Dorignac's Food Center keeps its New Orleans customers coming back for more.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
The motto at Dorignac’s Food Center, in Metairie, La., is, “Yeah, we got dat!” For the many loyal customers of this longtime New Orleans-area grocery store, that means employees with can-do attitudes and everything needed for one-stop shopping, including a full-service floral department with two Louisiana-licensed florists.
“We’re known for our very friendly service and for having unique local items,” shares floral designer Shelley Egle Pizzolato, who does all the buying for the floral department. The single-unit, family-owned Dorignac’s has successfully used that winning combination since 1947, meeting the needs of both locals and tourists.
Staying true to its hometown roots is a key part of the store’s appeal. Dorignac’s cooks up Cajun and Creole specialties in “Jezz’s Kitchen,” named for the store’s chef, Jezz Jones. The menu changes daily and is posted on the store’s website, www.dorignacs.com.
The bakery specializes in king cakes, a New Orleans tradition during Mardi Gras, and will ship them throughout the United States. The store also has a large seafood department offering local favorites including oysters, shrimp and more; a “New Orleans’ Farmer’s Market” that offers locally grown, seasonal produce; an extensive gourmet cheese department; and a full-service meat department.
Dorignac’s garners great reviews on websites like Yelp.com, with the huge wine and spirits department frequently mentioned—a recent comment cites “the best liquor department anywhere in thecity.” The department boasts more than 6,500 varieties of wine, more than 1,500 types of spirits and more than 300 varieties of beer, a great draw in this city whose unofficial motto is “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (Let the good times roll).
New Orleans also has had more than its share of heartache, and Dorignac’s stayed true to its hometown connections during the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The store was able to open just three weeks after the devastating storm, determined to provide neighbors the essentials they needed. Dorignac’s also provided temporary housing for some employees who lost their homes in the devastation, adjusted wage scales and gave others financial assistance.
In turn, the community has rewarded Dorignac’s with loyalty and accolades. Readers of Gambit, a local weekly publication with a circulation of 40,000, named Dorignac’s the “Best Jefferson Neighborhood Grocery.” According to Gambit, “Generations of families make this full-service grocery store a regular stop. ... Open since 1947, Dorignac’s staff is like family—some have worked there for decades—and treat their customers as such. You’ll almost always hear a ‘How are ya, dawlin’?’ in the checkout line.”
loyal floral customers
That friendly service also is found in the floral department, where regulars often come in just to chat, reports Mrs. Pizzolato. “They come in several times a week,” she shares, “and then usually they’ll pick up a little something, so that’s always good.”
Those loyal customers have a large selection to choose from in the 1,400-square-foot department, including bouquets, arrangements, foliage and blooming plants, balloons, and giftware. In addition, Mrs. Pizzolato reveals, “We will special-order anything.”
The department is located near one of Dorignac’s two entrances, helping set a tone for freshness and beauty for the store. Mrs. Pizzolato and the store’s other full-time floral designer, Linda Ebert, change displays weekly to keep the attention of customers and inspire impulse sales. They also create seasonal displays for two large windows in the department, usually hanging wreaths and other decorations from the ceiling.
celebrating, new orleans-style
Those seasonal looks include displays for two of the biggest events in the area—Mardi Gras and football. As soon as Valentine’s Day is over, the staff quickly transforms the department into a vibrant showcase for Mardi Gras. Customers find Mardi Gras balloons, trees, wreaths and king cakes made from flowers, all in the celebration’s colors of purple, green and gold.
Another big local event is New Orleans Saints football. “We sell so much Saints,” Mrs. Pizzolato describes. For each game day, shoppers buy balloons, flowers with black and gold ribbon, products with the Saints’ fleur-de-lis logo, black-and-gold flamingoes—“We sell out of those; it’s crazy”—anything with the beloved local team’s colors and symbols.
The Saints are so important to New Orleans that the store closes during games. “The streets will be empty; the stores will be empty,” Mrs. Pizzolato shares.
