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store profile

Focused on fresh

Floral enhances Yoke’s Fresh Markets’ customer-friendly atmosphere.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     Fresh and friendly describes the atmosphere at Yoke’s Fresh Markets, a 12-store, employee-owned chain in Washington and Idaho. It’s also an apt description for the floral operation, which delights customers with a can-do attitude and high-quality products.

     The Spokane Valley, Wash.-based company incorporated a fresh format around 2002 as a way to differentiate itself from its larger competitors, who now include Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons and WinCo Foods. Yoke’s strategy was to “step up our items; step up our service,” shares Karen Malsom, floral supervisor/merchandiser. In the years since, it has remodeled stores and expanded from five to the current 12 locations in eastern Washington and western Idaho.

     Now, Ms. Malsom describes, “We really push fresh.” Setting the tone for that fresh experience are the Mountain View floral departments, which greet customers at the front of the stores with a profusion of colorful flowers and plants. Floral leads into the large farmers’ market-style produce departments, featuring bountiful selections of fruits and vegetables. The stores also offer made-from-scratch items in the bakeries, chef-prepared entrees in the delis, wine departments with more than 1,400 selections, full-service meat and seafood counters, and “Nature’s Corner” natural food areas that are more like a “store within the store.”

     Adding to the customer experience are locally sourced country-style antiques such as farm implements and kitchen items, which are displayed in each department. The relics enhance the stores’ friendly, down-home atmosphere, and they prompt customers to share stories with employees about using similar items when they were younger.

friendly service
     Yoke’s further strives to set itself apart from competitors with customer service. “Our orientations for our new employees are very much customer-service driven,” Ms. Malsom explains. For example, employees learn the importance of greeting every shopper and making eye contact with him or her.

     Yoke’s also has ongoing customer service initiatives. At monthly “Refresh” meetings in each store, employees learn about what’s going on in the various departments, so they can share information with customers—and have the confidence to do so. “We’re really trying to empower our employees to feel comfortable talking to any customer about [for example] a bakery item or a floral item,” Ms. Malsom says.

     Shoppers are advised that if they can’t find a product they need, Yoke’s will happily order it. In addition, the company’s inviting website,, features blogs by Yoke’s meat, wine and organics experts, who offer product and lifestyle advice in a friendly, conversational tone.



yoke's fresh markets


Spokane Valley, Wash.
OWNERSHIP Employee owned
STORES 12, in Washington and Idaho
SALES $120 million (estimated) in fiscal year 2009, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
STORE SIZE Averages 60,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT size Averages 800 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One full-timer and one part-timer per store
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals in 11 stores including custom designs, weddings and proms; delivery in some areas

“we never say no”
     The floral operation embodies Yoke’s customer-centric, fresh approach to retailing. In 11 of the company’s 12 stores, the 800-square-foot departments, each staffed with one full-time manager and one part-time staff member, offer a full range of floral services, from custom designs to weddings. “We never say no,” Ms. Malsom emphasizes.

     The stores don’t advertise their wedding services, instead attracting couples through word-of-mouth. “We have a few managers who have a great [wedding] business going,” Ms. Malsom shares, providing flowers for one or two services per weekend in the summer. Although Yoke’s offers delivery in its Spokane-area stores, most couples pick up their wedding flowers in the stores.

     The departments’ layout encourages interaction between customers and florists. In most stores, the work counter is in the open, where customers can watch the designers create. That visibility “makes customers interested in what you’re doing,” Ms. Malsom reminds. They’ll stop, watch and want to talk about the beautiful products being made before their eyes.

     The floral departments’ regular customers also enjoy talking with floral managers about their flower purchases, Ms. Malsom reports. “They like to tell how long their flowers lasted.”

talking up the freshness
     That is valuable feedback to a company that prides itself on freshness. Ms. Malsom says the floral managers, most of whom have been with the company for years, understand the importance of following proper care and handling procedures and culling any flowers past their prime. Yoke’s reinforces that importance when training new hires, usually the part-time clerks, in the departments.

     “We tell them, ‘That might look really good to you, but here’s why it’s not going to last when someone takes it home,’” she shares. Throwing away product is “the hardest thing for any new employee to grasp.”

