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Store Profile

  Straub's Markets:
    New concept in service

The floral department takes on a concierge role at this St. Louis independent.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

    
    The floral department as store “concierge”? It’s a novel concept, but at Straub’s Markets, an upscale independent in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo., it fits perfectly with the company’s mission of providing over-the-top service and specialty products for discerning customers.
     Straub’s, founded in 1901, established its reputation early on as a provider of high-quality, unique products. It first differentiated itself with its fine meats, explains Trip Straub, vice president of William A. Straub, Inc., the family-owned company that operates the five Straub’s Markets. “That’s been our claim to fame from the start,” he says. Today, the company’s signature item remains high-quality meats hand-cut by its staff of 25 butchers. None of the selection, which includes USDA Prime cuts and Kobe beef, is prepackaged or previously frozen.
     Such service and quality set the tone for the entire operation at Straub’s, which aims to stand out from the competition by offering artisanal, specialty items. The stores are in upscale areas of St. Louis, and, observes Mr. Straub, “The clientele are quality driven.”
     To satisfy their needs, the stores have an extensive selection of high-end wines, in-house bakeries, full kitchens offering restaurant-quality meals to go and produce departments specializing in unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables. Straub’s also keeps house accounts for customers, another differentiating touch.
     Customer service at Straub’s is “off the chart,” Mr. Straub comments, adding that it is part of the company’s culture. Many employees have been with Straub’s more than 10 years and some as many as 50 years. Mr. Straub says the company’s combination of high-quality employees and products is in keeping with its “best of the best” philosophy.

  straub's markets

 
 
HEADQUARTERS Clayton, Mo.
OWNER William A. Straub, Inc.
VICE PRESIDENT Trip Straub
SALES $29.3 million in 2007, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
ESTABLISHED 1901
STORES Five, all in the St. Louis, Mo., area (the fifth is scheduled to open later this year)
AVERAGE STORE SIZE 10,000 to 12,000 square feet; the new store will be 40,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENTS’ AVERAGE SIZE 500 square feet
COMPANY EMPLOYEES 280
FLORAL EMPLOYEES 1-2 per store
FLORAL SERVICES Three of the four current stores have full-service floral departments, including custom designs, weddings, funerals and delivery; the new store also will have a full-service floral department
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Valentine’s Day
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES 2 percent overall; 4.5 percent at the Webster Groves store
FLORAL MANAGER/MASTER DESIGNER Scott Hepper at the Webster Groves store
WEB SITE www.straubs.com

 

 

concierge service
     Customer service is the idea behind the concierge service in floral. Customers go to Scott Hepper, floral manager/master designer at the company’s Webster Groves location, with their event needs, and he takes over from there. “I’ve versed myself in all of our departments, their pricing and their structures, so when a customer comes to me as a concierge, saying ‘I have a party,’ I can say, ‘I’ll help you.’”
     He starts a file with the customer’s information, introduces the shopper to other department managers, helps plan the menu and takes the food and floral orders. He then gives the orders to the other departments and follows up on them.
     Customers benefit from the convenience of having one point person for their event needs. The store benefits, too, Mr. Hepper says, with increased sales in both floral and the other departments. “I’m fulfilling a need in every department,” he remarks. And events are a big part of Straub’s floral business. Mr. Hepper estimates he handles florals for as many as five events a week, including weddings, parties, funerals and corporate functions, with floral prices from $250 to $5,000.

  keys to success

 
 
MARKETING Floral Manager/Master Designer Scott Hepper gets the word out about Straub’s Markets’ florals through public and television appearances, charitable donations and in-store marketing.
CUSTOMER SERVICE Straub’s is known for offering excellent customer service. In floral, that means skilled designers who offer high-end designs and event work.
TARGETED FLORAL SELECTIONS Straub’s has European-style floral departments that offer high-impact, specialty products.
CONCIERGE SERVICE The Webster Groves location offers one-stop event planning, where customers can get their entire party needs taken care of with a stop at the floral department.

 

 

floral success
    The concierge service is the culmination of Mr. Hepper’s goal, when he joined Straub’s four years ago, of giving floral the same profile as the rest of the company’s departments. “We got rid of that ‘chain-store mentality’ on floral and brought it up to the same level as deli, meat and everything else, which was spectacular,” Mr. Hepper comments.
    In the process, he increased sales at the first Straub’s floral department he managed, the Central West End location, to an annual $300,000 from $60,000 in just 11 months. How did he do it? Through “marketing, merchandising, ordering and spending 12 hours a day, not doing any prep work in the back, but literally staying on that floor up front, making contact and introducing myself.” (See more about Mr. Hepper’s marketing efforts in “Marketing Success” on Page 26.)
     He also has radically changed Straub’s floral offerings. To make maximum use of the 500-square-foot space, Mr. Hepper reduced the number of products the departments stock and replaced lower-priced items with seasonal, high-impact florals that “nobody else has.” The resulting European-style floral departments are more in tune with the tastes of Straub’s customers. “I want to take care of the Straub’s customer,” Mr. Hepper emphasizes. “That’s my goal. I don’t want everyone else’s customer.”
     Mr. Hepper took a similar approach when he moved to the Webster Groves location about 11/2 years ago, with another spectacular sales increase. Before the move, floral sales had averaged $36,000 to $56,000 a year. The store expects to top $300,000 this year, with floral contributing 4.5 percent toward total store sales.
     In addition to offering high-quality, well-merchandised florals, Mr. Hepper attributes his success to long hours spent at the store. The store’s only floral employee, he visits the local floral market at 6 a.m., is at the store by 7 a.m., is on the floor until at least 5:30 p.m. and often has evening events to handle. “If you love what you do and know your stuff,” Mr. Hepper exclaims, “the hours are actually dynamic and exciting.”

