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store profile
          
Market of Choice:
Giving customers what they want


A high level of customer service is a key part of this Oregon independent’s floral success.
     by Cynthia L. McGowan

    At Market of Choice in Oregon, the focus is on listening to customers and giving them exactly what they want. In floral, that means providing exceptional service, whether it’s surprising a shopper with information about a hard-to-find plant she’s been searching for or taking the time to work with another customer to create the perfect gift basket.

    The seven-store family-owned independent, headquartered in Eugene, Ore., has found its niche in offering customers an extensive selection of conventional, natural, organic and health-conscious products, in an upscale, contemporary setting. Says President Rick Wright, “We have built our business around listening to our customers. When they told us they wanted conventional and organic products all in one place, we made it happen.”

    The company also has responded to customers’ desire for locally sourced products by choosing Oregon vendors whenever possible. It points out those local connections on in-store signage; in its biweekly Savories newsletter; and on its award-winning, interactive Web site, www.marketofchoice.com.  And it demonstrates its commitment to sustainability by choosing recycled packaging when possible, eliminating plastic bags at checkout stands and installing solar panels at one location.

    The inviting stores offer shoppers a wealth of sensory experiences. Chefs create gourmet entrées for customers to eat in the stores or take home. The custom bakeries offer artisan breads and irresistible treats. Wine and coffee stewards help shoppers find the right selections. A customer at the Portland location gave Market of Choice five stars (out of five) in a review at www.Yelp.com and described a day spent sampling free pizza, wine and grilled marinated pork; checking out the organic produce; admiring the extensive selection of hot sauces; picking up an “amazing” slice of carrot cake; and enjoying a great conversation with a cashier. “This is like a McDonald’s playground for adults,” the reviewer wrote. “I’m lovin’ it.”

 
 

market of choice:


 


HEADQUARTERS
Eugene, Ore.
OWNERSHIP Market of Choice Inc.
PRESIDENT  
Rick Wright
STORES Seven, in Eugene, Portland, West Linn and Ashland, Ore.
SALES Exceeded $120 million in fiscal year 2009
YEAR FOUNDED 1979
STORE SIZE Averages 10,000 to 43,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES 700
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE Varies
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 1-2 per store
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs, bouquets, arrangements, small event and wedding orders; delivery available at some locations
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Mother's Day
FLORAL & PRODUCE BUYER AND MERCHANDISER Gene Versteeg
FLORAL MANAGER, WEST LINN STORE Anne Marie Bracco
WEB SITE
www.marketofchoice.com
 


 

first point of contact
    The full-service floral departments, filled with beautiful and enticing selections of bouquets, arrangements, foliage and blooming plants, balloons, and more, are at the front of the stores. Anne Marie Bracco, floral manager at the West Linn location, says she is the first point of contact for customers, who often ask her for general information about the store. She sees that interaction as an opportunity to talk about flowers and remarks, “We end up making some nice customers that way.”

    And to make sure customers notice her department, Ms. Bracco keeps displays bright and cheerful,
 “so it feels like an instant uplift to folks when they walk in,” she describes. She also merchandises by color, grouping similarly hued products together on nesting tables and wood shelving. She also resets her department nearly every day to keep customers’ attention.

    But Ms. Bracco describes her most important merchandising tool as freshness. “I always merchandise for fresh—keeping things dusted, glossy, brand-new looking,” she remarks.

ordering at the store level
    To ensure freshness, the stores get flower deliveries three to five days a week. The floral managers do their own ordering directly from suppliers, a process that Gene Versteeg, the floral and produce buyer and merchandiser, says gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their departments. “They know what their customers like,” he points out, “and we trust that our floral managers will order and merchandise their products in a way that appeals to their customers.”

    Oregon boasts a thriving commercial flower-growing industry, and Market of Choice takes full advantage of that resource. Ms. Bracco orders only from local growers but acknowledges that when some flowers are out of season, her suppliers, in turn, will order from other sources including South American growers.

    The floral managers will point out locally grown flowers with signage telling the name of the farm and also in conversations with customers. “We definitely play that up,” Ms. Bracco says. For example, her lavender supplier’s operation is near the store, and she’ll tell shoppers perusing the fragrant flowers, “‘You know, these are from right down the road; you’ve probably driven by it on your way to the freeway,’ and they know right where I’m talking about.”

    Floral customers respond to that local connection, Ms. Bracco observes, adding that it’s not a passing fad in the community but a strongly held value. “It’s really deeply felt, and that’s not going to change if it’s no longer the trendy thing,” she emphasizes.

