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Floral's big makeover

Lawrence Brothers IGA reinvents its floral department, with profitable results.
     by Cynthia L. McGowan

     Lawrence Brothers IGA in Ruidoso, N.M., saw an opportunity. Ruidoso had just two full-service florists, and they were across town from the grocery store. So when the owners remodeled the 29-year-old store earlier this year, they decided to give the floral department an extreme makeover, turning it from a tiny cash-and-carry operation into a full-service shop with an experienced designer.

     And just months after the new department’s debut, the bold move is already reaping dividends. Bob Crumpton, New Mexico district manager for the store’s parent company, family-owned Lawrence Brothers Management Team, of Sweetwater, Texas, reports the floral department is earning “eight to 10 times” the weekly sales of the operation before the remodel.

floral transformation

     Although the store is the company’s top-performing location among its 23 in Texas and New Mexico, Mr. Crumpton shares, Lawrence Brothers decided it was showing its age and was ready for an update. Ruidoso, a mountain resort town of about 9,000 people, is home to a Walmart and another independent grocer, and a modernization plan was deemed necessary to keep the store competitive.


     “We put in a coffee shop with lattes and so forth, we expanded the deli shop and we added a pharmacy,” Mr. Crumpton says of the extensive remodeling. The old “coffin-type” freezers were replaced with new reach-in freezers, too.

     The transformation in floral was dramatic, and customers immediately noticed it when they walked in the door. Before, the floral selection was limited to no more than 50 potted plants and bouquets, displayed on one oval rack and 16 feet of wall fixtures.

     Today, a 720-square-foot department—seven times the size of the old one—greets customers and is filled with flowers by the stem, consumer bunches, bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, gourmet chocolates and more. The selections are all enticingly displayed on tables and display racks and in a three-door cooler.

     “We just turned the architect loose and let her draw,” Mr. Crumpton says of the process of creating the new department. Some of the fixtures were already in the store and put to new uses in the department. Additions to the department included a storage area, a sink for processing flowers and a workbench where customers can relax.

     The final piece to making the department come together was hiring the right person to offer the services Lawrence Brothers IGA was intent on providing—“someone who is a floral designer and not somebody who just knows how to water flowers,” Mr.
Crumpton emphasizes. To handle those responsibilities, the company hired Dale Woods as the floral manager, who has 13 years of floral design experience in retail flower shops.

     Remarks Mr. Crumpton, “We felt if we came in with a good department, took care of it and managed it, and took care of the people, that we could probably take a good percentage of the floral business in Ruidoso. It has been working so far.”

 
 

  lawrence brothers IGA:


 


LOCATION
Ruidoso, N.M.
OWNERS Lawrence Brothers Management Team, Sweetwater, Texas; the company owns 22 other stores in Texas and New Mexico
YEAR FOUNDED Lawrence Brothers was founded in 1929; it purchased the Ruidoso store in 2001
STORE SIZE 36,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES 48 in Ruidoso; the entire company has about 750
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 720 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One full-time employee in Ruidoso
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs including weddings, events, delivery, and FTD and Teleflora flowers-by-wire service
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES 2 percent
NEW MEXICO DISTRICT MANAGER Bob Crumpton
FLORAL MANAGER Dale Woods
 


 

building relationships

     In just his first two months at the store, Mr. Woods provided flowers for four weddings (and has two more scheduled) as well as centerpieces for a state floral association convention. “Dale’s quickly earned the respect of customers,” Mr. Crumpton reports. “He is quite a designer.”

     In addition to weddings and events, the new department offers both FTD and Teleflora flowers-by-wire service and custom designs, including design services while customers shop. Because the floral department is a one-man operation, Mr. Woods also makes daily deliveries, usually two to three a day, charging $8 to $12.50. Cut-off time for orders for same-day delivery is 3 p.m.

     To make sure Ruidoso embraces its new full-service floral department and talented designer, Lawrence Brothers IGA has been getting the word out and building relationships with customers in a variety of ways:
 

  • The store announced the new department and welcomed Mr. Woods in radio advertisements, and it also includes floral in its newspaper inserts.

  • Mr. Woods showcases what he calls an “extravagant” arrangement, costing as much as $250, every week in the department to catch people’s attention. “That shows them that we can do more than just a typical rose or bud vase,” he explains.

