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ValuMarket: In tune with customers

This Kentucky independent upgrades its floral operation as part of its emphasis on customer service.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     When food marketing expert Phil Lempert—also known as the “Supermarket Guru”—recently lauded ValuMarket as “one of the most impressive supermarkets in the country today,” Super Floral Retailing decided to find out what made the Louisville, Ky., independent stand out. What we discovered is a five-store company that knows its customers, focuses on service departments—including floral—and makes sure to give shoppers what they want.

     In his video report on ValuMarket, which he posted on his website, www.supermarketguru.com, Mr. Lempert singled out ValuMarket’s service departments as “outstanding and enticing.” Indeed, ValuMarket features chef-staffed delis offering prepared foods and customer samples, full-service meat and seafood counters, and in-house bakeries. The stores offer abundant produce departments, organic sections and even walk-in beer coolers.

     Floral is an important part of the customer experience, emphasizes James Neumann, ValuMarket vice president. “Along with produce and deli, those three departments really set the tone for the entire store,” he remarks.

     That’s why floral is at the front of three of the company’s five stores. In the two stores where it’s a little further back, the floral director, Terri Hasty, makes sure there is a flower display at the front. “I want people to be able to tell when they hit the door that we sell fresh flowers,” she says.

“bona fide departments”
     The floral operation has evolved in the past five years “more than in our entire company’s history,” Mr. Neumann shares. Before 2005, ValuMarket had three stores, and just one had what he terms a strong floral department. In 2005, the company purchased two Kentucky stores from Jasper, Ind.-based Buehler’s, including the Mount Washington location where Mrs. Hasty worked.

     “When we walked into Terri’s store, we knew we had something special,” Mr. Neumann recalls. “We immediately gave her the position of floral director for our company.”

     In her new role as floral director, Mrs. Hasty helped train the staff, some of whom had no floral experience, and increased services and hours. As a result, Mr. Neumann remarks, “We went from running some pretty poor floral departments ... to actually having some bona fide departments. Instead of [floral] being an ‘also-ran’ department, we have dedicated personnel at each store.”

customer-oriented culture
     Having dedicated floral personnel means the stores can offer a full range of services including custom arrangements, prom and sympathy designs, and free delivery to nearby areas; a nominal fee is charged for farther destinations. The stores have cultivated a small wedding business through word-of-mouth. Customers also can have designs made while they shop.

     Offering full-service florals fits with ValuMarket’s customer-oriented culture. “We try to keep customer service at the utmost,” Mrs. Hasty emphasizes.

     Part of that service is helping educate customers about their floral purchases. Mrs. Hasty reminds them about recutting stems and refreshing the water, and says such education keeps customers coming back. And if a customer has a problem with a purchase, which rarely happens, ValuMarket replaces it without question. “We strive very much for customer satisfaction,” Mrs. Hasty comments. “I want them to be 100 percent happy with the product they buy from us.”
 

 

valumarket

 


OWNERSHIP
The Neumann family
PRESIDENT Greg Neumann
VICE PRESIDENT James Neumann
LOCATIONS Four stores in Louisville, Ky.; one in Mount Washington, Ky.
SALES $65 million in fiscal year 2009, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
ESTABLISHED 1978
STORE SIZE Averages 30,000 to 47,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 400 to 1,200 square feet, depending on location
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One per store
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals in most stores including custom designs, weddings, proms, funerals and delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Valentine’s Day
FLORAL DIRECTOR Terri Hasty
WEBSITE www.valumarket.com

serving the neighborhoods
     A tool ValuMarket uses to ensure customer satisfaction is product selection based on neighborhood demographics. “Even though we run five stores under the same banner, each store has its own identity,” Mr. Neumann relates. “We’ve taken a lot of time to study and know our communities.”

     For example, one of the stores is in a neighborhood with a large immigrant population, with people from all over the world including Africa, Vietnam, Cuba and Bosnia. To reach that customer base, the company has worked with city and local social service agencies to make sure it is offering the right products to meet their needs.

     And Mrs. Hasty and the floral associate in the store have tailored the flower offerings to the immigrant population, as well. They capitalize on international holidays, such as International Women’s Day (March 8 each year), which Mrs. Hasty learned about from talking with a Bosnian customer.

     To ensure the floral associates in each store are providing the right flowers for their demographics, they order most of their products directly from three local wholesalers. Mrs. Hasty usually places the initial buy for the stores for seasonal products such as poinsettias and bedding plants.

favorite products
     Bouquets are top sellers at all five stores, with a seven-stem mixed bouquet at $5.99 selling best. A dozen roses for $9.99 and a $12.99 deluxe version, with baby’s breath and greenery, also are popular.

