For years, grocery store patrons have enjoyed adding a bouquet of pre-packaged flowers or a pre-made floral arrangement while browsing through the produce aisles. As customer lives are now busier than ever and convenience is a major priority for them thanks to the concepts of on-line shopping and same-day delivery, one-stop shopping has become a lifestyle model
“Three grocery chains discuss why they became involved in the full-service floral market, and how they are better-able to service the customer.”
Understanding this phenomenon, large and small grocery store chains have begun to embrace the need for a full-service floral department. As both sales and demand for this type of experience continues to increase, customers have been able to rely on their local grocery store to fulfill all their floral needs—from weddings and events to sympathy and home décor.
Superfloral magazine asked John Agnew, floral coordinator and senior buyer of the Northeast Region of Whole Foods Market; Michael Schrader, director of floral for St. Louis, Mo.-based Schnuck Markets, and Lynnette Probst, floral manager of Lin’s Market, Cedar City, Utah, to share their knowledge as to why brands are emphasizing the importance of excellent customer service with a full-service floral department.
Michael Schrader: “We are at 85 percent full-service at all of our floral departments at Schnuck’s. Last year, we acquired the Shop and Save chain, and some of these stores had no floral department. Right now, there are self-service options, but no coolers or sinks. We are in the process of renovating these locations and putting in full-service floral departments.”
John Agnew: “Whole Foods Market has 47 stores in the Northeast Region and 60 percent of these stores can take on event work. That said, we try our best to meet customers’ needs at all locations. If customers are looking for event work but the store closest to them does not offer it, we accommodate by having another store with a “full service” Floral Department take on the work. At Whole Foods Market, we have always had talented Floral Specialists that are able to take on event work and are always looking to improve our model and offer more event type work to satisfy and delight our customers.”
Lynnette Probst: “In our area, we have always had a full-service department because we are the only (chain) grocery store, though there are independent shops in the area, as well. At our Lin’s Market in Cedar City, Utah, I design bridal bouquets to casket sprays, and am the lone delivery person. Within the Lin’s Market corporation, we have approximately 10 full-service stores, 15 part-time floral departments, with the rest having someone who works a few hours a week as needed. With some stores, the produce department is home to the prepackaged floral bunches.”
John Agnew: “At Whole Foods Market, we strive to satisfy and delight our customers. In order to do that, we want our floral departments to be a one-stop shop so customers can get everything they need in one place. We recognized the increasing interest in customers having confidence in our products and our staff to make their event special. There was a time that getting your event done at your local food store was not the ‘thing to do’ but that has changed, and we are able to offer customers great products at fair costs.”
Lynnette Probst: “The associated corporate floral department manager (at Lin’s Market) provides an annual decision as to whom will provide which services. It depends on the location and on the sales in that area. If one isn’t currently present, a store manager can ask for a florist.”
John Agnew: “Typically, we go with store teams that are experienced and large enough to take on the project and still execute a great sales floor.”
Michael Schrader: “We are a Midwest chain in five states. What sells on the coasts doesn’t mean it will work here. Our staffing level is dictated by the service level demands of our customers.”
Lynnette Probst: “We are a small town, but very different from others. We are considered the Festival City of Utah that features a university, three high schools, and a large agrarian community. The needs of the clients are what we offer.”
John Agnew: “Our main priority is to continue offering great floral departments to all our customers while executing the additional work. Fortunately, event work is always planned far in advance, so we can make sure we have adequate staff to execute (any project).”
Michael Schrader: “Staffing is a reflection of the sales value being generated. With the staff required to maintain these departments, Schnuck’s hires from entry level to Certified Floral Designer. All our designers were FTD-certified in the past, but we now do our own training in the areas of design, report tools, surveys, and floral merchandising. I would rather hire someone with excellent people skills and a business background and train to fit. Design expertise can be learned on the job since our customers now embrace a more casual lifestyle. Flowers simply arranged romantically in a vase connects with our customers.”
Lynnette Probst: “Each store only has one florist per department. My department is a 40 hours per week position. I take on what I can, and I have not had to turn away more than a few orders because they were too massive. For holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, I do have extra help hired in. We have no formal training. I grew up in my mother’s flower shop—so that was my training. Associates provides YouTube videos for training, but really, everyone is self-taught.”
Michael Schrader: “Industry research tells us floral is one percent of all mass merchant sales. With any business, it is about the numbers and what your customer wants. I look at the numbers by store and category. It reinforces what is driving the business and where trends emerge. For example, arrangements are now our number one category and they have the highest rating for the cut flower categories. Roses are still a large part of the business, but there are more opportunities in bouquets, consumer bunches and arrangements. Customers prefer rounder flowers like peonies and hydrangea over spiked flowers like snapdragons. With potted plants, orchids are the No. 1 category. People perceive it as a higher value, that last longer with easy care, and is tolerant of some abuse. Overall, plants are showing an upward trend but it is still not as strong as the fresh categories. Current market research shows Gen Z (23 years old and younger in 2020) are going to be plant purchasers. I view that as something to watch in sales trends. Schnuck’s is committed to a service-based model. Floral deliveries will continue to increase annually as consumers expect Amazon-style service levels. It is not uncommon for some of our stores to have hundreds of floral deliveries for a major holiday. However, walk-in sales still generate more revenue than any other customer type.
Michael Schrader: “Our service level is dictated by customer demand. Some stores service weddings and events, while others are high volume funeral business locations. Within the sympathy realm, there is a shift towards more cremations and two-hour memorial services. The days of sending 20 arrangements for a service are declining and will continue to do so as lifestyles change. People want to commemorate a life by sending something like wind chimes, cement stones and memorial candles. As such, we now have more memorial items to offer the customer. Floral is a lifestyle department where the product mix can vary by demographics. Some of our stores are very seasonal and carry collectible Santa’s, seasonal giftware, tabletop items, candles and other services that customers would like us to provide. Trends in our numbers will dictate the direction of the department and product mix.”
Lynnette Probst: “We do not carry other merchandise for memorials or home décor. People know where they can shop in the area for those items. We bring the flowers up to the front of the store for holidays like Valentine’s Day so the customers know what we have. They can pick what they want and we will make it for them while they do their shopping. We want them to know we are here for them and would love their friends to come to us as well. Also, with trends, we are seeing a demand for more potted plants. Our guests want to say they grew it and put it on their desk or put it in their yards so it comes back next year!”