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contest winner

Show-stopping roses

Hy-Vee in Cherokee, Iowa, wins the 2012 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

A little movie magic meant big sales for Katie Booth and the floral team at a Hy-Vee in Cherokee, Iowa. Their “Lights - Camera - Roses!” promotion for Hy-Vee’s annual rose sale captured the imaginations of both customers and the judges in the 2012 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and Börgen Systems.

Ms. Booth’s movie-theater-themed promotion was so successful that the store sold as many as 6,000 single stems of roses in the two-week sale, at 50 cents each. That feat is even more impressive given the fact that Cherokee has a population of only 5,200 people.
“It was the most roses we’ve ever sold in the sale,” Ms. Booth reveals. “We had people buying 100, 50, four dozen.”

The floral department did so by creating a display that engaged all five senses—even taste—and ignited customer excitement about the rose sale. Ms. Booth evoked the feel of a movie theater with attention-getting signage and props, a clever community tie-in and freshly popped popcorn, all of which drew customers to the real star of the show—the beautiful roses.

“nobody would walk past us”

The display, at the front of the store, immediately grabbed interest with a theater-style marquee that proclaimed, “Now Showing: Million Stem Rose Sale.” Just below the marquee, enticing stems of colorful roses were arrayed in buckets decorated to look like popcorn buckets.

A director’s chair and clapboards as well as oversize replicas of a soda cup and popcorn bucket reinforced the movie theme. At a “ticket booth,” which doubled as the department’s wrapping station, customers could get free tickets to the local movie theater. In addition, the display successfully cross-merchandised baked goods, candy and DVDs. The floral department staff also dressed in black slacks and tuxedo-style T-shirts.

The display was a show-stopper, Ms. Booth recalls. “It was definitely a wow factor,” she shares. “Every single customer who came in stopped and looked, especially when we had the popcorn. Nobody would walk past us.”

The “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest judges also were wowed, awarding Ms. Booth a trip to the International Floriculture Expo in Miami Beach, Fla., in June, where she was presented the crystal Orrefors Börgen Cup by Arden Börgen, CEO and founder of Börgen Systems, during a ceremony before the Keynote Address. She also received hotel accommodations.

hy-vee’s success

In addition to Ms. Booth’s Grand Award, two other Hy-Vee floral managers won Honor Awards in this year’s contest (see “The Honor Award Winners” on Page 25). In fact, Hy-Vee has performed extremely well in the contest during its 15-year history, winning two Grand Awards and 11 Honor Awards.

Cindy Sulzman, Hy-Vee’s assistant vice president for floral operations, calls the contest results “recognition of the talent we have working for our stores. They work hard day in and day out, and to be recognized by their peers throughout the industry is just incredible.”

Ms. Sulzman and her three floral supervisors often send reminders to the floral managers to enter the contest, she shares. “We are always reinforcing that, ‘This is a great time for you to take pictures and send in your entry for the Börgen Cup,’” she elaborates.

Ms. Sulzman believes Hy-Vee’s unique corporate structure, in which the stores have a large amount of autonomy, has resulted in the floral departments’ sales and merchandising success. “We don’t dictate from the corporate level,” she explains. “We suggest and give them ideas. But once we do that, the stores take ownership of everything.

“That is what really makes it work,” she continues. “They all, as a team, have the buy-in. They all have something invested in it, and they’re the ones who make it work.”

That kind of store autonomy resulted in Hy-Vee’s “Million Stem Rose Sale.” It started years ago when one floral department in Omaha, seeking to defy the traditional July floral slump, sold roses out of the back of a refrigerated semi truck at 50 cents apiece. The promotion did so well that the store encouraged others to join in.

“It just spread from there,” Ms. Sulzman remarks. It’s so big now that Florist Distributing, Inc., Hy-Vee’s wholesale subsidiary that supplies flowers and plants to its floral departments, provided a whopping 1.8 million stems of roses, mostly from Colombian suppliers, to the stores in 2011 for the sale.

planning for success

Ms. Booth and her team began planning this year’s Million Stem Rose Sale display right after last year’s promotion, for which she won the Honor Award for Color Harmony in the 2011 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest. (To view that display, see the September 2011 issue of Super Floral Retailing, Page 30.)

Ms. Booth, an advocate of creating big themed displays, says organization and planning are required if you want to succeed. “Over the years, we’ve learned that if we want it to be successful, we want all the pieces to fall together, we have to plan. We can’t just decide, ‘OK, today let’s make this display.’”

The planning began with brainstorming until the movie theme emerged. The staff decided that “movie theater” would be more engaging than going the “Hollywood glamour, red carpet” route, and they then focused on popcorn as the unifying element.

After deciding on the theme, they jotted down ideas throughout the year. About two months before the July promotion, they posted a sign asking employees for props to borrow. “That’s how we got the old movie reels, the director’s chair and the camcorder,” Ms. Booth shares.

