by Cynthia L. McGowan
Giant Food LLC shares its strategies for a successful holiday.
Giant Food LLC, a division of Ahold USA, believes that offering
top-quality floral products made by highly trained and qualified
employees who practice excellent customer service are the keys
to its successful floral operation. At Mother’s Day, that
philosophy means profits and satisfied customers.
Mother’s Day is the Landover, Md.-headquartered chain’s
second-biggest holiday, after Valentine’s Day, says Kenny
Clevinger, floral specialist. Giant Food LLC, which has 205
stores in four states and Washington, D.C., starts planning for
the next year’s holiday as soon as the previous year’s is over,
with floral managers filling out surveys saying what they will
need. In the fall, Giant Food LLC’s procurement office has a
show where all the chain’s vendors bring in products to a
central location and preliminary ordering takes place. During
these meetings, vendors also look at what sold and what didn’t
do as well during the previous year’s Mother’s Day, and use that
information to help the company make buying decisions.
Rick Bren says he and the chain’s five other floral specialists
get together to
the numbers and talk to all the chain’s floral managers before
actually booking product. “May being Mother’s Day, I would say
that product’s booked as early as March,” he says. Final booking
takes place in April.
Giant Food LLC draws repeat customers for its popular blooming
hanging baskets, and the chain promotes them heavily at Mother’s
Day. Indoor plants and hanging baskets represented 32 percent of
the chain’s 2004 Mother’s Day sales. Last year, as in previous
years, the chain “did a huge promotion” on the baskets, says Mr.
Bren, selling two 10-inch blooming hanging baskets for $15.
The chain also introduced a new promotion: Shoppers could buy
two baskets and get one free. David Lessard, marketing manager
for Giant Food LLC, says, “Most customers, generally, based on
our data, buy two or three baskets per purchase, so we figured
that if they can buy two, there’s the third coming right behind
that. It really did well.”
But the top sellers for Mother’s Day last year, Mr. Bren says,
were cut flowers, serving up 45 percent of sales, and roses were
the No. 1 customer choice. Outdoor bedding plants, at 22 percent
of sales, were also popular.
The chain also promotes its upscale gift baskets. Debbie Vargo,
floral specialist, says the baskets contain an assortment of
luxury items to pamper mothers, including candles, potpourri,
bath salts and specialty soaps, and they “do really well for
Mother’s Day.” The floral departments make the baskets as early
as 1 1/2 months before the holiday to free up staffers to work
on custom arrangements and special orders, an important
component of the chain’s Mother’s Day sales.
About 90 percent of Giant Food LLC’s stores contain full-service
floral departments, staffed with at least three certified
florists who can design custom arrangements and respond to
customers’ special requests. In addition, each store has
employees who are cross-trained in floral and can help during
the busy seasons. For example, they can take ready-made
bouquets, put them into upscale vases and add ribbon to them for
added rings through the register. “That’s a huge seller in our
company,” says Mr. Bren.
Giant Food LLC is a big believer in training and offering
opportunities to its employees. The company’s six floral
specialists are responsible for training and development at the
store level. These floral specialists each have at least 20
years’ experience in floral, for a combined total of 150 years
in the industry.
Before the Valentine’s Day holiday, the floral specialists led
classes for cross-trained store employees. In those classes, the
employees learned basic floral arranging and other skills, so
they could help the floral departments during their busy times.
The chain also plans to do the classes for Mother’s Day. John
Barrett, marketing manager for Giant Food LLC, says the
employees loved the classes, “because if they have a desire to
become a florist, they know they have, within their grasp, an
opportunity to learn something that will improve the dynamics of
them becoming a florist.”
Having these cross-trained employees ready for Mother’s Day is
crucial to the success of the operation, because Giant Food LLC
is busy at the time with prom season and weddings. The chain
does a growing wedding business, with its busier stores having
20 to 30 weddings a year. Having the cross-trained employees
frees up the florists to design custom arrangements, and Giant
Food LLC relies very little on ready-made arrangements.
As soon as Easter is over, the chain starts merchandising for
Mother’s Day as well as Administrative Professionals Week. The
corporate marketing department provides signage, including
22-inch-by-28-inch signs that detail what Giant Food LLC’s
trained, certified florists can do for the customers.
Giant Food LLC runs newspaper advertising for its Mother’s Day
promotions, but, says Mr. Barrett, its most important form of
advertisement is its merchandising in the stores. During
Mother’s Day, that means customers will see rows and rows of
bedding plants and blooming hanging baskets on the sidewalks.
Inside, the departments are decorated in pastel colors, the gift
baskets are grouped together and the signage is incorporated
into the theme. “When the customers see a really great themed
department, it catches their eyes,” he says. “A lot of the sales
are impulse sales once the customers arrive in the store.”
Giant Food LLC also excels at cross-merchandising, says Mr.
