Eastside Marketplace in Rhode Island goes out of the way to make customers feel special.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
When a customer spent $650 for four specialty plants at Eastside Marketplace in Providence, R.I., he received more than beautiful showpieces for his newly remodeled home. He also received personal attention from the store’s floral manager, who accompanied the delivery and advised the customer and his wife on placement and care.
“They were very happy I did that,” recalls John Drohan, the floral manager at the one-store independent, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. They also told him they would be sure to tell their friends about the service they received.
That kind of personal attention has helped build repeat business for the thriving floral department, Mr. Drohan remarks. “If you’re good to the customers, they’ll be good to you,” he sums up.
This culture of good service and customer engagement drives the success of the store, which has won Rhode Island Monthly’s “Best Local Market” 10 times. Eastside Marketplace, which is near both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, offers amenities that appeal to its affluent clientele as well as the many college students who patronize the business.
The store’s services include free grocery delivery within a certain area, curbside pickup of groceries, a full-service post office and Rhode Island’s only supermarket kosher butcher and meat service. Its “Food Court” has daily meal specials, freshly prepared sushi and made-to-order sandwiches, all of which patrons can eat in the “Good News Cafe” while reading one of the more than 600 U.S. and international newspapers the store offers. The produce department provides an extensive organic selection, all priced the same as the conventional produce.
The store also offers events such as floral design and cooking classes and special promotions including “College Night,” “Kids Day” and more. “There’s always something going on,” Mr. Drohan remarks.
The 1,000-square-foot floral department, at the front of the store, enhances the customer experience with a large selection of products all beautifully merchandised for maximum visual appeal. A large seasonal display of arrangements and plants is always at the front of the department and is changed monthly. Next to that area, customers see what Mr. Drohan terms a “color palette” of flowers by the stem, all in the same color scheme. The color changes weekly to keep customer interest high, “and it’s very effective,” he enthuses.
The department also has a wrap-around cooler (see Page 12) that holds as many as 50 arrangements, free-standing display tables for blooming plants and the department’s signature upgraded foliage plants, a large section of Caspari paper goods, a gift basket station and a selection of Godiva chocolates. Customers often tell the staff, “Everything is absolutely gorgeous,” Mr. Drohan shares. “We get compliments 24/7 here.”
focus on quality
To keep the compliments coming, Mr. Drohan, a florist for 35 years, insists on strict quality-control measures in the department. The staff of six full- and part-time florists he manages “know what I expect of them, and they keep it up,” he remarks. Flowers and plants are inspected every day for freshness, and anything past its prime is pulled.
“If customers get a bad product,” he reminds, “they’re never going to come back.” On the other hand, if a customer does have a complaint, the store has a hassle-free return policy. “I’m here to win customers,” Mr. Drohan proclaims. “I’m not here to lose customers.”
The staff also is trained to greet all floral shoppers and engage them to find out what their needs are. Secret shoppers visit all the store’s department’s once a month to help emphasize Eastside Marketplace’s commitment to customer service and quality.
thriving plant business
Mr. Drohan purchases flowers and plants from both wholesalers and growers, with deliveries to the store nearly seven days a week. Eastside Marketplace’s customers prize unusual or specialty flowers and plants, and Mr. Drohan also travels to the Boston Flower Exchange to seek out new and interesting products.
Customers especially covet the store’s upgraded foliage plants for their beauty and value-added appeal. The department transplants the plants into home-décor-worthy pots that can cost as much as $50, and adds good potting soil and fertilizer. “Now they’ve got a plant that’s going to last,” Mr. Drohan remarks. Plants include jades, sago palms, Ficuses, Dracaenas and Spathiphyllums, and prices can reach as high as $200 each.
In addition, Mr. Drohan will go to customers’ homes to transplant their growing plants into new pots. “That’s very well known here,” he says.
