The floral department
helps uphold Palmer’s Market’s customer-friendly standards.
Cynthia L. McGowan
When you’re operating in a marketplace where
customers have many choices for their grocery dollars, you
have to find ways to stand out from the competition. For
Palmer’s Market, a family-owned one-store independent in
affluent Darien, Conn., one point of differentiation is
outstanding service in all areas of the store, including
floral, where four designers are on hand to meet customers’
“Our store is known for excellent customer service,”
confirms Cindy Palmer Dean, creative director and
store co-owner. In addition to the full-service floral
department, “we have an incredible kitchen and an upscale
meat department where we cut all of our own beef,” Ms. Dean
describes. “Our bakery is absolutely fantastic.”
Those are the types of amenities that have helped
Palmer’s Market appeal to the upscale clientele in Darien, a
city of about 20,000 people that boasts a median family
income of $173,777, according to the 2000 Census. “It is
considered to be on Connecticut’s ‘Gold Coast,’ right on
Long Island Sound, basically between Westport, Greenwich and
New Canaan, all of which are highly upscale communities,”
describes Kevin Coupe, founder and “Content Guy” of
the food-industry e-newsletter MorningNewsBeat.com
and a Super Floral Retailing editorial adviser, who
lives in Darien (pronounced “dair-ee-AN” by locals). Many of
the city’s residents work in New York City, which is about a
50-minute train ride away.
The competitive landscape is heating up in Darien,
making Palmer’s Market’s strategy for differentiation more
important than ever. The city is on tap for a new Whole
Foods Market as well as a Fairway Market, and
three other nearby stores either have remodeled or will
start renovations soon. “They’re looking at five either new
or refreshed competitors in the marketplace,” Mr. Coupe
points out. “It’s sort of remarkable.”
customers with flowers
marketplace makes Palmer’s Market’s exceptional service more
important than ever. The store helps set the tone for a
delightful customer experience by placing the floral
department directly at the entrance, where shoppers
encounter hundreds of colorful, fragrant flowers and plants
under a handcrafted pergola. “It’s a wonderful way to greet
our customers coming in the door,” Ms. Dean observes.
The floral department has a European market feel, with
all the flowers and plants in buckets or on tables for
maximum visual impact and for shopping ease. “Everyone’s
always commenting on how gorgeous it is,” confirms Floral
Manager Heather Netherwood.
Customers enjoy watching the florists create designs
at the pergola’s counter, Ms. Netherwood says, and they’ll
often bring in containers from home and have custom designs
made while they shop. All purchases receive complimentary
In addition to custom designs, the floral department
provides wedding and event services as well as delivery. “We
offer every single thing that any local flower shop offers,”
Ms. Netherwood emphasizes. An independent contractor handles
deliveries for the store, which charges customers $10 to $12
per order, depending on the distance.
The designers have a variety of levels of floral
experience. Ms. Netherwood owned her own flower shop and,
after that, ran a highly successful wedding business,
handling as many as 650 nuptials a year. The other full-time
designer also has a floral background. The two part-timers
didn’t have floral experience before their hiring, but both
have art backgrounds and have quickly embraced the art of
floral design. Ms. Netherwood says she found that a good eye
for color and composition can make up for lack of
loyal customers and employees
contributes 4 percent toward total store sales, and Ms.
Netherwood attributes that impressive number to loyal,
repeat customers. “People do buy their weekly flowers here,”
she remarks. “We’re all on a first-name basis, and we know
what they like.”
Ms. Dean says the store has earned customer loyalty by
first creating an atmosphere that attracts loyal employees
who strive to uphold the company’s standards and build
relationships with customers. “Most of our employees have
worked here for anywhere up to 40 years, so most of our
customers are known by name, even though we get 8,000
customers a week,” she explains.
The company takes two approaches to get that kind of
employee longevity. “There have been a lot of articles that
talk about, ‘Is it monetarily why people stay with you, or
is it because you appreciate your employees’? And I think we
do both,” Ms. Dean confides. “Everybody wants a pat on the
back and to be told that they’re doing a great job, and on
top of that, I think we pay our employees fairly.”
LOCATION Darien, Conn.
OWNERS The Palmer family: Joe
Palmer Jr., Alphonse Palmer,
Greg Palmer and Cindy Palmer Dean
FOUNDED In 1921
STORE SIZE 20,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE
About 300 square feet
Four (two full time and two part time)
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY
Full-service florals including custom designs,
weddings, funerals, events and delivery
FLORAL’S CONTRIBUTION TO
“best of the best”
In addition to
exceptional service, Palmer’s Market makes sure to offer
high-quality flowers, and they don’t stay in the store long.
“People definitely appreciate how fresh everything is,” Ms.
Netherwood shares. “We never hold onto flowers for more than
a couple of days. As fast as it comes in, it’s going out.”
Ms. Netherwood orders flowers from three wholesalers,
who deliver products every day. The wholesalers are nearby,
“so once or twice a week, instead of ordering over the
phone, I’ll just drive over and handpick everything.”
Palmer’s Market’s owners encourage such hands-on procurement
because it allows her to get “the best of the best,” she
The store’s top-selling flowers are roses, Ms.
