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Service Soars at Blue Goose Market

Learn how this Illinois independent's floral and gift department engages customers.
     by Cynthia L. McGowan

     At Blue Goose Market in St. Charles, Ill., employees never begin a sentence with the word “no.” Customer satisfaction is this family-owned independent’s top priority in every department including floral and gifts, where a team of three employees works with shoppers to ensure they take home the perfect items.

     “Part of our culture here is never to tell the customer ‘no’,” confirms David Lencioni, who owns Blue Goose Market with his sister, Mary Pearson. “It’s paramount to give customers what they’re looking for.”

     Blue Goose has been doing so for more than 80 years, ever since the company was founded in 1928 by Mr. Lencioni’s grandmother as a small fresh fruits and vegetable market. Today, it is an upscale store that in March 2008 moved into a new building combining the modern elements shoppers want with nostalgic touches that remind them of Blue Goose’s long ties to the community.

     The new 30,000-square-foot store features warm tones, large windows that let in plenty of natural light, dark wood, vintage tin ceiling panels and dyed concreted floors. Photos and murals show vignettes from the store’s history as well as community memories, such as children’s teams the company sponsored. The design reflects “our place in the community and that we’re aware of who we are and what our roots are,” Mr. Lencioni shares.

     The store is 50 percent bigger than its previous location, adding room for expanded bakery, produce and floral/gift departments. Shoppers can have lattes in the coffee bar or enjoy fresh sushi in the dining area. The deli offers prepared foods for customers’ convenience. An outdoor patio has become the site for popular cookouts for the community, where Blue Goose serves its homemade bratwurst and other grilled fare.


blue goose market


St. Charles, IL
David Lencioni and Mary Pearson
STORE SIZE 30,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 1,100 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Three; two full-time and one part-time
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs including corsages and arrangements for special events; custom gift baskets
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO TOTAL STORE SALES Between 2.7 percent and 3 percent

  why "blue goose"?  

Annunciata (Nancy) Lencioni
, grandmother of the current owners, founded the company as Blue Goose Fruit Store in 1928. According to the Blue Goose Market’s Web site, Mrs. Lencioni saw the name “Blue Goose” on an orange crate from a produce marketing company and liked it well enough to use it for the store.


expanded florals
     The move to the new store offered opportunities for the floral/gift department to expand its offerings and services. Before the move, the store provided limited floral services. Today, customers can get most of their floral needs met at the store, including corsages, custom arrangements and special events. And while the store doesn’t offer funeral and wedding services at this point, Floral/Gift Manager Sue Villanova hints that they could come in the future. “There’s room for us to grow in this department,” she remarks.

     In the meantime, shoppers can find a full
range of enticing products in the 1,100-square-foot department, which has a prominent spot near the store entrance. In the sun-filled, well-merchandised space, the large cooler is full of bouquets and arrangements, and shelves brim with colorful blooming plants. Shoppers can choose from a huge selection of mostly seasonal gifts including tabletop items, candles, greeting cards, gift baskets and more. The large gift selection reflects Ms. Villanova’s background in the giftware industry—before coming to Blue Goose, she owned her own gift shop.

     Mr. Lencioni calls floral “a big factor in what our image in the community is. It differentiates us.” It also is a high-margin department for the store and generates between 2.7 percent and 3 percent of total company sales.

gifts are on top
     The majority of the sales, about 60 percent, come from the department’s gift items, Ms. Villanova confides. To ensure that customers are getting the latest trends and styles in giftware, she and the two other floral employees visit the showrooms at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, which is just 40 miles east of St. Charles, at least twice a year to check out the latest giftware, gain merchandising strategies and place orders.

     Gift baskets, with prices ranging from $19.95 to as high as $99.95, are popular with customers, who prefer to work with the florists to pick out items for the baskets rather than buy readymades. Themes include wine and cheese, breakfast, pasta and sauces, snack foods—“almost anything,” Mr. Lencioni says.

     Ms. Villanova says the store’s gift basket business has boomed this year. “I think we got our name out there a little bit,” she comments. “In fact, just the other day I got a call from Belgium.” The caller’s mother lives in St. Charles, and the daughter had learned about Blue Goose from its Web site. “She had me put together a birthday basket for $100, and the mother’s friend came in and picked it up,” she recalls.

     Best-selling individual gift items sell for $4.95, with $49.95 at the top of most customers’ price range. And while the department has the occasional higher-ticket sale, such as a planter’s bench for $125 and a sock monkey that sold for $100, Ms. Villanova says she would rather sell a lot of products for $4.95 each than have more-expensive items sit on the shelves. Agrees Mr. Lencioni, “Turnover is the name of the game in the grocery business.”


keys to success


MERCHANDISING The look of the floral/gift department at Blue Goose Market changes weekly to keep customer excitement high.