Lessard. “Bakery and general merchandise play a very active role
in that cross-merchandising statement as you walk into the door.
For all holidays, we have a complete store effort that really
tries to make Giant the entertainment/holiday headquarters.”
Another key promoter is quality work. “A lot of our business is
repeat business from previous years,” says Mr. Bren. “Our work
speaks for itself.”
An important difference between Giant Food LLC and other floral
operations is its level of customer service, “our No. 1
priority,” says Mr. Bren. Customers are able to get from a Giant
Food LLC floral department anything they can from a traditional
floral shop, he says. “We pride ourselves on our customer
service,” he says, “and the individual service we give our
Preakness blanket is a winner for Giant Food LLC
Giant Food LLC takes great pride in providing the floral blanket
for the Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Race Course in
Baltimore, Md. Last year, the chain not only created the blanket
but also generated customer excitement, drew media attention and
spurred a huge spike in sales during the week of the race.
The Preakness is the second jewel in thoroughbred racing’s
Triple Crown, and Giant Food LLC has been providing the blanket
for about 10 years and plans to do so again this year. For the
2004 race, the chain’s York Road Plaza store, which is located
close to the racetrack, was chosen to create the blanket.
Customers watched the blanket being made right in the store,
“and that generated a lot of curiosity and a lot of excitement,”
says Kenny Clevinger, Giant Food LLC floral specialist.
The floral department created a “Maryland Days” theme, complete
with Maryland flags, sunflowers, bales of straw, posters of past
Preakness winners, horse balloons and ‘Viking’ spray mums, the
flowers that made up the blanket. To create even more fun in the
store, the floral department had a drawing for a huge gourmet
gift basket, with the winner being the person who most closely
estimated how long it would take to make the blanket. (It took
22 hours.) Stores throughout the chain also promoted the event
with posters and ‘Viking’ spray mums.
Of course, the main event was the making of the
7-foot-long-by-22-inch-wide blanket. The store actually made two
blankets, one for the “Pimlico Special” race on May 13 and one
for the next day’s Preakness. Mr. Clevinger and fellow floral
specialist Debbie Vargo along with florists Rose Lindsey and
Tammy Mowler assembled the blanket using 1,500 ‘Viking’ spray
To make the blanket, says Ms. Vargo, the designers used pieces
of wire to attach Smilax to rubber matting (that is used in the
produce department and has holes in it). They then attached the
‘Viking’ mums to the matting with wire. When all the blooms were
on, they sewed felt to the bottom of the matting to make sure
there was nothing that would hurt the horse. “It’s pretty firm,”
Ms. Vargo says, “and it stays together very well.”
Giant Food LLC provided the blanket for just the cost of the
flowers. In return, the chain received credit at the racetrack
with a billboard that stated that Giant Food LLC had made the
blanket. In addition, local newspapers and radio and television
stations covered the making of the blanket at the store. All the
attention paid off in the form of a 48.7 percent sales increase
for that week over the previous year. Chainwide, sales were up
7.83 percent that week.
Making the Preakness blanket offers more than just attention and
sales for one week, however. It means increased standing in the
eyes of customers and a competitive edge, says David Lessard,
Giant Food LLC marketing manager. “When the customer sees the
type of quality work that can be done with this Preakness
blanket, that really gives Giant the edge in the marketplace in
who are the experts. Because if the Preakness chose Giant Food,
we’re not just a supermarket floral operation, we’re really
specialized in what we do, and I think that right there really
speaks for itself. If we’re good enough for the Preakness, we’re
good enough for really anything.”
Keys to Mother’s Day success
Customer Service Giant Food LLC makes customer service
its top priority and makes sure to provide high-quality, custom
designs and individualized service to its shoppers.
Start early Giant Food LLC floral departments make upscale gift
baskets at least 1 1/2 months before the holiday.
Cross-Train The chain’s nonfloral personnel are trained
in the basics of the floral operation, freeing the floral staff
to work on custom designs.
Promote Giant Food LLC stresses “theater” in its
merchandising. Through signage, high-quality displays and color,
the floral departments get the attention of customers already in
Cross-Merchandise Other departments, such as bakery and
general merchandise, work with the floral departments to promote
Have A Signature Item Giant Food LLC is known for its
blooming hanging baskets. The chain promotes them heavily at
Mother’s Day, and the promotion pays off with high sales.
Giant Food LLC
Headquarters Landover, Md.
Stores 205; 90 percent of stores have full-service floral
Locations Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, District of
Columbia and Virginia
Parent Company Ahold USA; Giant Food LLC merged with
corporate sibling Stop & Shop Supermarket Cos. in February 2004
Sales Together, Giant Food LLC and Stop & Shop had sales
of $15.4 billion in 2003; Ahold USA had $26.9 billion in sales
Established In 1936; Ahold acquired Giant Food LLC in
Director of Floral Pete Poutre
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
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