Flowers can cheer people up, and they might just do that in these tough economic times.
That's what retailers are banking on this holiday season, but they're not leaving it to chance. They're doing a number of things to remind customers they can provide quality plants, flowers, arrangements and decorations at appealing prices.
And they're optimistic. Particularly in hard times, consumers tend to allow themselves small luxuries. What's more, people are staying closer to home this year.
“All indications are that consumers will be spending more time with family this season and doing more home entertaining,” said Michael Schrader, floral director at 105-unit Schnuck Markets, St. Louis. “This should mean that the floral business will do well. Small luxuries like flowers provide a heavy dose of holiday cheer, and we all could use a little of that!”
Schrader said he expects what's traditional to do best, such as poinsettias, as well as anything in the traditional red, green and white colors of Christmas.
Others retailers expressed similar views.
“I think sales will be as good or even better than last year, because people are spending more time at home, and they just want to feel better,” said Jenny Brown, floral manager at a recently revamped Sioux Falls, S.D., Hy-Vee store.
“We haven't seen a decline in [floral] sales, not even these last couple of months. Well, we have right here, because of our remodeling [which has just been completed], but I'm looking at other Hy-Vees here in this area.”
Indeed, Brown said the holiday mood seems to have hit early this year. She has already had to restock some holiday gift/decorating items, she said.
A stone sculpture and a globe with light-up angels were items that quickly grabbed customers' attention. The items, which deliver such universal messages as “Joy” and “Noel,” were put on display the first week in November and sold out quickly. Brown has replenished her display.
At United Supermarkets in Lubbock, Texas, officials were also optimistic about what these next few weeks will bring.
“As the holidays approach, we are forecasting a slight increase in floral sales,” said Rex Henderson, United's business director of floral.
“During these tight economic times, families become closer than ever, and home is where the heart is. As people stay home, their Thanksgiving and Christmas tables won't be complete without flowers.”
Officials at Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion's upscale Bloom stores and at Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., also expressed optimism about holiday floral sales.
“We are expecting floral sales to be as good as last year. We did review and change some price points and sizes to better fit the current economic conditions,” Bloom spokeswoman Karen Peterson told SN.
Such adjustments and proposed promotions may propel sales over last year's totals.
Indeed, floral consultant Tom Lavagetto said he sees big potential for supermarket floral this holiday season.
“For the overall [floral] industry, sales are flat. The wire business is down. Consumers are going to supermarkets for flowers because in general — and especially now — they're looking for value,” said Lavagetto, who is founder of Spokane, Wash.-based Floral Consulting Group and a former floral merchandising manager at Jewel Food Stores.
Several supermarket officials confirmed that they have not reduced their orders this year, and some said they are looking forward to this holiday selling season for a pickup in sales.
Those sales, however, will only be reached with some aggressive tactics and a lot of promoting, Lavagetto said.
“That doesn't mean giving it away, but instead putting [floral products] in front of the customer in whatever way you can — advertising, out-of-department displays, more service.”
Two floral managers told SN they're in a particularly good position to make the most of the holiday season because their stores have just completed remodels that have placed floral at the entrance.
Brown said she expects the new positioning of the floral department at her Hy-Vee store to boost sales significantly.
“We'll do fine this year, because I have a new area. It's twice as big as what we had before, and it's the first thing you see when you come in the door. You can see [the floral department] through the front window now,” she said.
“We do a lot with poinsettias, and we will put some in other departments. We'll display some in produce and probably in the dairy/meat department.”
Brown emphasized, too, that the department at the Sioux Falls store is full-service, from 7 in the morning until 9 at night.
“We make fresh wreaths and centerpieces and sell a ton of them. I think we will this year, too. Also, we sell a lot of spruce tops. People put those in pots. They look like little Christmas trees,” she said, adding that with more people staying at home, she'll probably sell even more than last year.
At Hank's Thriftway in Hillsboro, Ore., Lowanda Warner, floral designer/manager, sounded wary of the upcoming holiday season, but hopeful nonetheless.
While she hasn't decreased inventory, she said she's not making as many fresh arrangements ahead of time.
“I'm wracking my brain to think of ways to get people buying,” Warner said. “Our demographics are working class, and also a lot of elderly. We always stay traditional, and value is very important to my customers.”
Like Brown at Hy-Vee, Warner is the beneficiary of a floral department moved to the front of the store in a recent remodel.
“I'm emphasizing traditional, and my department has never looked so enticing.” Warner said the department is currently decked out in pink, white and purple, and a bank of fall colors that completely surround the U-shaped kiosk where she's making fresh arrangements.
“We're right across the street from a hospital, so I'm looking to attract people with some upscale arrangements, and also let them know we'll be doing a lot for Christmas,” Warner said.
She said she has already brought in two artificial Christmas trees from home and will soon have them decorated.
“I have some very bright red and green colors, and I've put some upgraded big, white mums in basketry. I'll get them thinking about Christmas.”
At a K-VA-T Food City in Louisa, Ky., produce manager Lequitte Perry and floral manager Debbie Burke combined their efforts to build a “Christmas house” out of pallets, contact paper and cotton snow.
“It's the first time we've done that, and you can't miss it. It's right in front of you,” Perry said. “I started it before Thanksgiving with fruit baskets and displays of ingredients for fruit cakes.”
Perry said she and Burke brainstormed to figure out how they can get people on tight budgets to buy flowers and fruit baskets, or at least some poinsettias, as Christmas approaches.
“We'll have a lot of poinsettias out, and we're hoping we can find a real, live Santa Claus for one weekend coming up,” Perry said.
“We'd charge something [for photos with Santa], but we'd use whatever money we bring in to send fruit baskets or flowers to the nursing home across the street, and maybe to the senior center, which is close by.”
As we go into the New Year, a slumping economy could spell hard times for some floral operations, but Lavagetto said he thinks 2009 will be a year of reckoning.
“Those who may have run good businesses will do OK. They'll find a way to survive and prosper.”