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Fall 2011
The Power of Flowers

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Floral gift shops look to plant a seed with each shopper, then watch it bloom into a repeat customer.

Come on, get happy. If you’re looking to do just that, flowers can fill the need—after all, there’s a reason they were chosen to symbolize peace and love in the ’60s. With mood-boosting powers and inherent beauty, flowers are a favorite gift, home accessory, and special-occasion marker. And while flowers practically sell themselves, florists still face a set of challenges and opportunities that other gift shop retailers can relate to.

There are more than 18,500 retail florist shops in the country, with estimated annual sales at $320,000, according to statistics from the Society of American Florists. And floriculture is no shrinking violet— per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, it accounted for $35.2 billion in sales last year in the United States.


Gifts: an added bonus

While a number of florists carry flowers only, many offer nonperishable gifts in their stores as a complement or addition to the blooming selection.

Kremp Florist in Willow Grove, PA, stocks 30 lines of gifts and related merchandise. “We sell everything from wine and candies to picture frames, jewelry, clothing, books, and children’s toys, along with normal items related to flowers like baskets and vases,” says Scott Kremp, president. Although they’re still known primarily for flowers, the increased offerings have given the store another dimension. “Some people do like coming in and just browsing the gift items and not looking at flowers,” Kremp says. “We’ve opened ourselves up to another set of consumers that might not have gone into Kremp Florist if we didn’t have these gifts.”

Tina Stoecker, owner at Designs of the Times Florist finds that carrying an assortment of gifts helps set her two stores in Florida apart from the crowd. “Most carry balloons, stuffed animals, and cards, but we have a wider variety of gifts,” she says. That includes figurines, lamps, containers, novelty items like little magnets, candles, bath and body products, pictures, wedding toppers, and frames. A larger part of the buying budget is set aside for those items that can be incorporated into a flower arrangement. Gift sales run at about 22 percent in her main store, and 37 percent in the second store, which is based in a beach community and features nautical-inspired arrangements.

On the other hand, gifts aren’t doing as well for Radford City Florist in Radford, VA, as they used to 15 to 20 years ago. “Internet and shipping have really changed things drastically for us,” says Jeff Corbin, owner. “Somebody can work out of a warehouse and import, and they have the world as a market instead of one area,” Corbin points out. As a result, he’s moving away from the home accessory items that once sold well and focusing on wines from $5 to $75 to supplement the flower business. “A person who likes wine, once they know you’ve got it and they know your selections, they’ll always be back,” he says. And wine is consumed faster than lamps and candlesticks—which means potentially more frequent purchases by customers.

On display

To display these gift offerings, stores will often create flower arrangements that incorporate another item, or they’ll spotlight them on their own. Designs of the Times Florist features 13 vignettes in the 5,000-square-foot main location that showcase an interior design trend—shabby chic, West Indies, or garden, for example—or a color.

Corbin at Radford City Florist has nice shelving for their wine selection but has found that people really respond to wine in boxes on the floor, with a “new arrival” or “clearance” sign. “If people can pull it out of the boxes, they feel like they’re getting a better price, and they’re more likely to buy a case or more,” he says.

Mixing flowers with gifts is a great way to show customers how the two can go together, and the sale of a gift, which is usually a secondary consideration to the flowers for a florist, is an added bonus. Putting a garden gnome in a potted plant or displaying an arrangement of stems in a vase that enhances the overall look are a couple of the ways retailers sell add-on gifts to those coming in for flowers.

But whether stocking perishable flowers or nonperishable gift items, keeping the right balance is always tricky. “What I recommend and what has worked for me is to buy small and buy often. When I do flowers, I keep my buys really tight says Kimberly Sevilla, owner of Rose Red & Lavender in Brooklyn, NY. “I follow the same technique with nonperishables. I don’t buy deep into anything; I try to buy the least amount that I can and offer a wider selection.”

Season in the sun

High season for most flower shops is pretty predictable—holidays are big, with Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas providing a huge surge in sales, while the summer is often quiet. To help generate business during the slower months, Designs of the Times Florist has an automatic reminder service that alerts people about purchases they’ve made in the past. For example, if a customer ordered lilies for Great Aunt May’s birthday last year, she will get a reminder this year, plus information on current featured flowers.

Diversified offerings help Rose Red & Lavender weather the slowdown storm. “I teach a lot of classes to try to have a lot of activity going,” Sevilla says. “That’s also when I flip the store and re-merchandise a lot of things. I rearrange the store so that when people come in, they have a new experience.”

Corbin at Radford City Florist uses the downtime to plan marketing campaigns, work on the website, and get the store ready for the busy time. “There’s always dusting and cleaning,” he says.

Cool customers

The customer base varies wildly for florists based on where they’re located and what they specialize in. At Rose Red & Lavender, the primary audience is 25- to 35-year-olds, many of whom work in a creative field. Most are women, but Sevilla says men are surprisingly big fans of the terrariums in the store.

Kremp Florist is in an economically and socially diverse area, so they work on appealing to all. “We make sure that what we’re offering can fit anyone; we don’t want to be known as a fancy, expensive place, but we don’t want to be known for [being inexpensive], either,” Kremp says.

After owning her main store for three decades, Stoecker has her demographic down pat—women who are 35 to 65, with a secondary snowbird demographic that buys during the winter. When she opened her second store just 45 minutes away about six years ago, she was surprised to find a different mix. The highest percentage of buyers there are older, with the second group 18 to 30.

Being in a college town, “we sell a lot of loose stems; we’re their little gift niche for the $7 to $25 range,” Corbin says of Radford City Florist. “More importantly with your students, they are your recipients. We’re getting money outside of town that’s coming from the phone lines or Internet.”

The online segment

Speaking of orders coming in from the phone and Internet, they’re typically a significant percentage of a flower shop’s sales—and that makes a good website all but a necessity.

With that in mind, Designs of the Times Florist is rolling out two new websites, one of which will show people what their bouquet will look like when it arrives, as well as what it looks like in full bloom. This feature will help to manage expectations and give people the information they crave. “Consumers today are a lot more savvy,” Stoecker says. “Clients are more informed about individual products than I can remember in 30 years of owning the store.”

At Radford City Florist, Internet sales have increased 50 percent every year. “A true online sale where the customer shops online, orders online, and the order rolls into us is a small percentage [of our overall sales], but it’s not to be ignored,” Corbin says. What’s more likely is someone browsing the website first, then picking up the phone to complete the transaction. “They still want that personal contact; they want that comfort and that assurance,” he adds.

Whatever form the sale comes in, the purpose is the same: to create a memorable experience that encourages repeat visits. “For the most part, we’re dealing with a perishable product—[the challenge is] providing a top-quality product and being able to manage that in a way that customers receive it in optimal condition and come and use us next time,” says Kremp. “You can go to a supermarket or Home Depot, and they sell orchids and green plants, but the value of coming to us is a nicer plant in a presentation that you’re not going to find at other places.”

Floriculture is no shrinking violet— per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, it accounted for $35.2 billion in sales last year in the United States.


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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is a Seattle-based freelance writer who 
specializes in retail, travel and health topics. Learn more at www.haleyshapley.com.

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