The Grand Food Center’s bond with
the community is a key part of the floral department’s success.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
A commitment to serving the community helps keep customers
coming back to The Grand Food Center in suburban Chicago, Ill.
It also has helped fuel healthy growth at the independent
store’s full-service floral department.
The Grand Food Center serves Winnetka, Ill., a tree-lined,
affluent community on the shores of Lake Michigan. Winnetka may
be small—in the 2000 U.S. Census, its population was 12,419—but
it has enviable demographics. Its median household income in
2000 was $165,458, compared with the U.S. median income of
$48,201. The median home price was $765,500.
Dan Klebba, who along with two partners owns the store and a
smaller one in nearby Glencoe, Ill., acknowledges that The Grand
Food Center caters to wealthy customers, but, he says, “We’re
careful not to take advantage of that in pricing because they’re
value conscious. We’ll never take advantage of our location.”
Instead, the store makes sure it is seen as a neighborhood
supermarket where customers can find all the services and
products they need. “We like to be one with the community,” Mr.
shares. “Our motto is, ‘Our family serving your family.’”
That means a deli that offers high-quality prepared meals for
high-achieving, busy families; a bakery that prepares delicacies
from scratch; an extensive organic selection in the produce
department; and wine tasting in the liquor department. The
service-oriented store also delivers groceries and florals to
customers’ homes for $7.50 a trip, dropping the fee for three
months after a new mother has her baby.
Customers never wait long in line, either, says Susan McDonald,
floral manager/designer. “There’s a tremendous amount of
front-end staff,” she shares.
The commitment to being a neighborhood store also means donating
money, services and products to numerous community organizations
in Winnetka. “I don’t know that there’s a local organization
that we don’t contribute to,” Mr. Klebba says.
the grand food center
Winnetka and Glencoe, Ill.
OWNERS Dan Klebba, Christopher Barber and Kevin Salus
COMPANY'S SALES VOLUME $14 million in 2006, according to
the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
STORE'S SIZE The Winnetka store is 18,000 square feet;
Glencoe is 10,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT size 400 square feet
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral department in the
Winnetka store, offering custom designs, weddings, events and
delivery; cash-and-carry florals in the
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES Exceeds 4 percent
FLORAL MANAGER/DESIGNER Susan McDonald
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Four; one full time and three part time
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Thanksgiving
role in the community
Community service is important to the floral department, too,
helping to both bring in new customers and build loyalty.
Winnetka opens several of its multimillion-dollar homes for
public tours at least twice a year as community fundraisers, and
The Grand Food Center floral department designs the arrangements
for one of the homes on each tour.
Ms. McDonald says she and her staff of three part-time designers
use as much as $1,500 in florals when they design for a house
tour. The store donates the department’s services and the
florals although it sometimes sells some of the flowers at the
end of the tour. “It’s excellent advertising because about 500
people will go through” the houses on one tour, she explains.
Mr. Klebba concurs on the promotional aspects, adding, “It’s
tremendous exposure for us.” The florals have signage saying
they were designed by The Grand Food Center, and the programs
list the store as the floral provider.
The department also seeks to forge ties with the community by
offering a 20 percent discount to local churches for all their
floral needs including weekly altar flowers. The bills go to the
churches once a month, allowing members to pick up the flowers
In addition, the store caters to local schools. Winnetka has a
strong school system—its New Trier Township High School is
consistently listed as one of the nation’s best—and the
community has a lot of school pride. “The parents around here
are most generous,” Ms. McDonald says. “They’re always giving
the teachers flowers and plants; it’s amazing.” With the volume,
she jokes, her biggest challenge is to make sure the department
doesn’t duplicate the arrangements it creates for teachers.
The department does private event work, too. Ms. McDonald and
her staff will go to people’s homes for free and offer
suggestions for the floral décor for parties or events they are
hosting. Those free consultations pay off—the department often
provides as much as $2,000 to $3,000 in flowers for the parties.
The floral department creates upscale designs for its discerning
clientele. “Winnetka is very trendy,” Ms. McDonald says.
