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Feature Story

Build your wedding business

Florists reveal their strategies for satisfying those toughest of clients: brides.



by Monica Humbard

One of the best ways to get wedding work is through word-of-mouth advertising. Super Floral Retailing talked to three supermarket floral designers with thriving wedding businesses and found that the keys to winning recommendations are to demonstrate your knowledge about everything from the flowers to the reception locations and to make each bride feel her wedding is the most important one for which you’ve ever designed.
Here are strategies for building your wedding business, and in “Three Brides’ Stories” (starting on Page 28), you’ll find satisfied brides’ perspectives on what their supermarket florists did to make their wedding flowers memorable.

building relationships
Margette Jobin, floral manager/ designer at the Price Chopper Central Market Florist in Clifton Park, N.Y., says one of her secrets to success in wedding work is her ability to build strong relationships with both her brides and representatives at the reception venues. She goes on every delivery for the weddings she designs to make sure that what the brides want is done.
To avoid scheduling conflicts with reception venues during set-up, Ms. Jobin works closely with the sites to plan timetables that work for everyone. After she sets up for a wedding, she always leaves her business cards. Some of the largest reception locations in Upstate New York now refer their clients to her floral department.
Ms. Jobin’s efforts go beyond working closely with the reception locations. From the first consultation, she strives to make brides feel confident in her abilities and as though their weddings are her own. As a result, she has families return for weddings of bridal couples’ siblings as well as for flowers for past bridal clients when their children are born. “You build business by building relationships,” she says.
Part of building a strong relationship with wedding clients involves being honest with them. Sometimes that means telling them what they don’t want to hear—maybe a flower is out of season or it won’t hold up. The key is to have at least one solution. For example, Jodi Evans, floral manager for a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa, says many wedding magazines today are showing lilies-of-the-valley in bouquets, but it is hard to find high-quality flowers year-round. To solve the problem, Ms. Evans suggests brides use silk lilies-of-the-valley in their bouquets. She says brides are open to this type of assistance.
Jon Strom, vice president of floral and lifestyle merchandising for Price Chopper, a 115-store chain in six Northeastern states, puts a lot of importance on building relationships with the brides. He suggests seizing moments such as when another florist has turned away someone or when a bride suddenly has no flowers on the morning of her wedding. This is the time to step in and save the day. While this takes a lot of extra effort, Mr. Strom says, there is a tremendous bond built, which generally results in future business.

 
experienced wedding designers
 
 
 

  Floral Manager/Designer Margette Jobin has handled more than 500 weddings during her 13 years at Price Chopper’s Central Market Florist in Clifton Park, N.Y. Three of the store’s five full-time designers oversee about 125 weddings a year. The average cost is from $1,500 to $2,500, but Ms. Jobin has done several ranging from $4,000 to $7,000. Her floral department delivers, sets up and rents a variety of wedding accessories, including different styles of chuppahs.

  Floral Manager Lori McKenna is one of five full-time designers on staff at her Hy-Vee in Des Moines, Iowa. If the store needs additional help for weddings, it calls on other Hy-Vees for assistance. The store’s average wedding includes four to five bridesmaids, up to 20 boutonnieres and as many as 20 table centerpieces. Ms. McKenna says her brides are looking for the “most bang for their buck.”

  Jodi Evans, floral manager for the Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa, designs weddings whose costs average several hundred dollars, but she has sold some that cost in the thousands. She estimates that about 20 percent of her department’s sales each year is from wedding business. The store has three full-time designers, so it can handle up to three weddings a weekend. Ms. Evans says her average bridal customer does not need centerpieces but rather flowers for the wedding party and altar bouquets.
 
 

personal consultations
The best way to ensure a perfect wedding is to start out on the right foot. All three floral managers we spoke with insist on personal consultations. While they won’t turn away brides who drop in to discuss their services, they do ask brides to make appointments with the designers with whom they will work throughout the planning process.
Floral Manager Lori McKenna is one of five designers who conduct wedding consultations at a Hy-Vee in Des Moines, Iowa. Consultations take place in a room near the pharmacy. Ms. Evans uses her Hy-Vee’s dining area for her consultations, and at Price Chopper, Ms. Jobin utilizes an office space.
During consultations, all these floral designers show the brides photo albums of previous weddings their departments have designed for as well as commercial wedding flower selection guides. If the brides choose, Ms. McKenna will order the flowers and create small mock-ups. Likewise, Ms. Jobin shows her brides samples of what they have discussed.

pricing
Mr. Strom calls pricing for weddings an art, and his company has special training on pricing every other year. If you are just getting into the wedding business, he suggests charging for all extra services from the beginning.
Supermarkets have different philosophies on whether they charge for all the flowers ordered or only the ones used. While Ms. Evans says her department charges only for the flowers that are used and sells the rest in the store, Ms. Jobin charges for all the flowers ordered but attempts to work all of them into the wedding arrangements.