favorite flowers
     Most of the Webster Groves store’s florals come from the Dutch auctions through a broker in Chicago, offering customers access to flowers from around the world. Mr. Hepper doesn’t purchase for the other Straub’s stores’ floral departments but makes recommendations and passes on good buys.
     In keeping with Mr. Hepper’s philosophy of differentiation, the floral departments don’t sell ready-made bouquets. “Everybody else has them,” he notes. However, if customers do want mixed bouquets, he’s happy to create them.
     Instead, the floral departments offer European-style bunches of flowers in season. For example, spring means tulips at Straub’s, and Mr. Hepper says his department sells 2,000 to 3,000 stems a week. Ten-stem bunches go for $12.50 each or two for $20. Roses, at $3 a stem, sell well year-round.
     Arrangements and single stems are frequently among the top-selling items in the entire store, even over Straub’s famous chicken salad, Mr. Hepper reports. Customers favor “Martha Stewart-style” arrangements with dense florals and few filler flowers. “The only fillers I will use are Viburnum, heather or Spirea,” he remarks. He keeps the floral cooler fully stocked with designs ranging in price from $50 to $100 but no bud vases, asserting that their low prices aren’t worth his labor costs or cooler space.
     The department’s hard-goods selections fit in with Straub’s philosophy of offering specialty items. “Since I don’t have much room, I have to make sure [what I stock] is an automatic sell,” Mr. Hepper confides. A winner with customers is the collection of Trapp candles from Missouri. He makes sure he always has one burning in the department, enticing customers with its scent. “We sold $18,000 to $20,000 last year just in Trapp candles,” he says. The department also sells silk designs created by Mr. Hepper, ranging in price from $75 to $500 each.

  marketing success

 
 
    Scott Hepper, floral manager/master designer at Straub’s Markets in the St. Louis, Mo., area, has put his degree in marketing to good use. Mr. Hepper has become the face of Straub’s florals, turning public appearances and charitable donations into opportunities to tout the company’s florals and draw customers into the stores. Mr. Hepper points out that a small investment can offer a big payoff. Here are just a few of his marketing successes:
• He donated altar pieces for a local parish’s cathedral for Christmas one year, and for Easter the congregation paid him to decorate the entire building. In addition, his floral creations have been featured in the church newsletter, and he now gets work from the parish for weddings, funerals and other events.
• The prestigious St. Louis Symphony asked him to donate boutonnieres for bartenders one year for a fundraiser. He agreed but also created a “grand centerpiece, complete with instruments,” he recalls, and put the Straub’s label prominently on it. He now gets business from symphony patrons. His initial investment in flowers “has been paid for so many times,” Mr. Hepper confides.
• He created a piece for “Art in Bloom,” a fundraiser for the St. Louis Art Museum, one year, and the next year, the museum asked him back to give a floral demonstration for 400 people.
• He appears on a local television news show once a month, Show Me St. Louis, to give floral design demonstrations and talk about trends. Straub’s Web site, www.straubs.com, promotes the TV appearances and Mr. Hepper’s other events with a link called “Hepper Happenings” and includes a photo of Mr. Hepper.
• Local magazines feature Mr. Hepper and his work for cover shoots and feature articles.
     Mr. Hepper also keeps the excitement up in the store. He changes the floral selection seasonally and keeps customers looking forward to the new selections. When he has wedding work ready to go out, he puts it in front on tables for customers to see. He says the sight of 30 or more centerpieces never fails to stop customers in their tracks. “You can’t buy that kind of recognition,” he remarks.

 

 

the new store
     Straub’s is scheduled to open its fifth store later this year, and at 40,000 square feet, it will be much larger than the company’s other stores. Mr. Straub says the size will allow the store to expand on the best of Straub’s, including floral.
     The store’s amenities will include a 150-seat indoor/outdoor café, cooking school, wine bar and a coffee roaster “in the middle of the store so people not only get the aroma but also see the beans right out of the hopper,” Mr. Straub promises. “We’re doing the theater concept throughout the store.”
     In floral, that means the designers will be on the floor creating their arrangements in full view of customers. The department will have more space, a prominent location at the front of the store and a Börgen Systems cooler that will allow customers to see in on two sides.
     Mr. Hepper says the new department will have a perfect layout for his concierge concept. It has a circular counter—“almost like the concierge at The Ritz-Carlton”—and is centrally located. He envisions the department as the one stop for a customer’s complete party needs. When a customer says, “I want to throw a party,” Mr. Hepper says, she will hear, “What’s the occasion? When is it? How many people? Let’s talk shop.” And she’ll know she’s in good hands.

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

Photos courtesy of David McElroy of Straub’s Markets

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