Another important occasion for New Orleans is All Saints Day, Nov. 1, when people place flowers at the graves of loved ones. The holiday rivals Valentine’s Day as the department’s biggest floral event, Mrs. Pizzolato shares. Customers purchase mixed bouquets to take to the gravesites.
full range of floral services
Mrs. Pizzolato and Miss Ebert do all design work at a counter in the department, a practice that keeps them highly visible and helps further their interaction with customers. “We have a lot of one-on-one time” with clients, Mrs. Pizzolato says.
Both designers take steps to ensure they offer high-quality service and work. Both recently took and passed the exam to become licensed florists in Louisiana, the only state that requires licensing. According to the law, Mrs. Pizzolato explains, only one person per retail establishment must have the license, but both decided to study for and take the exam. They also have applied for membership in the Louisiana State Florists Association, where they will have access to educational courses. In addition, they read Super Floral Retailing and Florists’ Review magazines for inspiration.
The department’s services range from custom designs, including creating arrangements while clients shop, to sympathy, proms, weddings and delivery, although that service isn’t requested often. Most of the department’s business is walk-in, with few phone orders.
The floral department often teams up with bakery and catering for wedding services to offer a convenient one-stop experience for couples. The department averages 15 weddings a year, and “we’re getting more and more,” Mrs. Pizzolato shares. Dorignac’s gets the word out about its wedding flowers through its website, Facebook page, and newspaper and word-of-mouth advertising.
The average cost for wedding flowers is $1,000, with bouquets and centerpieces usually starting at $35 and altar pieces at $55. Consultations take place in the department, using bridal websites and magazines and the department’s own flowers for inspiration.
what customers want
Mrs. Pizzolato orders flowers and plants from local wholesalers and growers. The department has a quick turnover of products, and deliveries are made four times a week.
Bouquets and arrangements sell best. Mrs. Pizzolato reveals that the store sells about 450 mixed bouquets a week, with prices ranging from $3.99 to $21.99. In arrangements, customers favor centerpieces in glass vases, at an average price of $35.99.
A seven-stem bunch of Alstroemerias, at $4.99, is the best-selling consumer bunch. “A lot of customers come and get them every week,” Mrs. Pizzolato shares. Roses, at $8.99 a dozen, also sell well.
Dorignac’s customers enjoy unusual plants, such as carnivorous pitcher plants at $24.99 and $34.99. Mrs. Pizzolato groups them with Venus’s-flytraps for a fun display. The tags on the Venus’s-flytraps read “Little Pot of Horror.” Shoppers also purchase more traditional plants such as orchids, mums and foliage plants.
The department offers an extensive selection of giftware, including photo frames, jewelry and greeting cards. In addition, Mrs. Pizzolato and Miss Ebert create custom gift baskets, often drawing from the wine and cheese departments. New Orleans-themed baskets are especially popular.
engaging facebook page
In addition to its enticing in-store displays and engaging customer interaction, the floral department gets the word out about its services through newspaper advertising and the store’s Facebook page, which has about 1,200 people who “like” it.
The Facebook page offers another opportunity for customer engagement. The store frequently posts photos of specials in the floral department, and people often comment on the products, offer praise and ask questions, with the store quickly responding. A recent post included a photo of a “poodle” Mrs. Pizzolato had created from pink carnations, and it earned 19 “likes” and eight comments of praise from customers, including “Great job Shelley, it is really cute!!”
By engaging customers in the store and online, tailoring promotions to local tastes, and offering high-quality service and products, Dorignac’s floral designers have made sure they have what it takes to meet the needs of their clientele. As a New Orleanian might say, “Yeah, they got dat!”
||dorignacís food center
LOCATION Metairie, La.
OWNERSHIP Dorignac family
STORE SIZE 35,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 1,400 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 2 full time
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral department, offering custom designs, delivery and sympathy and wedding services
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and All Saints Day
FLORAL DESIGNERS Shelley Egle Pizzolato and Linda Ebert
keys to success
FLORAL SERVICES Dorignac’s Food Center’s two full-time designers offer a complete range of floral services, allowing customers to have one-stop shopping.
PRODUCTS Products are delivered four times a week, ensuring maximum freshness. From mixed bouquets to gift baskets, the department offers products that appeal to its loyal customers.
GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about the floral department through word-of-mouth and newspaper advertising, the website and Facebook.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.