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Holly Jolly

Holly Jolly

It's the best time of the year for floral departments to make a lasting impression on shoppers buying poinsettias, centerpieces and holiday arrangements

This holiday season in-store floral departments will be offering promotions that mirror customers' holiday traditions.

A crossover plant, poinsettias remain the most important and traditional Christmas floral product. Last year, poinsettia sales represented 41% of total Christmas sales and 9% of Thanksgiving sales, according to the Produce Marketing Association's 2009 Thanksgiving and Christmas Floral Market Watch reports.

“It is the plant, it is the item that defines Christmas,” said Tom Lavagetto, president of Floral Consulting Group, Spokane, Wash.

In-store floral departments start promoting poinsettias as early as November, weaving smaller varieties into fall and Thanksgiving displays. Shawn Oliver, floral marketing buyer/merchandiser at Tops Markets, Williamsville, N.Y., said that poinsettia sales increase after Thanksgiving, but their stores start by bringing in the 4- to 6-inch poinsettias. “[Customers] begin to pick up a few just for decorating their home and adding a little bit of spirit,” she said.

As the season progresses, customers look for more traditional Christmas colors and larger poinsettia plants. “The different colors other than red are sold primarily in the early part of the season. As the season gets toward Christmas itself, the color red in the poinsettia becomes much more predominate than white, or pink or variegation,” said Lavagetto. Poinsettia sales peak around Dec. 20, Lavagetto said, after which the plants continue to sell, but sales slow.

Although a big seller, poinsettias have their in-store maintenance challenges. “The biggest thing about poinsettias … is poinsettias are not — I repeat — they are not a tough plant,” said Lavagetto, who recommended that sellers regularly turn their inventory and consistently bring product into the store.

Sandi Probst, floral manager and events coordinator at Lin's Marketplace, St. George, Utah, a corporate store of Associated Food Stores, eliminates wear and tear on her poinsettias by using a local grower. “We have a huge greenhouse person down here that supplies all of our poinsettias so they're never in a box, which is a real plus for us,” said Probst.

Many sellers this season will also feature a variety of bouquets and arrangements. Fresh flowers, traditionally strong sellers throughout the year, “still hold their own reasonably well during the holiday season,” said Lavagetto.

This year Tops Markets will offer floral products in greens, whites and reds, including fresh flowers. Oliver said that during the first two weeks of December customers buy flowers for decorating their homes, but in the second two weeks more people focus on fresh flowers. “They're starting to get ready for entertaining and hosting parties. They start buying fresh cut flowers for those tables,” said Oliver. People also buy fresh flowers to bring to a family member's home, she said.

Retailers are offering a variety of holiday-themed plants. Associated Food Stores will have promotions on decorated Christmas trees, paper white narcissus, amaryllis blooming bulbs and bulb kits, the zygocactus or “Christmas cactus” and Norfolk pines, said Reed Povey, floral buyer. For New Year's, AFS will offer a New Year's Eve bouquet.

Probst said Lin's Marketplace in St. George has already had to reorder more scented pine cones because her supply sold out, with people buying two to three bags at a time. “It's the scent of the pine cones that makes them stop, and they're trying to figure out where the scent is coming from,” Probst said.

Lin's is also offering assorted poinsettias, centerpieces, the zygocactus, pine arrangements and Christmas bouquets.

From year to year, stores offer similar holiday floral products, but use arrangements, displays and packaging to attract customers.

For Thanksgiving displays, stores have brought in fall-colored plants that incorporate oranges, yellows, golds and browns. Thanksgiving-colored chrysanthemums are the No. 1 seller for Thanksgiving, said Lavagetto.

Jeff Culhane, vice president of perishables for Tops Markets, emphasized the importance of the tone of floral in store displays. “When a customer looks at it, they need to understand that you're in that fall Thanksgiving theme. It has to have that presence. The whole department is decorated in those colors.”

For the fall holidays, Culhane said, customers begin decorating the outside of their homes with oranges, yellows, red and browns with exterior pots, and when the weather gets cooler they begin decorating inside their house with potted and fresh plants, bringing arrangements onto their tables. “[For Thanksgiving week] the bouquets, the arrangements, the things for your vase are really what's going to be hot, “said Culhane.