The department also sells blooming plants, with customers favoring Phalaenopsis orchids for $33. Other good sellers include miniature roses, Kalanchoes and 4-inch chrysanthemums.
tops in cut flowers
Although the plants perform well, the top-selling floral items are bouquets, which the department has custom made by a local wholesaler. Prices range from $5.99 to $24.99, and the department sells as many as 100 a week. The styles change monthly, seasonally and for holidays. The store has a sizable Jewish clientele, and during Rosh Hashanah in September, for example, Mr. Drohan stocked $19.99 bouquets with flowers in blue and white hues, including Hydrangeas, roses and lilies. “They just flew out of here,” he recalls.
Customers also purchased centerpieces for their Rosh Hashanah entertaining, often bringing in their own containers. Mr. Drohan reports the department created about 35 custom designs and made 50 for the cooler.
Prices for arrangements average $25, and customers can choose from the large selection available in the cooler, order ahead of time or have designs made while they shop. A hot seller is a compact square vase filled with roses and accent flowers for $9.99 that’s perfect for hostess gifts and hospital patients. “They sell like crazy,” Mr. Drohan describes. (See Page 8.)
The single-stem selections, ranging from $1 to $4.99, include Hydrangeas, Irises, Proteas, lilies and much more. The department sells about 100 single-stem roses a week, and Mr. Drohan says college students favor “funky” $2.99 rainbow roses for their tie-dye looks. The floral staff will custom-wrap purchases from the single-stem selection with tissue paper, cello wrap and raffia for free.
The department started stocking Godiva chocolates about a year ago, with excellent results, Mr. Drohan reveals. For Valentine’s Day, he paired a box of chocolates with a dozen vased roses for $29.99. “That helped bring the sales up, and we’ll probably do it again this year,” he says.
Gift baskets also are important to the floral department’s sales. The staff custom-makes the baskets and also has a selection on display to spur ideas and for grab-and-go shoppers. Prices range from $25 to $100, and the store sells up to 150 during the Christmas holiday season.
offering full service
In addition to its custom design and in-home services, the department handles sympathy, wedding and event business, and offers delivery for a fee. “We do it all,” Mr. Drohan confirms. Eastside Marketplace served several large weddings in the past year and is growing its nuptial business by word-of-mouth.
To remind customers of the work it can do, the department makes sure that customers see florists designing big pieces for weddings and events. “The public will ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and say, ‘You do this?’” Mr. Drohan recounts. “I say, ‘Yes I do.’ That’s how we’ve built the business.”
Floral design classes help build excitement about the department, too. Mr. Drohan offers several at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, attracting 15 to 25 attendees to each session. Patrons pay $40 for each class, with the opportunity to get $5 off with a coupon. In return, they receive instruction from Mr. Drohan in creating a holiday arrangement, refreshments, a packet of information about flowers and plants, and flower food.
Customers love the classes, Mr. Drohan reports. “If they had it their way, they’d have them once a week,” he says. Several who have taken the classes have become repeat customers, returning to the department often to buy flowers for their own designs. “It works out great.”
The service, high-quality florals and classes are all part of Mr. Drohan’s goal to achieve complete customer satisfaction. “I make sure they’re happy when they walk out of my department, that we’ve given them the upmost customer service that they can expect,” he affirms. “That’s what brings customers back.” sfr
LOCATION Providence, R.I.
OWNERS Scott and Monica Laurans
YEAR OPENED 1981
STORE SIZE 30,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 1,000 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Seven, full and part time
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Easter, due to a buy-one, get-one plant promotion that is popular with churches and individuals
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals, including custom designs, weddings, sympathy, events and delivery
FLORAL’S CONTRIBUTION TO COMPANY SALES 2.5 percent
FLORAL MANAGER John Drohan
keys to success
PRODUCTS The floral department at Eastside Marketplace in Providence, R.I., entices customers with 1,000 square feet of bouquets, flowers by the stem, arrangements and upgraded plants.
SERVICE The department has seven well-trained florists on staff, and other store employees are cross-trained to help out during holidays and other busy times.
GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about the floral department through its beautiful merchandising and engaging staff; weekly newspaper ads; the store’s website; and promotions, including a monthly “passion” item that is specially priced.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.