Taking care of customers
Discover how this floral operation continued to thrive throughout the recession.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
As the recession loomed nearly four years ago, the floral team at County Market knew they had to take action to keep customers buying flowers despite tightened budgets. The strategy they devised has paid off with sales that increased during the economic downturn and still are on the rise.
The key, shares Tamme Holzhauer, floral director of County Market, a 38-store banner of Quincy, Ill.-based Niemann Foods, Inc., was to ensure that the chain’s regular, loyal flower buyers kept coming back. Otherwise, she reminds, “If you get them out of the habit [of buying flowers], then floral just doesn’t come to their minds.”
The goal was to offer customers “something they considered a value each week,” Ms. Holzhauer shares. At the same time, the company’s 22 full-service floral departments continued to provide a complete range of services, including custom designs, weddings and delivery. As a result of the strategy, she reveals, “We did not see a decline [throughout the recession], which I’m very pleased to say.” In fact, sales increased “and are still increasing.”
The stores offer convenient one-stop shopping by providing enticing service departments, including a gourmet bakery; a sit-down cafe; an extensive wine, beer and liquor selection; and abundant produce, all in a fresh, inviting atmosphere. The company emphasizes its customer care culture with the motto, “We Value Fresh, We Value Family, and We Value You!”
Floral helps set a tone for the company’s fresh image. Most of the floral departments are at the front of the stores, and several have coolers that customers can see into from the outside of the buildings.
The departments are filled with arrangements to grab and go, appealing bouquets, beautiful plants and attention-getting balloons. With an average size of 1,500 square feet, “They definitely make a presence,” Ms. Holzhauer confirms.
Floral is important to County Market because “anything that’s important to our customers is important to us as a company,” Ms. Holzhauer explains. “We like to be part of their celebrations,” whether customers need flowers, cakes, catering and more. “We’re really good at making sure we’re here for all their needs.”
To ensure the floral departments can meet those needs, each one averages three to four employees, both full and part time. The company staffs the departments from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., during peak store-traffic hours.
The floral services include weddings, with some departments providing flowers for as many as three in a weekend. The florists conduct consultations in the department or the café, depending on the store.
County Market has provided flowers for weddings at prices from $300 up to $4,000, relying on word-of-mouth to publicize the business. “If you do a good job at a wedding, you’ll get that repeat business,” Ms. Holzhauer reminds.
County Market also gets the word out about its floral services through customer engagement. Ms. Holzhauer encourages the floral staff to talk to customers about what occasion they are shopping for, rather than asking, “May I help you?”
“We really encourage having a conversation,” she affirms. “We try to find out what their needs are.” The florists then give suggestions on the services they can provide, including delivery.
In addition, the florists do all their design work in front of customers, which helps increase engagement. Doing so also serves to show customers that the designs are made at store level, Ms. Holzhauer says. “People like to watch them design,” she shares. “They’re kind of amazed by it.”
Training and professional development allow the floral departments to offer the high level of service customers expect. All new employees spend a week in a designated “training store,” and then receive hands-on training with their supervisors.
In addition, each department has a copy of the company’s continually updated floral training manual, which has shop policies, care and handling procedures, merchandising information and so on. During store visits, Ms. Holzhauer reviews the manual with the floral staff to make sure they know the procedures and are following them.
The floral supervisor, Becky Highland, is in each store once a month to offer ongoing training, using the manual as her guide. She also shares merchandising advice, planning help and success stories from other departments, which helps create excitement among the staff, Ms. Holzhauer says.
The corporate floral team also fosters a sense of ownership and teamwork among the floral managers through periodic meetings and weekly conference calls. “We talk about everything—every part of our business,” Ms. Holzhauer remarks.
She also asks for their opinions on product choices and programs. “I bring things to the table and say, ‘What do you think about this?’” Offering the floral managers a say gives them more buy-in for the programs, and, as a result, “sales have been great,” Ms. Holzhauer shares.
Leading those sales are bouquets and arrangements, which sell equally well, Ms. Holzhauer confides. Before expanding the bouquet program, arrangements sold the best. They range in price from $14.99 to $49.99, with styles at $24 to $29 leading sales. The departments keep a variety of designs and price points in the coolers so there is something for everyone.
Bouquets sell from $5.99 to $16.99. The popular $5.99 bouquet includes seven stems—usually a focal flower, spray mums and fillers. Another good seller is a 12-stem $8.99 bouquet that features up to three focal flowers, spray mums and fillers. The stores get new bouquet styles every week, and Ms. Holzhauer works with her supplier to choose the colors.
The stores also have a “bouquet of the week” program, with designs ranging in price from $9.99 to $14.99. The bouquets are showcased in a portable cooler sporting colorful floral graphics, and the cooler is placed in areas other than the floral department. “We want to try to grab those people who aren’t usually floral buyers,” Ms. Holzhauer explains.
Rose bouquets sell well, especially during County Market’s summer promotion. They normally sell for $12.99 for a dozen 50-cm roses, but during the promotion in June, July and August, they are priced at $6.99 for a dozen 40-cm roses. The only difference is the stem length, Ms. Holzhauer says, and “we sell a ton of them.”
The chain’s larger stores offer a consumer bunch program, at three for $12. The bunch program draws repeat customers who enjoy choosing from stocks, Alstroemerias, callas, Delphiniums, spray roses, sunflowers and more.
Blooming and foliage plants are important to County Market, Ms. Holzhauer remarks, although cut flowers comprise two-thirds of the floral departments’ business. Locally grown hardy mums and poinsettias are customers’ favorites.
The floral team orders fresh products and hard goods from a wholesaler three times a year at the meetings with the floral managers, using category management and sales history to guide purchase decisions. “Our biggest success is preplanning to a T,” Ms. Holzhauer remarks. “And that’s what’s made us profitable.”
That strategic planning, along with responsiveness to customer needs, has helped fuel the floral operation’s growth. Shares Ms. Holzhauer, “We just continue to get better each and every year at what we do.”