  • The workbench serves as a spot for customers to sit and watch Mr. Woods work. Mr. Crumpton says this is especially popular with female shoppers. “We let them observe Dale make arrangements, and he’s just excellent talking to them,” he says. “He takes plenty of time and explains to them how to care for the plants, where a plant came from—he’s very thorough.”

  • The department has donated centerpieces to local charity events to help with name recognition.

  • Customers can pick up Mr. Woods’ business card at the floral counter and have the store’s phone number at their fingertips.

  • Cross-merchandising lets shoppers in other areas of the store get a look at some of the floral selections. Mr. Woods has displays in the coffee shop, deli and bakery.

  • Shoppers tell others about their flowers, a crucial part of the department’s success, Mr. Crumpton reports. “Word-of-mouth has been our best asset. [Mr. Woods] doing a good job and proving to the public that he knows what he’s doing has been our best and cheapest asset.”

 

   keys to success


 
 


FLORAL INVESTMENT Lawrence Brothers IGA went from a cash-and-carry floral operation to a full-service department, gaining a tenfold increase in sales

SERVICE
The store hired an experienced floral designer to run the department. Floral Manager Dale Woods does everything from order products to make deliveries himself, and he offers custom designs, wedding services and more.

PRODUCTS
Flowers and plants are delivered to the store three times a week for maximum freshness.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Lawrence Brothers IGA made sure to spread the word about its new floral department in advertising and by engaging with customers.
 

 

offering a wide selection

     High-quality flowers are just as important as good service to the newfound success of the operation, Mr. Woods asserts. He is a stickler about proper processing and won’t sell anything that appears past its prime. “I stand behind my flowers,” he emphasizes, and he will replace products if customers aren’t satisfied.

     Mr. Woods orders floral products from both Associated Wholesale Grocers and FTD Flower Exchange, receiving deliveries three times a week. And he makes sure to have a wide variety of flowers on hand so he can satisfy customers. “You never know what they’re going to want,” he reminds. The large variety also makes it easier to fill all the wire orders that come his way.

     Bouquets are especially popular in the store. “They really fly out of here,” Mr. Woods shares. At the height of tourist season, he was selling up to 60 a week. Prices range from $10.99 to $26.99, with rose bouquets at $15.99 selling well.

     Customers also like to make their own bouquets with flowers by the stem and consumer bunches. Roses, Gladioli and Hydrangeas are best-sellers in the single-stem program. Consumer bunches also include those favorites, as well as spider mums, callas and various fillers.

     Favorites in blooming plants include 6 1⁄2-inch mums for $10.99. Miniature rose plants also sold well during a recent sales push, with 4 1⁄2-inch pots selling for $5.99. “I was getting cases and cases a week,” Mr. Woods recalls. “I just couldn’t keep them in.”

     Mr. Woods keeps the cooler stocked with arrangements for customers to grab and go. Prices usually range from $10 to $35; Mr. Woods notices that customers who buy on impulse spend less than $25, but those who are in the store specifically for flowers will pay as much as $60.

     In addition to the high-quality flowers, the department carries gourmet chocolates from Sweet Shop USA. Customers love the treat, declares Mr. Crumpton: “It’s just done tremendously.”

delighted customers

     Shoppers also love the new department. “People always remark about the way [the store] looks, the total renovation,” Mr. Woods shares. “And with the floral department alone, they say how beautiful the flowers always look and that it’s just inviting to walk in because there’s so much color.”

     The customers’ compliments extend beyond the look of the department to the new services they are receiving. “They love having a florist on hand in case they need anything,” Mr. Wood says. And they’re sharing their delight with Mr. Crumpton. After Mr. Woods has designed florals for shoppers, they’ll say to Mr. Crumpton, “You’ve got a winner there,” he shares.

            That reaction from customers, along with the strong sales, affirms Mr. Crumpton’s and the owners’ decision to invest in the floral operation. And Mr. Crumpton says it is an investment he would advise other grocery stores to undertake. “I would suggest strongly that any supermarket over 25,000 square feet take a serious look at putting in a floral department, depending on the competitive situation in their town,” he advises. “It’s good profit, it adds to sales and it adds something to the atmosphere of the store.”

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

Photos courtesy of
Lawrence Brothers IGA
 

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2009
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.