     ValuMarket’s store in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, an area of college professors and students, does well with consumer bunches, selling as many as eight cases a week. To compare, the company’s other stores sell only about a case or two each. The prices are $3.99 and $4.99 for favorites such as Asiatic lilies, callas, Hydrangeas, Gerberas and spray roses.

     Fresh arrangements, all made in the stores, start at $19.99. Customers can pick them out from the cooler to grab and go, or they can ask for custom designs.

     Permanent designs also are an important part of ValuMarket’s floral business, selling from $40 to $100. “When we do custom silks, I’ll always encourage customers to take them home and make sure they fit where they want them,” Mrs. Hasty shares. “We’re more than happy to tweak them to make them fit specifically where they want.” She also keeps ready-made designs on hand for impulse purchases.

     Potted violets are always a favorite plant, selling for $3.99. Seasonal spring plants, including tulips, also are strong sellers.

     “We do a lot with balloons,” Mrs. Hasty comments, including balloon bouquets and sculptures. The floral departments keep a large supply of balloons inflated to spur impulse sales. “Some of the unusual shapes sell best when they’re inflated and out where customers can see them,” she reminds. Customers respond especially well when the departments feature a dozen latex balloons for $9.99.
 

 

Christmas at valumarket

 
 


      Christmas is a whole-store affair for ValuMarket. The stores have two open houses, one in early November and the second in early December. “The stores are decked out” for the holiday, Terri Hasty, the floral director, shares.

     The stores have about 20 demonstration tables, offering customers samples of everything from meat to seafood to produce. The floral departments showcase their offerings on the various demonstration tables, including upgraded poinsettias, centerpieces and other floral items.

     The open houses draw as many as 25 percent more customers than on a normal day, remarks James Neumann, ValuMarket vice president. The open houses serve to tell customers, “we have the items you need for your holiday tables,” he reminds.

     It doesn’t require a lot of extra effort to get ready for the open houses, Mrs. Hasty says. The key, she offers, “is just planning a little bit ahead.”

 

“kentucky proud”
     The locally owned ValuMarket helps emphasize its community roots through its promotion of the “Kentucky Proud” program. It’s a state initiative that features Kentucky-grown and -produced products, and scores of items with the Kentucky Proud logo are found throughout ValuMarkets’ stores.

     Floral also gets into the Kentucky Proud act. Mrs. Hasty describes buying bedding plants and poinsettias from local growers. The company also buys floral products at a nearby Amish market. In addition, the floral departments create “Kentucky Proud” gift baskets, with candles, barbecue sauce and other gift items. A local company purchased 30 baskets last Christmas for about $50 each.

attracting attention
     Mrs. Hasty advises changing the look of the departments often to help keep customers’ attention. “One of things I really enjoy doing is tearing the department down and resetting it,” she shares. “You can bring product toward the front, and that gives it a new look and a new life. Customers will stop by like it’s something that has just come in, even if it’s an item that has been here for a while.”

     The entire store gears up for the Kentucky Derby (always the first Saturday in May), which Mr. Neumann calls “our fourth summer holiday.” There is hoopla and parties and media. “It definitely is the one time of year that our city gets the chance to showcase itself,” he adds.

     That means people are beautifying their homes, Mrs. Hasty says. The floral departments offer bedding and hanging plants for customers to spruce up their outdoor spaces, as well as novelty items such as Derby garden flags.

floral’s role
     With ValuMarket’s close attention to customer service and local preferences, it’s easy to see why Mr. Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, sang its praises. And the floral operation is a key part of that success. As Mr. Neumann points out, “It creates a much more pleasant shopping experience, having a well-decorated, well-done floral department. It’s definitely new purchases for us. It’s profitable purchases, and it gives our customers one less reason to have to go somewhere else.”




 

 

keys to success

 
 


PRODUCTS
Products are delivered to ValuMarket stores three times a week, ensuring freshness. The floral director, Terri Hasty, says her goal is “to choose the best quality product, whether that’s cut flowers or plants, at the best price.”

CUSTOMER SERVICE The departments offer a full range of floral services. The floral departments’ counters are in the open where customers can watch the florists create their designs, encouraging interaction and engagement.

TRAINING Mrs. Hasty offers training to floral associates before major holidays so they can see what’s new and get inspired before the events.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about ValuMarket florals through in-store merchandising, bag stuffers, word-of-mouth and newspaper advertising. 

 

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

Photos courtesy of
ValuMarket

Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.