INDEPENDENT SEES ROSY VALENTINE'S SALES

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The floral department of Fulton Heights Foods here is putting its heart into Valentine's Day this year.Natalie Kolinski, floral specialist for the single-unit independent, which is supplied by wholesaler Spartan Stores here, said she expects to boost sales 50% above last year through creative cross merchandising, stepped-up sales efforts, and by distributing flyers to nearby

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The floral department of Fulton Heights Foods here is putting its heart into Valentine's Day this year.

Natalie Kolinski, floral specialist for the single-unit independent, which is supplied by wholesaler Spartan Stores here, said she expects to boost sales 50% above last year through creative cross merchandising, stepped-up sales efforts, and by distributing flyers to nearby college residence halls.

Her rosy sales outlook stems from strong sales results from similar efforts on Sweetest Day, a regional holiday in October, which helped double sales over the year before to $4,200.

Sweetest Day has become a significant selling opportunity in Michigan, said Marian Morrow, floral buyer for Spartan. "We sold 1,500 cases of dozen roses last Sweetest Day. That was in the 100-some stores we supply," she said.

Fulton Heights Foods is promoting Valentine's Day as the big day, with a store-front banner that reads, "This Is the One We're Waiting For."

"We'll be bringing up a rack with wine and champagne," Kolinski said. "We've done that before at Valentine's, but at Sweetest Day, we had the idea of wrapping a single long-stemmed rose with a bottle of champagne, and that was a hot item." A balloon operation that's usually set up at the back of the store on holidays will be brought forward to floral. The see-through balloons are inflated to more than two feet in diameter and have a gift placed in them.

"It's a real attention-getter. We just bring the balloon people in at special times, and customers are urged to create gifts from items they buy in the store. The items are put in the balloon as it's blown up, and then decorative ribbons are attached," Kolinski said. While one shopper once had a six-pack of beer put in a balloon, more typical choices for Valentine's Day will be bouquets or candy, she said.

"We'll also have a table with boxes of candy and bakery items brought up. For example, decorated cupcakes and our heart-shaped brownie cakes," Kolinski said.

Another first for Valentine's Day will be a Calypso bouquet, for $4.99, which has four tropical flowers including a bird-of-paradise. "It provides a really different-looking bouquet for less money for people who don't want to buy roses, and we're also advertising it as a man's bouquet, because it's interesting, but not frilly," Kolinski said.

Along with that idea came another: the addition of some male employees in the department for the holiday.

"I expect it to boost sales to women, women who'll maybe ask the guys' advice about what to buy their husbands or boyfriends," the floral specialist said.

Like other retailers, Fulton Heights Foods expects long-stemmed roses to be the runaway seller, as usual. "We've ordered 20% more this year, and we expect a sell-out," Kolinski said.

At least two staffers will be working each shift, with a third for the busiest hours. "That's double what we had last year. And I'm giving them a mini-training session, including tips on how to deal with customers," said Kolinski.

To create a mood befitting Valentine's Day, Kolinski plans to bring in a tape player so she can "keep some romantic, crooner-type songs going all the time."