     The focus on fresh pays off in shoppers’ positive word-of-mouth about Yoke’s flowers and in repeat sales, Ms. Malsom remarks. “If they’re happy with what they buy, they’re going to come back.”

customer favorites
     To ensure maximum freshness, the stores receive flower and plant deliveries three to four days a week, and more often during
the outdoor garden season. Most of Yoke’s flowers come from local wholesalers; Ms. Malsom says the company’s location and relatively small size make it a challenge to get direct-store delivery from out-of-state growers and importers.

     Ms. Malsom estimates the company’s volume breakdown as 60 percent fresh cut flowers, 30 percent plants and 10 percent gift items. The best-selling floral items are in the “Pick A Bunch” consumer bunch program, which usually sell for $2.49 each or five for $10 when they are the advertised special. The Pick A Bunch program features smaller consumer bunches (two or three stems) of Alstroemerias, spray roses, spray mums, carnations, spray carnations and more. “Our customers love it,” Ms. Malsom enthuses. Some will pick out several bunches and ask the floral designers to arrange the flowers for them.

     Mixed bouquets, created by local wholesalers as well as a Miami, Fla., importer, sell well, with prices from $6.99 to $14.99. Customers want color and value in their bouquets. “If it’s colorful and it’s long lasting, they’re going to buy it, and they’re going to come back and buy it again,” Ms. Malsom reveals.

     The floral designers often create arrangements for customers while they shop, she shares, and remind repeat customers that
they can bring in vases from home if they like. The departments also keep designs in the cooler for customers to grab and go. Prices range from about $10.99 to $40.

     Seasonal blooming plants that sell well include bulbs, azaleas, Gerberas and Hydrangeas, with prices ranging from $6.99 to $9.99 for 4-inch pots and from $11.99 to $20 for 6-inch pots. The floral managers are careful to advise customers who want to plant their purchases in their yards that they can’t promise they’ll come back from Spokane’s cold winters. Ms. Malsom says that up-front talk helps the departments keep credibility with their customers.

     Yoke’s also has a popular outdoor garden program, selling annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, herbs and vegetables, mostly provided by a local grower. The season starts in April and ends in mid-June. Customers are purchasing more vegetables in reaction to the recession, Ms. Malsom discloses.

     The departments offer a large selection of balloons, plush and giftware including frames, vases, mugs and chimes. Floral managers cross-merchandise inflated balloons near greeting cards, the bakery and the checkout stands for add-on sales.

merchandising strategies
     Yoke’s utilizes several strategies to capture the attention of potential floral customers. The floral managers change the look of the departments weekly to promote the ad items and capture impulse sales. They also group similar items together to create displays with impact. In addition, floral products are cross-merchandised in other areas of the store for appropriate occasions, such as bouquets in the wine department for New Year’s Eve.

     Shopability is an important component of Yoke’s merchandising philosophy. Products must be easily accessible, Ms. Malsom says, and have signage. “I don’t want anybody to have to guess how much anything costs,” she emphasizes.

     The floral operation also is following the lead of the produce department and developing signage that tells customers about its local growers. The idea is to personalize the products and capitalize on the consumer buy-local trend.

     The department advertises two items—usually a fresh flower and plant—in Yoke’s weekly newspaper advertisements, and spotlights more during garden season. In addition, floral often receives space on each store’s “Fresh Board,” which features nonadvertised specials. And twice a month, Yoke’s has “Fresh Fridays,” a popular one-day event in which each department, including floral, features a product at a special price.

commitment to floral
     Ms. Malsom helps keep the floral staff informed about upcoming specials, company news and trends through e-mails and quarterly meetings. She also is frequently in the stores, offering a helping hand, checking out the fresh products, ensuring the merchandising strategies are in place, and working with the floral managers to “keep the floral departments in top shape,” she says. She observes that many companies of Yoke’s size have a produce person in charge of the floral operation, and says her position demonstrates Yoke’s commitment to floral. “I have a very supportive management team that is very much behind the floral departments.”


keys to success


Floral helps set the stage for a fresh experience at Yoke’s Fresh Markets. Products are delivered as many as four days a week to ensure high quality, and the staff makes sure not to sell anything past its prime.

CUSTOMER SERVICE Yoke’s emphasizes to employees the importance of offering friendly service. As an employee-owned company, the staff members have a stake in making sure customers are happy.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Florals receive exposure in the company’s newspaper advertisements and in-store promotions. Yoke’s also has begun listing its floral departments in the Yellow Pages. 


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

Photos courtesy of Yoke's Fresh Markets

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