Wedding bells are ringing, and supermarket floral departments hear them loud and clear.
With consumer budgets for the big day increasing year over year along with spending on bouquets, corsages and centerpieces, retailers are positioning themselves as wedding floral experts, offering a wide variety of arrangements and consulting services. It’s a major investment for floral departments known primarily for a low-price, cash-and-carry assortment, but the payoff can be significant.
Roche Bros., Wellesley Hills, Mass., offers a full suite of wedding floral arrangements, from bouquets to boutonnieres, and customizable options for each. A garden-style bouquet can feature anywhere from three to 24 roses or gerberas, or a combination of both. Table centerpieces feature hydrangeas, lilies or roses — or all of the above. Customers can build their own assortment or opt for Roche’s Simplicity Package, which includes a 12-rose bridal bouquet, corsages and boutonnieres, and a head table centerpiece featuring roses, mini carnations and stephanotis.
Debbie Loche, floral buyer and merchandiser for Roche Bros., said that most wedding customers opt for a customized selection, with garden roses and seasonal flowers such as peonies and dahlias being popular choices to include in arrangements. She emphasized the importance of personalized service, beginning with a consultation between the customer and one of the company’s floral consultants.
“We discuss all components of the ceremony and reception and offer additional options that may not have been thought of,” she explained. “After this we prepare a written proposal at which time any revisions can be made.”
Once an agreement is reached, Roche’s floral team stays in regular contact with customers leading up to delivery to the wedding venue.
Personalized service is also the order of the day at United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, where floral managers offer service that begins with an initial consultation, and ends with delivery and a final touch-up on the big day.
“Our managers’ main goal is to connect with the brides early during their planning process — from sitting down and understanding what exactly they need, to meeting at the venue, to scoping out all the details,” said Bradley Gaines, United’s business director for floral.
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Industry research shows that wedding floral is becoming an increasingly profitable business. An annual survey conducted by the The Knot, a wedding media and services company, shows that overall budgets have grown every year since the recession. The average for 2014 was $31,213, up nearly $200 from the year prior. Floral spending, meanwhile, averaged $2,141 per wedding, up almost $100 from 2013.
Floral shops, with their focus on artistry and service, have traditionally been the go-to for wedding customers, while supermarket flowers tend to connote inferior quality, according to floral industry consultant Tom Lavagetto. But more consumers are migrating to supermarket floral departments, with 73% reporting they make everyday purchases there compared to 61% who buy from florists, according to data from the Society of American Florists.
“Supermarkets offer discounted prices for flowers and plants in a variety of breeds, colors and sizes,” noted a recent report from market research firm IBISWorld. “In the wake of the recession, price-sensitive consumers have increasingly turned to these stores to save money.”
Gaines said he believes the stigma against supermarket flowers is lifting as retailers like United gain word-of-mouth approval. Loche agreed, noting that she likes to catch shoppers’ eyes by having her designers prepare wedding arrangements on the sales floor.
“We often get, ‘I never knew Roche Bros. designed for events like this,’” said Loche.
In addition to lower prices, supermarkets can offer services beyond floral, like catering and cakes. Star Market, a division of Shaw’s, offers consultations with both cake and floral designers in its wedding brochure. Wade’s Foods, which operates three stores in Virginia, has a $1,500 wedding package that includes flowers, cake and food catering.
The biggest hurdle for supermarkets, said Lavagetto, is investing in qualified personnel. Many large chains aren’t able to offer the personalized, high-touch service that wedding customers demand.
“It’s too volatile for the average large-scale chain,” said Lavagetto. “When you get into the wedding business, there are no margins for error.”
Smaller chains and independent stores, though, are ideally suited to the task. Like dedicated floral shops, Lavegetto noted, they’re able to make decisions at the store level and often offer service in the same community as the wedding venue.
Loche conceded that service is a challenge for her floral departments, especially on the day of, but that wedding planners are usually able to fill in any gaps.
Gaines, meanwhile, said his staff is trained to navigate the high-stress environment of a wedding day, from properly delivering flowers to handling emergencies.
“Colors of flowers not coming in just like the bride wanted is a hard task to handle,” he said. “But we always have a backup plan in place.”
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