For more than two decades, Super Floral has sponsored the “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest to recognize excellence in floral merchandising by supermarket floral departments. Over the years, the contest, which is cosponsored by Syndicate Sales, Inc., has seen repeat winners and different chains dominate. This year, however, the repeat win was in consecutive years, which was a first: For the second year in a row, Cindy Fitzgerald, floral manager, and Michelle Beeson, floral designer and visual merchandiser, at Stony Brook Hy-Vee in Omaha, Neb., took home the award. “Winning two in a row is truly amazing,” exclaimed Fitzgerald, a horticulturist who has been working with Hy-Vee for 31 years.


Floral designers at Omaha’s Stony Brook Hy-Vee take home the top prize in the 2019 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest – their second consecutive win.


“We are very excited at the Stony Brook Hy-Vee,” an exuberant Ginny Ward, store director, shared. “It is always the dream to win a second time. I am lucky to have the dream team of Cindy and Michelle.”

For their efforts, Fitzgerald and Beeson received an all-expenses-paid trip to the International Floriculture Expo in Miami, Fla., in June, where Chris Holcomb, channel sales manager for Grocery & Bouquet at Syndicate Sales, presented them with an engraved commemorative trophy vase during a luncheon ceremony. Syndicate Sales also is sponsoring a one-day vase giveaway event for floral customers at their store.

Llamas and roses and succulents, oh my!

Given free rein to design what they like by both the store director and Hy-Vee, Fitzgerald and Beeson picked their theme “Llama Be Your Valentine” at last year’s IFE show. Even though they did not know how llamas, succulents and Valentine’s Day would go together, Fitzgerald shared, “Our idea was inspired by a piece of artwork with llamas, roses and cactus. We saw llamas everywhere! They are trending big now, as are succulents. We thought that combining these two trending elements with roses would create a unique nontraditional theme for Valentine’s Day 2019.”

The dynamic duo created two major displays in the front of the store and in the floral department, along with smaller satellite displays in other departments, including the Bakery, the Hy-Vee Kitchen, Basin & Beauty, meals to go and on the salad bar. “We get only the front display space during Valentine’s Day. The rest of the year, our display space is in the Floral Department,” Fitzgerald explains. “By having such an awesome display up front created excitement throughout the entire store, from employees to customers and kids who loved the llama banners hanging from the ceiling.” Stuffed llamas and 5-foot-tall cacti created from green tissue paper, along with fresh flowers, succulents and a wide variety of spring potted plants, were incorporated into the main displays.

With an unconventional color palette for this campaign of fresh pastels mixed with aqua, pink, orange, yellow and lime green, customers still connected to the theme. “A few customers said that they thought I was decorating for Easter,” Fitzgerald laughs. “And we did reuse most of the props after Valentine’s Day for Easter, but no one questioned the marriage of llamas, cactus and ‘love’!”


A successful cross-merchandising campaign included spotlighting themed merchandise throughout the store. Having touch points in the store, Fitzgerald and Beeson worked to get every department involved in the promotion. For Valentine’s Day, the pair go to every department explaining the theme and color scheme. Each department, excited to work together, then orders merchandise based on that theme and communicates back to Fitzgerald and Beeson what they will be offering. This year, those items included chocolate-dipped cookies and marshmallows, raspberries filled with chocolate, wines, heart-shaped cheesecakes, llama-shaped cakes and cactus-shaped cupcakes. “Our General Merchandise department even got in llama pictures and plaques,” Fitzgerald notes. “The Basin & Beauty boutique also decorated with llamas, cacti and ‘love’-themed accessories. The cactus cupcakes and the stuffed llamas were a big hit. We sold all 36 llamas!”


Staff hung signage with “Llama Be Your Valentine” over the main entrance; the Hy-Vee Kitchen; the Bakery, Dairy and Luncheon Meat departments; and the General Merchandise area, with window signs of “I love You” also catching the customers’ attention. The floral staff even wore pink T-shirts with llamas. “Everyone knew what our theme was,” Fitzgerald notes. “Customers loved the signs so much that eight people asked to buy them.” Cindy believes the signage helped boost overall sales in the store and the floral department higher than the previous year.

carry-over sales

The success of this theme spanned beyond Valentine’s Day. It resonated with customers in a way that sparked future purchases. “People bought llamas for a retirement party and a baby shower and cactus cupcakes for a graduation party,” Fitzgerald remarks. “I reordered the llamas. They, along with the succulents, aren’t holiday specific, so if they hadn’t sold for Valentine’s Day, they could have stayed on the shelves. And some people who bought them as an add-on for Valentine’s Day have come back to buy more.”

Fitzgerald, Beeson and store management were tickled pink about the success of the promotion. Store Director Ginny Ward credits the success, in large part, to the employee ownership of the store. “Because Hy-Vee is an employee-owned company, the ideas are the employees’ ideas, and employees like Cindy and Michelle take it to the next level,” she explains. “They take pride in what they do, and everyone enjoys themselves. It is infectious!”

Excited now for Valentine’s Day 2020, Fitzgerald shares that Beeson and she already have their theme selected.

Katie Westphal and the Hy-Vee Floral TeamHy-Vee; Cherokee, Iowa Display theme: “I Love You Cherry Much” (Valentine’s Day)

Prea JonesStater Bros. Markets; Wildomar, Calif.Display theme: “Gather” (Thanksgiving)


In addition to the winning display, the “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest also recognizes two other supermarket floral departments for their excellence in floral merchandising. Here are this year’s runners-up.

Prea Jones 

Stater Bros. Markets, Wildomar, Calif. Display theme: “Gather” (Thanksgiving)

Katie Westphal and the HyVee Floral Team, HyVee Cherokee, Iowa. Display theme: “I Love You Cherry Much” (Valentine’s Day)

Will You Be the Next Winner?

Look for details on entering the 2020 contest in our October/November issue.