offered samples of chocolate-dipped strawberries and chocolate wine. Mr. Winchester reports that the chocolate and wine demonstrations helped further the French theme. Plus, he says, “Customers love demos.”
The display featured a huge amount of floral products, including mixed bouquets, blooming plants, balloons and plush. In addtion, the store showcased “an enormous amount of arrangements,” Mr. Winchester recounts. Styles ranged from bud vases to dozen roses to mixed designs. In addition to the arrangements in the floral coolers that were ready for customers to “grab and go,” the floral team created custom designs. “It was very busy,” he acknowledges.
The full-service floral department is accustomed to being busy, Mr. Winchester describes. “We do everything from weddings to funerals to events,” he elaborates. “Whenever a customer needs flowers displayed or designed, we’re there to help take care of that.”
That can-do attitude is part of the customer-service culture at Publix, which is often lauded as one of the nation’s top companies for outstanding service. For example, Publix is No. 5 on the Bloomberg Businessweek “Customer Service Champ” list for 2010.
The employee-owned company expects exceptional service from every associate, Ms. Brous explains: “Customer service is part of our culture and instilled in every Publix associate and company owner from the very first day they begin their career at Publix.”
For Mr. Winchester, offering good service comes down to one principle: “We just try to find a way to say yes."