SERVICE The three employees in the department engage customers and work closely with them to find out exactly what they need.

PRODUCTS The 1,100-square-foot department is packed with a huge assortment of giftware and fresh florals.


christmas at blue goose


      Christmas is the biggest holiday for the floral/gift department at Blue Goose Market. The four- or five-week holiday period is “when the department really sparkles,” remarks David Lencioni, who co-owns the St. Charles, Ill., store.

      Sue Villanova, floral/gift manager, says planning for Christmas begins in the summer, when the department chooses its themes for the holiday and orders products. The first products start going on display in late October, in an area where they won’t clash too much with the department’s fall and Halloween merchandising.

      “The day after Thanksgiving, there is not one brown or orange item in the department,” Ms. Villanova reports. “It’s all Christmas.” The department stocks ornaments, gift wrap, party goods, tabletop items, wreaths, garland and small trees—“We do a lot of décor,” she says.

      In addition, Blue Goose Market has a holiday open house called “Taste of the Season.” All the departments sample their products, and “we get probably three times the normal crowd on a Saturday afternoon,” Mr. Lencioni shares.

      The floral/gift department gets into the act by helping decorate the store with its Christmas products, talking with customers about how they can decorate their homes and demonstrating a holiday design “how-to.” Says Mr. Lencioni, “It’s become an event that people look forward to every year.”


growing creatively
     When the new store first opened, the floral team stocked the cooler with ready-made arrangements provided by its main cut flower supplier, W. Newell & Co., a subsidiary of Supervalu, Inc. Thanks to training from Supervalu, hands-on practice and reading industry publications like Super Floral Retailing, the talented staff today creates all arrangements in-house. Ms. Villanova says the three florists share ideas and fuel each other creatively, adding, “You get three creative people together, and it’s amazing what happens. I think we’ve learned from each other over the years.”

     The cooler is kept fully stocked with arrangements, $4.99-to-$12.99 mixed bouquets and three-for-$12 consumer bunches. The department often uses unique containers such as antique-looking pitchers to add interest to designs. Gifts for teachers are especially popular at the store, so the department keeps desk-size $6.99 designs, featuring such flowers as mums, carnations and waxflowers, on hand.

     Shoppers can call ahead for custom arrangements or have them made while they browse or sit at an inviting table in the department and sip coffee. In fact, Ms. Villanova prefers to have customers in the store for the 10 to 15 minutes it usually takes to complete their orders because one of the other florists often will talk with them and wind up selling them more products. “We’re kind of a tag team,” she remarks.

     Upselling also is important to plant sales. “We do a lot of what we call ‘value-added,’” Ms. Villanova says, explaining that the department gets a good markup by upgrading blooming plants with bows and baskets. Bulb plants do well in winter when customers are looking for any signs of spring, selling for $12.99 for 6-inch plants. The department gets its plants from local growers.

merchandising expertise
     Merchandising is another key to the department’s strong sales. All merchandise is themed and grouped by color, and the look of the department changes every week, helping draw in a large share of repeat customers. “Every time you come into the store, the department looks a little different,” Mr. Lencioni comments. “There’s always something new to see.”

     Ms. Villanova says that just moving products in the department can boost sales. Customers will spot items they hadn’t seen before and say, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve got new stuff!” she shares. They’ll snatch up the “new” items, reducing the need to put slow sellers on sale later.

     The store also uses cross-merchandising strategies for sales. Mr. Lencioni runs the wine department, and he often pairs wine with florals. Offerings from the floral department can be found in the gourmet cheese department and wherever a tie-in works. “I try to get floral out there as much as possible,” Ms. Villanova reports.

talking with customers
     In addition to visual merchandising, the floral team engages customers by talking with them and making suggestions. “We try to stay on the sales floor as much as possible,” Ms. Villanova says. “We’re very visible.” If, for example, a customer is decorating a mantle for Christmas, she will say, “From what you’re telling me, you’re going to need this much garland, this many picks, this many snowmen,” and so on. And then she urges the customer to take the items home, try them and bring them back if they don’t work out, which seldom happens.

            Ms. Villanova sees spending time with her customers and helping them beautify their homes as part of the service that Blue Goose Market is committed to providing. “Whatever a customer calls and asks me for, I’ll basically meet their needs,” she confirms. “I’m in the business to sell merchandise and flowers, and I just pretty much do whatever it takes.”

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

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2009
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.