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Store Profile

Metcalfe's Sentry Foods:
A new focus on floral

Madison, Wis., department doubles in size and enjoys a more prominent location as this store reinforces its commitment to customer service with its recent remodel.

by Amy Bauer

While some large-scale grocers are stepping back from full-service departments such as floral and seafood, independent grocer Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods of Madison, Wis., is taking the opposite approach. The two-store company, with locations in Madison and Wauwatosa, Wis., has just completed a remodel and 9,000-square-foot expansion of its Madison store, with floral being one of the keys to its transformation.
Metcalfe’s Sentry Floral has doubled in size, to approximately 1,200 square feet; has added a 12-foot-by-12-foot walk-in cooler; and has a premier location in the expanded store next to the spirits department, including a window fronting part of the interior of the mall it calls home.
As a result, the full-service floral department is enjoying greater visibility and sales increases of approximately 20 percent compared to the same time last year. Linda Crowley, floral manager, says the department spans the ends of six to seven grocery aisles, so shoppers can’t miss the colorful and fragrant offerings. The former floral location, she explains, often left customers feeling hurried or in the way with its location near the busy checkout area. “Now, the area is able to be enjoyed more,” Ms. Crowley observes. “People can linger.”

revitalized neighborhood
Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods is uniquely situated in Madison, as an anchor along with Macy’s and the Sundance 608 Cinema in the Hilldale Shopping Center, a revitalized mall that in 1962 was the city’s first, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The location is five minutes from the University of Wisconsin campus.
Purchased in 2004 by Joseph Freed & Associates, of Chicago, Ill., the neighborhood shopping center now has approximately 60 tenants that range from clothing to gift to furniture retailers as well as dining establishments. New condominiums and a hotel are planned for the development, according to a Sept. 13, 2007, story in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Another planned addition to the Hilldale Shopping Center is a 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market to open within the next year, which will replace an existing location about a mile from Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods that is about half that size. “We’ve always had competition,” Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods co-owner and president Tim Metcalfe told the Wisconsin State Journal. Another grocer, Copps Food Center, is located across the street from Metcalfe’s. “This will be the corner in Madison to shop for groceries.”
Madison store director Jim Meier describes the customer base as a mix of students and professionals from the university, older Madison residents and young families. “We cater to the quality-minded person,” he explains. “We don’t focus on price impression. We know we are very competitive with local markets, but our claim to fame is the quality, the service, the cleanliness of the store.”
  metcalfe's sentry foods

FOUDNERS Henry and Teresa Hess, great-grandparents of the current owners, built the first store in 1917 in Butler, Wis.
OWNERS Brothers Tim Metcalfe, president, and Kevin Metcalfe
STORES Two 60,000-square-foot stores: in Madison (open 24 hours) and Wauwatosa, Wis. (open 6 a.m. to midnight)
EMPLOYEES 400; approximately 240 at the Madison store, 150 at the Wauwatosa store and 8-10 corporate employees
STRUCTURE Independent grocer affiliated with Sentry Foods
COMPANY SALES $66 million, estimated for 2006, from the 2007 Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
FLORAL SERVICES Both stores offer full-service floral departments, including funerals, weddings, events and delivery.
MADISON FLORAL EMPLOYEES Four: one full-time and three part-time, with the store currently hiring additional floral staff
MADISON FLORAL HOURS The department is staffed from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. (Before the remodel, the department closed at 7 p.m.)



a focus on service
Enhancing the store’s perishables departments and expanding its customer focus by increasing staffing hours in some of its specialty departments were among the goals in the renovation. The floral department’s hours, for example, were extended an hour in the evenings; the department is now open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. “The bigger box stores of the world are going more self-serve and less service,” Mr. Meier describes, “and we’re going the other way.”
The expansion and remodeling began in April 2007 and culminated in grand re-opening festivities in mid-February. Changes, in addition to those in the floral department, included creating a new frozen foods department with 50 added doors of frozen foods; designing a new beer, wine and liquor department; doubling the size of the deli; and tripling the size of the seafood department. The number of store employees also increased from 145 to 240, and that number continues to grow. The floral department, for instance, is in the process of adding one to two full-time employees to join Ms. Crowley, who is full-time, and her three part-time staff members.
The company worked with retail design firm Marco Design Group, of Northville, Mich., in redesigning the store and with MEI Specialty Refrigeration and Fixtures, of LaGrange Park, Ill., on the layout and many of the fixtures in the floral department, Mr. Meier says.