Netherwood says, with more than 100 rose bouquets sold a
week. Palmer’s Market offers a “rainbow” mix of Ecuadorean
roses in colors that vary by season. Accented with
Hypericum and lemon leaf, the 14-stem bouquets are
prized as gifts and sell for $19.99 each. The store also
offers 12-stem rose bouquets for $12.99 apiece.
The floral designers create all the mixed bouquets,
“so they don’t look like they are mass-produced,” Ms.
Netherwood remarks, and price them at $25 to $35. The
designers tend to use seasonal flowers and unusual fillers
such as Leucadendron for the bouquets, which sell
well as gifts.
Consumer bunches and single stems are strong sellers,
especially among customers who purchase flowers weekly. When
in season, tulips do well, with the store selling as many as
175 bunches a week at $9.99 for a 10-stem bunch. Customers
also favor Oriental lilies, which go for $15 for three
stems. Single stems of roses and Gerberas are $1.99
Arrangement styles reflect the culture of the
community, which Ms. Netherwood describes as “very
traditional.” Customers prefer compact, lush designs, often
featuring Hydrangeas and roses. “We try not to do too
funky or contemporary,” she says. “It’s really not the look
in this town.” Prices for arrangements average $25 to $60.
At about $39,
“gorgeous” Hydrangeas in 8-inch pots are top sellers
in the plant category, Ms. Netherwood says. Other favorites
are Azaleas, Cyclamens, primroses, Gerberas
and spring bulbs. Prices are $4.99 to $9.99 for 4-inch pots,
and $15 and up for 6-inch plants.
The store also carries European baskets filled with
various plants and accented with branches, birds and ribbon.
Priced at $45 to $100, they sell well as gifts.
To encourage gift buying, the department offers a
large selection of stylish containers to complement
customers’ floral purchases. A contingent from Palmer’s
Market, including Ms. Netherwood, visited the The Atlanta
International Gift & Home Furnishings Market in January to
choose the latest styles. The store also carries a huge
selection of giftware, and although not part of the floral
department, it is cross-merchandised among the floral
isn’t content to rest on its reputation for great service
and top-quality flowers to attract customers; it is
constantly merchandising and marketing. For example, to add
interest and a more organic feel to the department, Ms.
Netherwood suspended tree branches from the ceiling and wove
them through the top of the pergola. “She hangs plants off
of them, and it adds this really cool element” to the
department, Ms. Dean describes.
The floral staff changes the look of the department
often to draw attention to new product arrivals. The
department also displays a huge arrangement, worth about
$300, “to get people to realize what we do,” Ms. Netherwood
says. “And that way, we will get the $100 orders.” In
addition, flowers are cross-merchandised throughout the
store, especially in the bakery and deli.
Marketing pieces are another important key to the
flower business’ success. To advertise its Thanksgiving
fare, Palmer’s Market inserted a professionally produced
full-color brochure into the local newspaper. The floral
department, featured on the front and back covers, showed
several selections, with prices from $75 to $150. The piece
went to 35,000 people, and the response “was amazing,” Ms.
Netherwood recalls. “It doubled our arrangement sales for
Such brochures work, Ms. Dean offers, because people
can save them and refer back to them when they are ready to
order. Professional photography that lets the products do
the talking is key, she emphasizes; too much copy will get
in the way.
Palmer’s Market posts updates about the floral
department on its Facebook page, too. A recent wall posting
showed beautiful photos of the department and invited
visitors to check out the store’s selections.
Ms. Dean also is a believer in the power of the mass
sale. She recalls a time when Ms. Netherwood visited a
wholesaler and discovered “the most incredible Cyclamens,
so she bought 200 of them.” She put a huge display of the
plants right inside the front door, selling them all. “If
you get a half-dozen or a dozen Cyclamens, maybe
you’ll sell a few, but if you bring in 100 or 200, you’ll
sell them all in a couple of days,” Ms. Dean sums up. “It’s
service, high-quality flowers and effective marketing all
serve one need—to satisfy Palmer’s Market’s customers and
keep them coming back. And it seems to be working, as this
excerpt from a recent letter from a customer reveals:
“Your employees are very pleasant and professional and
project the feeling of being proud to be part of the Palmer
family. What really makes [shopping at Palmer’s] fun are all
the household gift items and flower arrangements that are
scattered throughout the store. There is always a little
gift or treat that I find for myself or my friends. These
items are sometimes unique to Palmer’s, so thank you for
making it so fun to shop at Palmer’s.”
Responds Ms. Dean, “Our customers are very vocal. They
are always letting us know what they like and don’t like.
And that’s just terrific.”
keys to success
SERVICE The Palmer’s
Market floral department has four designers who are
on the job nearly all the hours the store is open,
ensuring customers’ needs are met. The designers
offer custom designs, weddings, events and delivery.
MARKETING The sights and
scents of the beautiful floral department greet
customers when they enter the store. The department
changes its look often, helping with impulse sales,
and it gets great publicity in professional
Local wholesalers deliver high-quality products to
the stores daily, ensuring freshness.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of Palmer’s Market