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Feature Story
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 fine-tune 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.

Big Sellers
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.

Motivated Staff
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.

Promoting the Holiday
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.”

Customer Service
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 customers.”

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 mums.
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 the store.
Cross-Merchandise Other departments, such as bakery and general merchandise, work with the floral departments to promote the holiday.
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 departments
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 in 2003
Established In 1936; Ahold acquired Giant Food LLC in October 1998
Employees 27,000
Director of Floral Pete Poutre

You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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