Scoring points with
the home team
Louisiana-based Rouses Supermarkets emphasizes its local
ties through products and merchandising.
by Cynthia L.
the New Orleans Saints won the NFC Championship on Jan. 24
on their way to this year’s Super Bowl, the floral operation
at Rouses Supermarkets, headquartered in Thibodaux,
La., was ready. Vendors had been alerted that the company
would want to put on a big show of support for the hometown
team if they went all the way.
“I told a lot of the
vendors ahead of time that if [the Saints] went on to the
Super Bowl, we’re going to have to switch our gears and go
from Mardi Gras to black and gold really quickly,” recalls
Susan Sistrunk, the floral director for Rouses, a
family-owned company with 36 stores in southern Louisiana
and Mississippi. “So they were all up watching the game and
rooting for us.”
Around 11 p.m., after the overtime game had ended with
a Saints’ victory, she was inundated with text messages from
suppliers. They told Ms. Sistrunk, “Don’t worry, we have
your stuff; it’s going to be en route,” she relates.
Thanks to that quick response, Rouses’ floral
departments had Saints/Super Bowl-related products ahead of
the competition, Ms. Sistrunk reveals. “We created displays
with anything black and gold and a fleur-de-lis on it,” she
says. Customers, grateful to have the new Saints merchandise
available so quickly, snapped up the products to decorate
their homes and businesses, as football fever infected the
That kind of responsiveness to community
needs and wants, and the vendor partnerships that help make
it possible, are among the keys to the success of Rouses
Supermarkets, which is the ninth-largest independent grocer
in the United States. Describes Allison Rouse, the
company’s financial administrator, “Rouses is a family-run
business whose foundation is built on its relationship with
The company emphasizes its ties to the community by
buying fresh produce, seafood and groceries from local
farmers, fisherman and manufacturers whenever possible, Ms.
Rouse reports. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this
year, and our mission is as clear as the day Mr. Anthony
Rouse started a grocery store with his cousin Ciro in
1960—give our customer two things: the best quality at the
Rouses also is committed to a fresh image, Ms. Rouse
says, and floral helps communicate that image to customers.
“The layout we’ve been building in our ground-up stores
the past 10 years is one designed where the customer enters
through the fresh side of the store and is immediately
greeted by our lovely floral department,” she remarks.
The floral departments average 700 square feet and are
filled with colorful displays of consumer bunches, bouquets,
arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, and giftware. To
carry the departments’ fresh message throughout the stores,
“We blend splashes of fresh florals through the bakery,
produce and wine departments,” Ms. Sistrunk details.
Also important to Rouses’ success is customer
engagement. “We create theater throughout our stores,” Ms.
Sistrunk says, describing cooking demonstrations, crawfish
boils, wine and cheese tastings, and outdoor grilling.
Floral takes part by offering free in-store design
classes. “We try to do them around the holidays because
that’s when it seems people are really interested in getting
their homes decorated,” she comments.
The classes are a good sales tool for the departments,
Ms. Sistrunk reveals. Floral managers show customers how to
create simple designs using flowers, vases and other
materials they can buy in the stores. The departments
publicize the classes on fliers; on Rouses’ website,
www.rouses.com; and in
the company’s newspaper advertisements.
Adding to Rouses’ theater feel is the floral
operation’s emphasis on merchandising by theme. “We love to
do themes because it creates energy and excitement,” Ms.
Sistrunk says. “Themes definitely draw [customers’]
The departments feature year-round themed
merchandising, starting with Mardi Gras in January and
culminating with Christmas in December. The themes change at
least once a month, depending on the events and holidays. In
the slower summer months, typical themes include “beach,”
“zoo” or “chocolate.”
“I work with plant, hard-good and flower vendors so all
the sleeves, wraps, containers, etc. express the theme,” Ms.
Sistrunk describes. “It makes it easy when you develop a
relationship with a vendor. Sometimes I think when you do a
theme, they’re just as excited as you are.” She plans the
themes and orders the products about six months in advance.
Themes also are ideal for cross-merchandising
promotions. For a storewide Italian week promotion, for
example, the floral operation will offer balloons and red
bouquets and roses.
In addition to keeping customers’ interest high, the
changing themes also serve to create excitement among the
floral staff. “They love to see what’s coming next,” Ms.
Sistrunk remarks. “You would think they were buying it for
PRESIDENT AND CEO
Donald Rouse Sr.
36, in Louisiana
from a boutique store in the French Quarter in New
Orleans at 7,000 square feet, to conventional stores
around 30,000 square feet, to large fresh-format
stores around 65,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT size
Averages 700 square
One to six per
store, depending on the size of the store
florals including custom designs, weddings,
sympathy, events, delivery, home-decorating services
and FTD flowers-by-wire service
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS
Valentine’s Day and
customer interaction and
enthusiastic floral staff enjoys interacting with customers
and letting them know about products and services, Ms.
Sistrunk comments. “They make sure they talk to each
customer and assist them, even if it is to just help them
pick out a card to go with a bouquet purchase,” she
Of Rouses’ 36
stores, 32 have full-service floral departments, offering
everything from custom arrangements made while customers
shop to delivery to wedding work. “We offer any service a
regular floral shop offers,” Ms. Sistrunk confirms.