training
Ms. McKenna says it is crucial to have well-trained designers who know what they are talking about. Before designers at Ms. McKenna’s store consult with brides, they must train on the job under the other designers and sit in on consultations until Ms. McKenna is sure they can provide a high-quality experience for brides.
Mr. Strom also believes that a successful wedding business is driven by the employees. At Price Chopper, all floral designers must take an FTD Group, Inc. design class to receive FTD certification. They do not handle consultations themselves until they have sat in on a few with another designer.
To further develop employees’ design skills, Price Chopper offers advanced design classes. The chain also pays for its designers to take classes offered by wholesalers.

 
Three brides' stories (1)
 
 
 
“exceeded our expectations”
“Incredible” is how one New York bride’s mother described her family’s experience with Margette Jobin, the floral manager and one of three wedding designers at Price Chopper’s Central Market Florist in Clifton Park, N.Y. “She exceeded our expectations,” Phyllis Shapiro says.
Ms. Jobin was recommended to Ms. Shapiro and her daughter Jennifer Lee by a friend who had two daughters married in one summer. When Ms. Shapiro mentioned Ms. Jobin’s name to others, they also spoke highly of her work. Ms. Lee admits she was a little apprehensive about using a supermarket florist, but she trusted the two brides who recommended her.
When Ms. Lee met with Ms. Jobin, she knew what she wanted, right down to the types of flowers. She shared her ideas and pictures of what she was looking for. Ms. Lee confesses she is “pretty picky,” but by the end of her initial consultation, she could tell Ms. Jobin “knew her stuff.” She was impressed with her knowledge of the flowers and reception sites. At their second meeting, Ms. Jobin won her confidence with a sample centerpiece that was exactly what she wanted.
Not only was Ms. Lee impressed by the fact she could get more for her money, she says she appreciated how Ms. Jobin listened to what she said and was honest if she thought something wouldn’t work. In addition, she liked Ms. Jobin’s ability to come up with solutions when something she requested wouldn’t work. When Ms. Lee wanted candles down a staircase but was faced with the problem that they had to be enclosed, Ms. Jobin came up with a solution that involved floating candles.
Ms. Shapiro says Ms. Jobin was easy to work with and is the only florist she will use now. Since the wedding, both mother and daughter have recommended her to friends.
 
 

           
 

promotion
Although nothing can replace word-of-mouth advertising from brides as well as their guests, you still have to promote your wedding business in other formats. Both Ms. McKenna and Ms. Evans’ Hy-Vee floral departments advertise in area newspapers’ bridal sections. Price Chopper also advertises in bridal guides in major newspapers as well as on the radio, and last year, it created a television commercial that airs periodically.
Mr. Strom strongly recommends a presence in the store to promote wedding business to regular shoppers. In addition to large in-store signage, most of the Central Market Florists in larger Price Choppers have areas with tables, chairs and wedding arches, where designers conduct consultations with brides.
Before Ms. Jobin had built up such a following, she took pamphlets and sample bouquets to Chamber of Commerce business mixers. She says this tactic increased her business.
Sometimes excellent work is rewarded with free promotion. One of Ms. Jobin’s weddings recently was featured on top wedding planning site The Knot, www.theknot.com. Her location has become so popular for wedding work that she recently had to add a third designer for weddings. Her store now can handle up to seven weddings a weekend.
Most successful supermarket wedding businesses also take part in bridal shows. Hy-Vee floral departments in the Des Moines area share a booth at their company’s bridal show in the Hy-Vee corporate office in West Des Moines twice a year, where they display 15 to 20 bouquets. The show also includes a variety of wedding-related vendors, such as travel agents and photographers. In addition, the Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa, has its own annual wedding show at the store as well as occasional wedding displays.

 
Three brides' stories (2)
 
 
 
over-the-top service
Another mother-daughter team was impressed by Margette Jobin’s talents. Karen Brewer, the mother of the bride, was surprised at the florist’s knowledge of both the wedding venues and the flowers and appreciated her honesty about what flowers would work and what wouldn’t.
The bride, Stephanie Rovero, wanted callas for the boutonnieres, but Ms. Jobin was concerned about their durability and suggested white Cymbidium orchids instead. She added a little pink to the groom’s boutonniere, and both mother and daughter were happy.
Ms. Brewer also was pleased at the one-on-one attention her daughter received. Ms. Jobin sat down with Ms. Rovero and talked about budget, expectations, types of flowers and colors. Ms. Rovero brought pictures of what she liked to their second meeting. After they had discussed everything, Ms. Jobin created a mock-up, which Ms. Brewer says was really important to her and her daughter. While the mock-up captured the look they wanted, Ms. Brewer says the actual flowers were even better.
Throughout the experience, Ms. Brewer says, she felt Ms. Jobin was accessible, always promptly answering her e-mails. In fact, Ms. Brewer remarks, Ms. Jobin went above and beyond. When the candelabra Ms. Jobin had ordered for centerpieces came in shorter than they had anticipated, she found taller ones they could borrow. Ms. Brewer says the centerpieces turned out beautifully.
The family also thought the price was reasonable. The second quote they had from a traditional florist was $4,000 more than Price Chopper’s.
Since the wedding, Ms. Brewer has referred four people to Ms. Jobin. Ms. Brewer has two more daughters and a son who aren’t married yet and says she wouldn’t hesitate to use Ms. Jobin again for their weddings.
 