Customers “like something that’s different. If it’s in Martha
Stewart, you can guarantee they’ll ask for it.”
And they don’t mind paying for quality. “It’s not uncommon to
sell a $200 arrangement,” she shares.
Customers keep coming back, as well. Some spend an average of
$50 every week on florals for their homes, Ms. McDonald says,
and then there are standing orders. For example, one client
receives five dozen long-stemmed roses every Monday.
The department’s community-service and event work, high-end
florals and customer loyalty generate valuable publicity for the
store. For floral, “Our number one avenue of advertising is
word-of-mouth, without question,” Mr. Klebba says.
As a result, the department contributes more than 4 percent
toward total store sales, Mr. Klebba shares. “It has been
realizing, under Susan’s command, a double-digit growth rate
year over year,” he says.
keys to success
COMMUNITY WORK The floral department creates floral
designs for local home tours, getting publicity, goodwill and
positive word-of-mouth referrals.
FRESH PRODUCTS Floral deliveries are made every day
except Sunday, ensuring that customers have access to fresh
TRAINING The company works to keep its designers educated
in the latest styles and trends in floral design.
ADVERTISING Word-of-mouth is the floral department’s best
publicity. It also gets a section in the store’s weekly
newspaper ad, and the store plays recorded
messages about the floral department while callers are on hold.
The 400-square-foot department is in a highly visible area near
the checkout stands. An outside wall holds plants and
containers, and inside the department is where consumers see
bouquets, consumer bunches, vases, an open cooler and a small
work station. All arrangements are made in-house, and customers
can place orders and shop while their designs are created.
Mr. Klebba says the location also helps sell flowers. “I’ve sold
more arrangements by people looking at custom arrangements that
were made for someone else,” he explains. They’ll see the
beautiful designs in the department, take pictures with their
mobile phones and then bring the photos back when they need the
The department receives flower shipments every day except Sunday
from local wholesalers and Canada and Wisconsin growers. Ms.
McDonald, who does all the buying, says having deliveries nearly
every day means fresher flowers and contributes to her floral
The best-selling cut flowers are white ‘Casablanca’ lilies at
$21.99 for five-stem bunches and pink ‘Rubrum’ lilies for $19.99
for five stems. She estimates she sells 120 stems of the
‘Casablancas’ a week and 100 stems of the ‘Rubrums’.
Another favorite is roses. The department sells about 75
dozen-rose bouquets a week for $11.99 each.
Ms. McDonald sources ready-made bouquets from a local
wholesaler. A top-seller is an all-white design composed of
lilies, Hydrangeas and roses that retails for $13.99.
The department sells about 20 potted Phalaenopsis orchids from
Ontario, Canada, a week, at prices ranging from $29.99 to
$45.99. Potted Hydrangeas from California also sell well.
Many customers buy flowers or plants as gifts, and the designers
will wrap the flowers or put the plants in clear bags with bows
You might not have heard of Winnetka, Ill., but chances are
you’ve seen it. It has been the setting for several popular
movies, especially in the 1980s. They include Sixteen Candles,
The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone and
value of training
The store offers training to make sure its designers are able to
give customers the trendy floral creations they want. “The
owners are very generous with courses,” Ms. McDonald says. “All
we have to do is ask, and we can go. They’re most anxious to
keep us up to date with everything.”
Mr. Klebba agrees that’s why he sends floral staffers to trade
shows like The Super Floral Show (which both Ms. McDonald and
another designer attended this past June) and seminars.
“Education is paramount,” he comments. “I will never stand in
anyone’s way in my company who wants to learn, and especially in
an artistic or creative department like floral or bakery, where
creativity is so paramount.”
That training, fresh products, community and event work, and
upscale designs have combined to create a thriving floral
department that Ms. McDonald describes as a full-service florist
inside a grocery store. With well-deserved pride, she says,
“We’ve had florists in the area say that we’re their biggest
All photos courtesy of ATI Graphics, Chicago, Ill.
You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan by e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800)