 

 

keys to success


 
 


MERCHANDISING The floral departments at Market of Choice use fresh products and vibrant color to attract customers’ attention.

SERVICE The stores offer custom designs, prom, event and wedding services. Floral managers listen to customers to find out how to meet their needs and then make sure to follow through.

PRODUCTS
Flowers and plants are delivered to the stores up to five times a week for maximum freshness. Local sourcing is an important community value, and many of the floral products come from area growers.
 

 

wide range of bouquets
    Bouquets are the top-selling floral item at the West Linn store, Ms. Bracco reports, with styles changing weekly to keep customer interest high. Prices range from $7.99 to $37.99, with all price points selling well. She has found that higher-priced bouquets are still popular despite the economy. “It’s a quality-specific customer here,” she explains.

    Customers also enjoy creating their own bouquets, making consumer bunches their next favorite purchase. “A huge seller most of the year when they are available is tulips,” which come from a grower in Philomath, Ore., Ms. Bracco remarks. Also popular are lilies, roses, carnations, Alstroemerias, Gerberas, sunflowers and Irises. Roses and Gerberas also sell well as single stems.

    Shoppers prefer foliage plants for their offices, Ms. Bracco reports, especially those they are familiar with and know how to take care of, such as peace lilies, Pothos, Philodendrons and ferns. Upgraded blooming plants also are strong sellers.

    The floral managers will create arrangements for customers, who can call ahead or have them made while they shop, and they keep a selection on hand for impulse buys. Ms. Bracco’s clientele prefer arrangements that are upscale and feature specialty flowers in hot colors. “People like spicy colors here,” she comments, likely reflecting a desire to complement the warm colors in their homes.

    Custom gift baskets are a signature item for the floral departments, incorporating fruit, wine and gourmet foods from throughout the store. “I try to find a mix of products that make sense, foodwise, but also look really beautiful together,” Ms. Bracco shares. Most important, she takes the time to find out exactly what customers want. “It’s asking focused questions and then listening carefully for what their style is or what they’re trying to achieve,” she remarks. “It makes a difference, and I can tell from their responses that they appreciate that.”

responding to needs
    Shoppers also appreciate floral managers’ immediate attention to their needs, resulting in satisfied—and repeat—customers. Ms. Bracco often has customers ask about unusual plants or varieties they had in the past and are interested in again. “It’s funny how often people have sort of a shocked look on their faces when I say, ‘If you have other shopping, I can run and look up some of my favorite sources and see what I can find out for you, and I’ll catch up with you.’ They’re just so surprised that I’m willing to do that right then and give them an answer.”

    And that interaction is important to customers and sales, Ms. Bracco points out. When she walks up to customers and starts talking about her products, “Their whole demeanor changes,” she notices. They are often glad to have an expert to confer with and get advice from. “It’s so obvious to me what a huge difference that makes,” she confirms. “It’s not just about providing the product but being a resource.”

    As a result of such good customer care, the floral department’s sales are up during a lagging economy. Confirms Ms. Bracco: “Going the extra mile really makes a big difference.”
 
 

the floral blog


 
 


    Another way Market of Choice connects with its customers is through its Web site, www.marketofchoice.com. The site was launched in 2008 and already has won three major business awards for its employee-written blogs, customized specials, interactive forums and more.

    The floral operation is prominently showcased on the Web site, with both a featured employee and vendor as well as a blog. Anne Marie Bracco, floral manager at the West Linn, Ore., location, writes the floral blog, updating it every two to four weeks. In a friendly, conversational tone, she writes on a wide range of floral topics including what’s new in the department, what a change of seasons might bring or how to care for a featured flower.

    In an August entry, about the approach of autumn, she writes, “As a florist, it’s also an exciting time, because for most people, the turn in the weather means a return to routine and spending more time indoors. And that means more chances for me to create designs that folks will share and enjoy in their homes and workplaces.”

    In addition to serving as a great tool for marketing the floral departments, the blog is a good forum for education, Ms. Bracco notes. Her first entry was about roses, with care information. When busy shoppers wanted information on caring for their rose purchases but didn’t have time for detailed instructions, she would tell them to check out her blog. She sees more possibilities ahead for education, such as caring for poinsettias at Christmas.

    The blogs also add a level of familiarity for customers, Ms. Bracco shares. “They get to know the managers,” she remarks. As a result, “They might feel more open to approaching me when they have a special event coming.”

 

 

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

Photos courtesy of Market of Choice
 

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