SWEETENING THE FLORAL SALE

Retailers are placing more emphasis on merchandising savvy in an effort to make floral sales bloom.They are growing the business with a series of tactics designed to catch customers' attention quickly and often.Positioning the department at the front of the store, placing spot displays throughout the store, and increasing the variety of items offered are some of the methods they're using to push rings

Retailers are placing more emphasis on merchandising savvy in an effort to make floral sales bloom.

They are growing the business with a series of tactics designed to catch customers' attention quickly and often.

Positioning the department at the front of the store, placing spot displays throughout the store, and increasing the variety of items offered are some of the methods they're using to push rings higher in an impulse-driven category.

Supermarket floral directors agree that while the bigger the display the better the ring, not all stores have the customer count needed to justify the space for a huge display. So, in most instances, it is merchandising savvy that's helping them make headway with the category, they said.

Both small independents and large chains are using spot placement of cut-flower displays throughout the stores to nab customers. Portable merchandisers and specially designed carts are playing a big role in creating cross-merchandising opportunities.

The portable carts can be easily moved to create a different look within the department too, retailers said.

Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., is shifting to mobile floral carts to create flexibility in the department. Currently, six units are employing carts within their floral departments to showcase the chain's "Create a Bouquet" program. A variety of more than 30 cut floral items are merchandised on the cart, giving customers the opportunity to put together their own arrangement.

"The carts have been quite successful in merchandising," said Terry O'Neil, spokesman for Ralphs, explaining that the merchandising method has pushed up sales. Indeed, the chain has been so pleased with them that plans are under way to include the carts in all new stores and remodels, he said. Eventually all units with a service floral department will use the carts, he added.

While Ralphs floral departments are generally situated at the front end, the chain is considering using the carts in other areas depending upon the season, O'Neil said. "Floral is one of the biggest impulse items in the store. We offer a quality, selection and service level which is on par with what flower shops offer," he said.

Meanwhile, another retailer, Holiday Market, is getting ready to feature the marketplace-look carts at a new store set to open this fall.

The 50,000-square-foot Holiday Market unit in Canton, Mich., is being designed with multiple portable carts as the backbone of the floral department.

"We want our customers to see a mass of flowers with eye appeal," said John Pardington, owner.

"We want floral to be the first thing our customers see as they walk into the store. Shopping has to be fun and exciting with sights, sounds and aroma. We have found that our customers buy flowers with their eyes."

The retailer will also position floral carts adjacent to the imported chocolates in the bakery, and in the wine section.

"We are big believers in cross merchandising," said Pardington. The 1,000-square-foot floral department will also contain a 6-foot, self-service refrigerated merchandiser for arrangements and a 12-foot, low-profile bouquet cooler. It will be staffed by two full-time service personnel and two part-time assistants.

Cut items, sold by the stem, will occupy the largest amount of space at 8 to 12 feet, according to Pardington.

"Fresh cut is our strength, but our staff does complete bouquets and arrangements," he said.

The independent, which is supplied by wholesaler Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., cut its teeth on floral in its Royal Oak unit. A sizable wedding and special-occasion business was built there, Pardington said, and he added that he expects this trend to continue in the new unit.

Big-impact displays reflect the merchandising philosophy at Nakata Thriftway units.

"Floral is an opportunity," said Larry Nakata, vice president of the Seattle-area chain. "Flowers need to be mass merchandised. It has to be a strong visual." At the operator's Poulsbo Central Market location, a combined indoor and outdoor floral area spans 10,000 square feet at the store's main entrance. Additionally, cut flowers are positioned at another entrance in stacked buckets.

As retailers seek depth in their floral offerings, labor is often a hurdle to a successful return on investment.

The floral merchandiser at one of the Nakata units employs several methods to reduce labor. Liquid floral preservative is used so that recuts aren't necessary on a daily basis. At that unit, cut flowers are arranged in two groupings on racks at the store's entrance. One display offers bunches at three for $5 and bunches priced at three for $10, the other holds bouquets. The bunches are delivered to the store in consumer bunches, prepared at the farm level, with no cutting necessary. The items can be placed on display straight out of the box. Universal Product Code and price-point information are already on each item.

Additionally, a color-coded bouquet program is used to designate different types of bouquets. The day SN visited the location, four different bouquets, each with a different color sleeve, were on display. These bouquets are assembled by the supplier and direct-store delivered in a wet pack to maintain optimal freshness.

The color-coding system gives staffers a quick visual cue to see when a display needs to be restocked and it also makes it easy for customers to find what they want.

"We have concentrated on our customers," said merchandiser Sue Persinger. "We concentrate on cut flowers and lots of variety. Cut flowers also bring us a return business that potted plants generally don't.

Freshness is also key. We want our customers to always know that they can come here for the freshest flowers."

At this urban location, in a middle-class neighborhood, the operator has found that customers prefer that bouquets all have a single price. The price at the unit is just under $10.

In addition to cutting labor costs, the unit's floral department has sales double the national average of 1% of total store sales.

Other Seattle-area operators, including Larry's Markets and Haggen Inc., Bellingham, Wash., are offering similar vendor-made bouquets. Industry analysts estimate that premade bouquets can save 15% to 30% of labor costs.

With all the options available to retailers, industry experts agree that effective execution is paramount.

"Consumer-bunch pricing needs to remain constant year-round. Give customers value. Price bunches right to get the customer who wouldn't ordinarily buy flowers," said Grant Stewart, sales representative for Mex Y Can, a Vancouver, British Columbia, floral wholesaler.

Here's more advice Stewart offered retailers: "Buy correctly for your market. Only sell fresh items and cull out cut items daily.

"Maximize the way space is used," Stewart said. "Retailers can do good work in tight spots. Make flowers accessible. Color block the display. It should be organized like the soup aisle," where customers can see clearly what varieties are offered and can quickly choose what they want to buy, he said.