FLORAL EXPERT OFFERS YEAR-ROUND SELLING TIPS

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While holidays offer retailers ample opportunity to make big sales in their floral departments, managers should focus on keeping sales momentum going throughout the year.In fact, there's huge potential all year long for floral sales in supermarkets, said Tom Lavagetto, president, The Floral Consulting Group, Spokane, Wash. Yet, strong sales and profits require consistently sharp store-level

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While holidays offer retailers ample opportunity to make big sales in their floral departments, managers should focus on keeping sales momentum going throughout the year.

In fact, there's huge potential all year long for floral sales in supermarkets, said Tom Lavagetto, president, The Floral Consulting Group, Spokane, Wash. Yet, strong sales and profits require consistently sharp store-level execution, particularly in the merchandising realm, he said.

Knowing what sells in the local market, understanding customer preferences, marketing and merchandising the product, and investing in adequate labor are prerequisites to approaching sales potential, Lavagetto said.

"I just don't buy it that business is bad," he stated. "The potential is quite staggering. In fact, the only thing that limits us is us."

Lavagetto pointed out that Europeans buy five to seven times more flowers per capita than Americans, and they make less money than American consumers. Lavagetto urged retailers to get out of their offices, and see what people are buying.

"I guarantee you that what sells in Houston won't necessarily sell in Chicago," he said.

Produce departments, often within close proximity to floral, are a great place for managers to pick up effective merchandising techniques that can be applied to floral departments.

"You walk into a produce department, and it knocks your socks off," Lavagetto said. "Just the way they merchandise apples, for instance. They break up the display by color so it has visual impact. Well, who has products that have even better color and could have even better impact? Produce people know how to merchandise."

He also stressed that produce managers are well-versed in how much of their sales are spurred by impulse.

"When you go into a store, how many produce items are on your list? Four or five? But how many do you come home with?"

On the other hand, consumers will not be tempted to make a floral purchase on a whim if they find dirty buckets in the department, he warned.

Retailers are full of excuses, from saying there's no time to clean the buckets, to claiming they don't have enough labor to make an eye-catching floral display, Lavagetto said. However, the bottom line is floral is just not taken seriously in many stores.

As the sales opportunities accelerate, it would be smart to nip negativity in the bud, said Lavagetto.

"Valentine's Day falls on Saturday [in 2004]," he noted. "Notorious for finding reasons why things won't work, retailers are expecting less sales success than last year when it was on Friday. The reality, however, is that Saturday is the best day of all because it has the most traffic."

He urged retailers, too, to take advantage of sales following strong holidays by getting back in business right away.

"Actually, the best non-holiday weeks of the year are the weeks just after the major holidays. You can get residual sales during those days that will stick, but I've been in departments the day after Easter that look like a cyclone hit them."

Nevertheless, all the positive thoughts in the world won't work without some investment in planning time, fixtures and adequate labor to staff the department, Lavagetto added.

"You have to have a written strategy, and then keep referring to it," he recommended. "Use it like a report card to see if you're doing what you said you wanted to do."