Getting Into Supermarket Services

In the past 15 years, as supermarkets have increased the size and sophistication of their floral departments, many have become experts at generating impulse purchases, which now account for as much as 80 percent of supermarket floral sales. But what about planned purchases? How can supermarkets get their floral products on the customer’s shopping list? For supermarkets that are not content with capturing the impulse market, the only option is to go head to head with retail florists by offering special services, including custom arranging, upgrading and decorating, acceptance of major credit cards, and, where possible, wire service and delivery.

But making the transition into a service-oriented operation is not a step to be taken lightly. Supermarkets that say they offer full-service need to be able to back up the claim with the attention, time, labor and follow-through that is a daily requirement of a service department.For starters, it is difficult to operate a service-oriented department on anything less than 40 hours a week. To get the job done effectively requires at least one full-time employee who is responsible for overseeing the department, and one or more part-time employees who can take care of many of the basic tasks and also fill in for the department manager on days off and during vacation.

Personnel must be knowledgeable and trained not only in handling floral tasks but in how to sell and how to work with customers. They must be readily available during peak sales hours, and visible, working out on the sales floor not in the back room.

Duty hours should be posted in the department with instructions about who customers should see for assistance after regular business hours. The person who works after hours must have a minimum amount of training, and should at least know how to decorate a plant, wrap a bouquet of fresh flowers, inflate a balloon and write up a special order.

In the service floral department, the floral clerk should be the first one to speak, asking customers if they need any special assistance. Don’t wait for customers to approach the counter to ask a question. Also, always remember that the customer comes first before telephone calls, watering plants, lunch hours and quitting time. Customers never should be given the impression that they are interrupting your work.

When adding services to a floral department, start gradually. In other words, wait before you run. Initially you may want to offer only custom arranging and decorating. The best way to promote this service is to display plenty of examples with a large sign advertising the fact that you will do special design work on request.

Your fresh-cut case should contain a selection of assorted bud vases and various styles of arrangements. A good selection of single stems also should be available to give customers something to choose from when placing a special order. Let your customers know that unusual and exotic flowers, or special colors, can be obtained with advance notice. Be sure to give customers instructions on how to care for their arrangements. If customers plan to pick up an order after business hours, make certain they know where to look, or who to look for to locate it. Pricing should be discussed when the order is placed, not when it is picked up.

The same principles apply to other item categories that are offered in the floral department. Examples of different styles of silk and dried flower arrangements should be displayed, particularly specialty items such as corsages, wreaths and door decorations. Make sure you have signs up that tell customers about the variety of products you offer for special occasions, such as balloon bouquets, birthday mums and gift baskets.

Your foliage and blooming plant tables should be kept full, and should feature a reasonable selection of varieties. Again, place a small sign on the display letting customers know that if they don’t see what they are looking for, other varieties can be ordered.

Once your floral department has mastered handling small special and custom orders on a regular basis, you might want to tackle larger special orders such as funeral or wedding designs. Larger orders should be accepted only if they do not interfere with the daily operations in the floral department, and more importantly, if they will make a profit for you. If you take many orders costing more than $30, it is probably a good idea to accept major credit cards.

Often, supermarket floral departments become so anxious to emulate all the services of retail florist that they bite off more than they can chew. Wedding work is very labor intensive. It also requires many special supplies, which can result in an excessive inventory. When working on a wedding, beware of two potential pitfalls. One is getting so caught up in filling a wedding order that you ignore the rest of the department. The other is spending more on supplies than you will make in profits on the order. It is easy to purchase $200 worth of supplies and then wind up clearing only $150.

Wire service is another amenity that should be offered only when you are capable of handling other custom services. There are numerous wire services available; choosing one depends on individual circumstances and on whether or not you can meet a wire service’s requirements. For example, some require that you have delivery. If you offer wire service, make certain someone in the store can take orders correctly and courteously, whether by telephone or in person.

Delivery is a service that increasing numbers of floral departments are providing, but it can be a very complicated and expensive undertaking. It should be attempted only by those that have extensive experience operating a floral department. A viable option to running your own delivery service is to use a local independent delivery company and then pass the service charge on to your customers.

As supermarket floral departments continue to grow more sophisticated, the necessity to compete directly with retail florists will increase. However, becoming a full-service floral department requires training and experience, and a strong commitment to always offer customers something extra. Services can enhance a floral department’s profits and its professional image, but only if a supermarket steers a careful course.

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