The floral departments have one to six employees per
store, allowing them to react quickly to clients’ needs when
emergencies arise. For example, Ms. Sistrunk says,
tuxedo-clad young men have come into the stores an hour
before prom asking for corsages. “They all know they can
come in, and they’re going to end up getting something,” she
Rouses’ florists also decorate customers’ homes for
holidays and other occasions. Most customers who ask for
that service want their Christmas trees decorated and doors
and porches embellished. Rouses charges a product and labor
fee for the service.
The Louisiana locations have licensed florists, a state
requirement for full-service shops. To receive Louisiana
licensing, the florists must pass a written test on design,
flower care and identification, and other general knowledge
about the floral business. Until recently, florists also had
to take a test demonstrating design proficiency.
As part of its
licensing, the state also does random inspections of floral
departments and shops. “Each store is inspected at least
twice a year, if not more,” Ms. Sistrunk says. Inspectors
check buckets and coolers for sanitation, flowers for
freshness and plants for signs of insect infestation. They
also make sure that each store has at least one licensed
florist on staff for the required 36 hours a week. That’s
not a problem for Rouses, where most stores have more than
one licensed florist, and one has five.
Ms. Sistrunk says the licensing requirement is not
difficult to comply with and helps ensure customers receive
good service and a high-quality product. Licensed florists
are trained and knowledgeable, she says, and they, in turn,
pass on their knowledge to the department’s nonlicensed
Rouses also has two floral merchandisers who are in the
stores daily to offer ongoing training and to ensure
programs created at the corporate level are carried out in
the stores. The corporate team also encourages the floral
staff to excel through positive reinforcement. “We thank
them for all their hard work on holidays and point out the
good,” Ms. Sistrunk reveals, including customer compliments
and sales increases.
Rouses is attuned to its customers’ tastes and makes sure to
find the right products for their preferences. For example,
Ms. Sistrunk says, “the New Orleans area is all about color.
You cannot get enough color.”
That means asking Rouses’ floral suppliers, who include
a mixture of local wholesalers and growers and the company’s
main supplier, C&S Wholesale Grocers, for products in
bright colors including lime green and hot pink. Even at
Easter, she describes, pastels won’t do for Rouses’ New
Orleans customers. “They’ll pass up all the beautiful pastel
bouquets and go right to the crazy daisies because they buy
the color,” she remarks.
Companywide, the best-selling product is a dozen
40-centimeter roses, branded as “Market Fresh Roses,” for
$8.97, available as all reds or in a rainbow of colors. As a
50th anniversary special, they’re on sale for $6.97 and are
selling even faster than usual, Ms. Sistrunk reports.
Mixed bouquets, ranging in price from $5.99 for crazy
daisies to $19.99, are strong sellers. Rouses’ $12.99
signature bouquet is a vendors’ choice design that changes
weekly. In the three-for-$12 consumer bunch program,
customers can choose from Alstroemerias, Gerberas,
snapdragons, lilies, carnations, stocks and more.
Potted mums are a huge seller at All Saints Day (Nov.
1), when it is traditional to place the plants at loved
ones’ graves. Rouses sells up to 50,000 every year during a
Poinsettias, especially those painted blue, sell well
at $8.99 a pot during Christmas. Poinsettias transitioned
well into the New Orleans Saints promotion, for which the
vendor painted them yellow.
Giftware, including locally produced, handmade
triple-scented candles; ceramic containers; and colored
glass, also is important to Rouses’ product selection.
“Customers find it convenient to be able to shop for gift
items and fulfill their grocery list on the same stop,” Ms.
people will talk
product selection, combined with high-quality service,
results in satisfied customers, who “can’t believe we can
provide the quality of work for the price,” Ms. Sistrunk
says. Those happy customers help Rouses get the word out
about its floral business. First-time shoppers often tell
floral managers they were referred to Rouses by friends, Ms.
Sistrunk remarks. “They’ll say, ‘So-and-so told me to come
in and talk to you.’”
The company also
promotes its florals in weekly newspaper advertisements, on
the radio and on Rouses’ website. In addition, the floral
managers have business cards to give to companies,
hospitals, funeral homes and individual customers.
scoring points with customers through a New Orleans Saints
promotion or having the ability to offer the thousands of
mums needed for All Saints Day, Rouses makes sure to meet
its shoppers’ needs and exceed their expectations. Remarks
Ms. Sistrunk, “In everything we do, we like to be outside
keys to success
spacious floral departments are at the front of most
Rouses Supermarkets stores, and they help set the
tone for freshness for the entire customer
experience. Flowers are delivered three to five
times a week to the stores, ensuring customers are
receiving fresh products.
uses themes to create customer excitement about its
florals, changing themes as often as once
florists, many of whom are certified by the state of
Louisiana, offer a full range of floral services.
The floral staff interacts with customers and is
attuned to meeting their needs.
Rouses buys florals from a mixture of
local wholesalers and growers as well as C&S
Wholesale Grocers. C&S gives Rouses access to a wide
range of nationwide cut flower, potted plant and
hard goods vendors. “It gives us more buying power
to consolidate with C&S,” Susan Sistrunk, the floral
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of Rouses Supermarkets.