 

           
 

getting started
If your floral department is thinking of developing a wedding business, Mr. Strom advises, don’t go into it halfway. Before you start, make sure your design skills are up to par and that you are confident in your abilities. If you are not sure you can do it well, he says, you shouldn’t do it at all. Failed attempts only hurt your overall floral business with bad word-of-mouth.
The same applies to delivery services. If you can’t guarantee reliability, start out with pickup at the store. As you gain experience, you always can increase your services.
Unfortunately, Mr. Strom concedes, most people still don’t think of supermarket florists when they plan the most important day of their lives. He says overcoming this perception is the No. 1 thing supermarket florists must do to become successful. The only way to do this, he says, is to build a reputation for good service and high-quality flowers that is promoted by happy, satisfied clients.

 
Three brides' stories (3)
 
 
 
making the bride no. 1
Jennifer Wilson was referred by a friend to Jodi Evans, floral manager at the Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa. Ms. Wilson’s friend told her that Ms. Evans was creative and gave her everything she wanted and more.
From the first meeting, Ms. Evans made Ms. Wilson feel that she was not just another bride. “She made me feel that my wedding day was the most important one ever,” Ms. Wilson recalls.
The bride had an unusual request. She wanted to copy the look of her grandmother’s wedding flowers from a black-and-white photograph, but it was difficult to tell what the flowers were. Ms. Evans not only captured the look of the garden-style bouquet but also was able to customize it with Gerbera daisies, Ms. Wilson’s favorite flower.
For the reception, in addition to providing fresh floral decorations for the individual cakes Ms. Wilson’s mother made for each reception table, Ms. Evans coordinated with Hy-Vee catering and put flowers around all the chafing dishes.
Throughout her experience, Ms. Wilson says, Ms. Evans always was willing to accommodate her needs. When the Alstroemerias came in bluer than originally discussed, Ms. Evans immediately called Ms. Wilson and asked her to come look at two solutions. Ms. Wilson chose to have Ms. Evans add another pink flower to the mix, which made the Alstroemerias seem less blue.
Although Ms. Evans already had gained this bride’s confidence that the wedding flowers would be perfect, on the Saturday morning of her wedding, Ms. Wilson was delighted to see her—not another staff person—there to set up.
Ms. Evans even helped the wedding coordinator create a huge heart made out of red rose heads on the bed in the couple’s honeymoon suite. Rose petals were sprinkled from the door to the bed.
Since her wedding, Ms. Wilson, who now lives in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., has recommended Ms. Evans to friends in Iowa. “People should never underestimate the abilities and creativity of supermarket florists,” Ms. Wilson says.
 
 

         
 

 

 
tips for a successful wedding operation
 
 
 
Here are some suggestions for improving your wedding operation from Hy-Vee, Inc., based in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Price Chopper, based in Schenectady, N.Y., two chains that have built reputations for top-notch wedding services.

• Build strong relationships with brides.
• Insist that brides schedule a consultation with their own personal designer.
• Select a location in your store for consultations where you will have few interruptions.
• Always be honest with brides about whether you think something will work.
• After a bride has chosen her flowers, show her a mock-up of a bouquet or centerpiece.
• Downplay problems by immediately proposing other options or solutions.
• Seize “save-the-day” moments that can build lifetime bonds with brides.
• From the beginning, charge for extra services, such as delivery, setup and transportation of flowers from one location to another.
• Develop a strong working relationship with wedding venues in your area.
• Leave your business cards at reception sites for future referrals.
• Advertise in bridal sections of area newspapers and magazines.
• Participate in bridal shows in your area.
• Promote your wedding business to regular customers through in-store signage and occasional displays.
• Get involved in the community and local clubs where your store is located to
cultivate future business.
• Gain corporate support for wedding services by showing their profit potential, community-relations benefits and marketing opportunities for your other
floral services.
• Don’t offer wedding services or expand your wedding business until you are sure you can provide the high-quality service brides will expect.
 
 

You may reach reach Monica Humbard by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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