They started collecting props and creating the signage about a month before the promotion and assembled the display on a Sunday and the following Monday morning. Hy-Vee’s sale usually lasts a week, but the Cherokee store had it for two weeks. “We thought, ‘We went through all that work; we’re going to leave it up a little longer,’” Ms. Booth recalls.


the winning elements

Elements that helped make the display a winner included:

  • THEME Thanks to the floral team’s hard work and creativity, everything about the display tied into the movie-theater theme and its popcorn focus. To create the “popcorn buckets” for the roses, they striped buckets with red and white tape. “Popcorn” in the oversize popcorn bucket was made from spray insulation that was sprayed onto cellophane, allowed to dry, ripped into “kernels” and then painted with yellow and white paint, a daylong process.
         The local movie theater happened to be having a free movie event during the rose sale, with Hy-Vee as a sponsor, something Ms. Booth happily discovered when she called the theater manager to suggest a tie-in. “That was wonderful!” Ms. Booth exclaims. The floral staff handed out free tickets in a ticket booth they made, and the theater also donated movie posters for the department to display. Movie star photos, downloaded from the Internet, also added a touch of glamour.
         In the afternoons from 1 to 5, the department popped complimentary popcorn, added another enticing sensory element to the display. “As soon as you walked in, you smelled popcorn,” Ms. Booth shares. “It was another thing that made it an experience for customers.” The popcorn was a sales booster, too. “It just got crazy busy,” during the popcorn time, she recalls. “Everybody was over getting popcorn, and that just drew them in to look at everything.”

  • SIGNAGE The signage helped reinforce the movie-theater theme while giving price and product information. The marquee sign, made with cardboard, contact paper, paint and a little glitter, grabbed customers’ attention. The floral team made large director’s clapboards from cardboard, painted them black, and glued white satin ribbon on them for striping. Smaller ones were purchased at a local party store. Price signage was fashioned in the shape of theater tickets and printed on blue paper.
    color harmony Ms. Booth and her team decided that red and white, the traditional colors on popcorn buckets, would be the dominant colors. They kept additional colors in primary hues to coordinate with the red and white.

  • CROSS-MERCHANDISING The department offered everything a customer would need for a movie night, including a large selection of DVDs, microwave popcorn, movie-character cupcakes and a “candy booth” filled with boxed candy. Some customers picked up plastic popcorn buckets from the display and used them for gift baskets.

  • PRODUCTS Ms. Booth reports that customers bought roses both for themselves and as gifts, with colored roses other than red selling the best. The department also offered novelty arrangements in popcorn boxes, miniature potted roses and movie-themed foil balloons.

the customer experience

The display engaged and excited customers, which is Ms. Booth’s goal when creating themed merchandising vignettes. Displays like the movie- theater vignette “bring people in and create an experience,” she describes.

            Ms. Sulzman agrees, noting that a great experience is part of good customer service, the No. 1 priority at Hy-Vee, whose brand is “a helpful smile in every aisle.” Confirms Ms. Sulzman: “We just want customers to have a great experience when they come into our stores.”  

  hy-vee, inc.  

HEADQUARTERS West Des Moines, Iowa
STORES 235, in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin
SALES $7.3 billion in 2011, estimated, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery and Convenience Stores
COMPANY EMPLOYEES More than 65,000
store size Averages 60,000 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Average six to eight per store;
four in the Cherokee, Iowa, store
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral departments in 177 stores, offering custom designs, delivery, and FTD and Teleflora flowers-by-wire service (wire service varies by location)
Cindy Sulzman


floral at hy-vee


Floral is a “key player” at Hy-Vee, remarks Cindy Sulzman, assistant vice president for floral operations.

Hy-Vee offers full-service floral departments in 177 of its 235 stores, and the departments average from six to eight employees each, with some having more.
Floral services include weddings, sympathy, new baby, proms, homecoming, events and delivery. “We do it all,” Ms. Sulzman expresses. “We don’t turn down business.”
The floral operation gets the word out about its services in a variety of ways, including radio and television advertising, in-store fliers, community sponsorships and wedding expos. Departments will post ads about homecoming and prom in schools, when allowed, and the floral operation works closely with Hy-Vee’s catering coordinators to team up on event business. The departments also have FTD or Teleflora flowers-by-wire service as well as online ordering.
Floral managers do their own ordering, with most of their products coming from Florist Distributing, Inc., a Hy-Vee-owned supplier of flowers, plants and other floral products. The corporate floral team, Ms. Sulzman and three supervisors, has just a few order requirements—what’s in the weekly ad and a selection from the company’s everyday bouquet program. “They order in what works best for their communities,” Ms. Sulzman explains.
The floral departments receive deliveries as many as seven days a week in metro areas and three to five days a week in more remote locations. Katie Booth, floral manager at a Hy-Vee in Cherokee, Iowa, says the flowers her department sells are known for being fresh and long lasting. “We always get told that,” by customers, she describes., remarks Cindy Sulzman, assistant vice president for floral operations.


the honor award winners


Look for articles about the 2012 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” Honor Award winners in the September and October issues of Super Floral Retailing.

The Honor Award winners are:
Cindy Fitzgerald; Hy-Vee; Omaha, Neb.
Janice McLaughlin and Dena MacDonald; Sobeys Atlantic Store No. 652; New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada
Cheryl Overland; Hy-Vee; Albert Lea, Minn.
Keith Piliego and Dacota Maphis; Publix Super Market No. 1341; Palm Harbor, Fla.




Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.