After Black Friday, Tops' displays will completely move from the fall colors with minimal poinsettias worked in to red, green and white floral products, incorporating pines, bows, wreaths and Christmas bouquets.

“While you're doing your Black Friday shopping not at a traditional supermarket, we're in the process of flipping our department,” said Culhane. “So that night, that Friday evening or Saturday you're walking into a different look and feel in our floral department.”

Due to customer demand for traditional holiday products, Tops Markets, like many other retailers, will offer floral promotions similar to previous years, but with newer sleeves and bouquet names, and an emphasis on strong flowers that are long-lasting, said Oliver. Tops weeds through items that did not sell well last year and offers freshened arrangements and improved bouquets, said Culhane.

The transition between the two holiday displays is also a concern at Lin's Marketplace. Before Thanksgiving, the store displays have half Christmas and half Thanksgiving decorations and items. “We've actually decorated so that people wouldn't feel like we're throwing Christmas totally at them,” said Probst.

Retailers often prominently feature floral displays within stores. “Oftentimes, floral is merchandised in high-traffic or secondary locations throughout the store,” said Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets, Jacksonville, Fla. “Depending on the location, floral may be merchandised in the lobby, front entrance and/or in the produce department.”

For the independent retailers served by Associated Food Stores, the location of floral displays is ultimately up to the individual chain, but Povey noted, “We encourage them to make it right out front so the consumer has the first impression as they walk into the store that it's a fresh, perishable store that has a full-lined florist and floral items.”

After Thanksgiving, Tops Markets shifts flower displays to the front of the store, but also puts products in cooler cases and displays throughout the store, Oliver told SN.

With expanding options for consumers, floral departments have become creative in their advertising and events, becoming involved in the local community. In addition to cross-merchandising floral products throughout the store, Lin's Marketplace in St. George offered a holiday open house on Friday, Nov. 12, featuring demos, gift-card giveaways and entertainment from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The entertainment included local school choirs, high school jazz bands, a women's choir and a western band, said Probst. Holiday floral products were featured in a front display cross-merchandised with poinsettias and samples of centerpieces. The store positioned another display of Thanksgiving Payday mums as costumers walked into the event. The St. George store has had a holiday open house for at least 11 years, and the open house has moved to other Lin's Marketplace locations as well.

The St. George Lin's also hung student artwork from garlands around the store, and organized an “angel tree” where customers buy presents for people in assisted-living homes. Probst finds it important for Lin's to be involved in the community this way because the store is “letting them know that we are here for them and that we are customer oriented. It's just a customer loyalty thing we have, that they shop with us and they continue to shop with us, because we're more community minded.”

In-store floral departments reported mixed experiences with Christmas floral sales, but 71% of retailers last year saw increased sales during the holiday period of Nov. 27-Dec. 31, according to the PMA's 2009 Christmas Floral Market Watch,

In the current economy, retailers are mindful of customer budgetary concerns. Tops Markets noticed many customers taking advantage of promotions last year where two or three products were offered for $12. “Customers are buying multiples, not only to decorate their homes, but maybe to take a gift for somebody as well,” Oliver said.

At Associated Food Stores, the concern was balancing price and quality. “We're hoping to draw the customers in with a good price to compete with the Wal-Marts, and the Costcos and the big-box stores that really run hot promotions on their poinsettias. And then we really work on having a superior quality on our plants, much nicer than what you see at a lot of the other locations,” said Povey.

Lavagetto noted that the holiday floral buyer does not remember the price paid for a product, just how long it lasted and where it was purchased. Holidays sales are a good opportunity to turn occasional buyers into consistent buyers, he said.

Many retailers are continuing to turn to the Internet for promotion and sales. Kroger sells holiday floral products on its website and offers tips for holiday floral care. Among others, Publix, Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club also allow customers to purchase floral items on the website itself. Whole Foods Market, for at least the past two years, has posted profiles of workers from its whole trade farms on its blog, creating a personal link between potential buyers and their growers. Tops customers can call in orders and place orders online to be picked up in the store. “It works very well for us. It gives customers the opportunity for our florists to design them something special that they can come in and pick up. Basically made to order,” said Oliver.