“a floral store”
“One of the things we keyed on during this process was to actually become a floral store,” Mr. Meier describes, “and be known around Madison for floral.” During a previous remodel, in 1999, the floral department ended up with the last spot available in the store, almost as an afterthought, and Mr. Meier says the owners consciously approached the latest remodel with floral among the first departments in mind.
The new floral department opened Aug. 10, 2007. A dark wood finish, much like walnut, is featured on new hutches and nesting table merchandisers from MEI, Ms. Crowley describes. The walk-in cooler is finished in black. And the larger floral workspace, which allows shoppers to watch the designers at work, features Corian counters.
A contemporary, warm palette of greens, oranges and burgundies composes the floral décor. The wallpaper features vertical striping and a subtle leaf pattern. Full-spectrum lighting makes the department shine. “That was the first thing I noticed,” Ms. Crowley says. “It just makes the flowers pop.”

new challenges
A welcome challenge for Ms. Crowley since the renovation has been keeping her expanded department filled with product. She places regular orders with Sentry Foods distributor W. Newell & Co., particularly for items featured in the weekly circular. And Ms. Crowley also works with several area wholesalers and even local growers.
Advertised specials for the week of Jan. 7-13 included 4-inch potted Kalanchoes, mini roses and Cyclamens for $4.98 each; 11-stem “Everyday Pink Bouquets” of daisies and spray carnations for $6.98; and 6-inch potted tulips, daffodils and hyacinths for $6.98 each.
Ms. Crowley says orchids grown by local producer Orchids by the Ackers in nearby Waunakee, Wis., are popular. She recently sold fragrant potted 5-inch Zygopetalum (Ladybird, Lady-of-the-night) orchids from the grower for $44.99 each. The local tie is important to many customers and is something Ms. Crowley promotes in signage.
The fragrance of her offerings also is something Ms. Crowley capitalizes on. She conducts informal “sensory tours,” taking curious shoppers from plant to plant to sample their fragrances, moving from the lightly scented primroses to the sweet hyacinths to the stronger Zygopetalums. Customers love matching the blooms to their fragrances, and Ms. Crowley strategically places her fragrant offerings on the aisles so passers-by are sure to catch a whiff.

  metcalfe's difference

SELLING LOCAL Store director Jim Meier reports that a focus on local products is increasing throughout the store. Floral stocks locally grown orchids and blooming plants, promoting their area origins in prominent signage. And Mr. Meier says Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods is the first in the state to produce and sell its own local grass-fed, organic beef, for example.
CREATING AN AMBIENCE The Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods stores play only classical music, and employees wear headsets to communicate so customers are never interrupted by pages over loudspeakers. President Tim Metcalfe told Grocery Headquarters magazine in June 2005, “When someone walks through the front door, we want their shoulders to soften, the muscles in the side of their cheek to relax, their jaw to open and the word ‘wow’ to come out. We do that not by overstimulating them in terms of graphics and music and things moving but with selection and presentation.”
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods is known for one of the premier Madison events, The World’s Largest Brat Fest,, which the company has sponsored since 1983. The Memorial Day weekend event has raised more than $570,000 for local charities since its inception.



appealing offerings
The store’s location near area hospitals makes 6-inch blooming plants, readymade bouquets, and custom bouquets that designers create on the spot some of the department’s best-sellers. Ms. Crowley reports that 4-inch green and blooming plants also are popular for neighborhood residents, many of whom live in small apartments. And regular customers return weekly to the store’s abundant cut flower selection. Selections such as two-stem ‘Stargazer’ lily bunches for $4.99 and Gerberas by the stem sell well, she says. Dozen roses sell for $12.99.
Floral deliveries are made by the store’s “Sentry on the Go” drivers, who also deliver groceries in four vans that have both refrigerated and freezer compartments. The Sentry on the Go program allows customers to take advantage of personal shopping services and online ordering. While floral selections aren’t part of the online catalog currently, Mr. Meier says customers can request plants or arrangements as part of their orders.
Ms. Crowley estimates the store makes six floral deliveries on the average day, with that number spiking to 17 per day around Christmas. Around Valentine’s Day 2007, 60 delivery orders a day were going out, and Ms. Crowley hoped to double that number for the 2008 holiday. Mr. Meier says floral deliveries have increased 30 percent to 50 percent since the store remodel.

building new business
Ms. Crowley has been spreading the word about the expanded department and reminding potential customers of its full-service nature by paying personal visits to area funeral homes and restaurants. “That’s something that Linda feels strongly about, and so do
I,” Mr. Meier says, “that we can solicit business in those types of areas just by getting out on the street and pounding the pavement.”
The funeral home visits, during which Ms. Crowley dropped off FTD and Teleflora selection guides, recently paid off with a large order from an area funeral home. Ms. Crowley says the mall location also yields business-to-business opportunities. She has filled orders for center owner Joseph Freed & Associates welcoming new tenants, and some retail and restaurant tenants come to Metcalfe’s Sentry Floral regularly with their décor budgets to enhance their stores with fresh flowers and plants.
“Getting the exposure for floral, it’s paid some dividends now,” Mr. Meier observes, “but I just think it’s going to continue to grow as people continue to recognize that we actually are a full-service florist.”

You may reach Amy Bauer by e-mail at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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