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Albertsons in Weatherford, Texas, wins the 2008 "Merchandising Award of Excellence" contest.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

    Lisa Tapp, floral manager at Albertsons No. 4176 in Weatherford, Texas, took a gamble that her customers would respond to a Las Vegas-themed display for Valentine’s Day. Her “Casino of Love/Try Your Luck at Love on Valentine’s Day” display turned out to be a sure thing, capturing both sales as well as the grand prize in the 2008 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and Börgen Systems.
     The massive display, designed to replicate the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas casino, filled a 400-square-foot area of the store reserved for special promotions. Oversize dice hanging from the ceiling and huge balloon arches helped draw customers from all over the store to the display, which featured lighted slot machine replicas, a “Cupid’s Wedding Chapel” made from Big Red cartons, photos of show-business icons Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, Elvis videos and even an Elvis impersonator. The display showcased the store’s large selection of Valentine’s Day products including bouquets, arrangements, plants, balloons, gift baskets, candy, baked goods and much more.
     Says Albertsons Floral Director Debora Coleman, “When I walked into [Ms. Tapp’s] store this year for Valentine’s Day, I knew it was going to be a winner. Everywhere you turned around, it just all went together so beautifully.” The judges in the contest concurred, awarding Ms. Tapp an expense-paid trip to The Super Floral Show in Orlando, Fla., in June, where she was presented the Börgen Cup by Arden Börgen, founder and CEO of Börgen Systems, during the Keynote Luncheon.

planning her way to success
    Ms. Tapp, who is the first person to win the Börgen Cup twice with her win, after capturing the grand prize in 2006, says planning is the key to successfully pulling off such an ambitious display. She plans her Valentine’s Day promotions a year ahead and works on her display components whenever she has a spare moment and with items she has in the store or can find at a low cost. Ms. Coleman points out that by starting on the display early, Ms. Tapp and floral clerk Maria Castaneda were able to work on it during their normal allotted hours, avoiding overtime.
     For the slot machine replicas, Ms. Tapp wrapped floral boxes with wallpaper she discovered at a party-supply store, put lights on them for extra glitz and then stored the slot machines for later use. The dice were made from old signs she found in the store that she reinforced with yard sticks and then wrapped with plastic. The store’s Big Red and Dr Pepper vendors helped her make the wedding chapel as well as hearts that surrounded the display.
     Ms. Tapp created oversize playing cards that she placed in the center of the hearts. She had hoped to purchase the cards already made but couldn’t find any. Instead, she drew the King and Queen of Hearts herself on foam board with markers. “They were fabulous,” Ms. Coleman describes.
     The Elvis video setup also was an in-store do-it-yourself project. Ms. Tapp borrowed three televisions from the store’s former video department, and the grocery manager set them up so they would all play the same Elvis concert DVD at the same time. “Customers would come in and hear Elvis, and it would automatically draw them over,” Ms. Tapp recalls.
     The display was a huge hit with shoppers. “It’s like they were mesmerized,” she says. One woman told her, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” Ms. Tapp sold all her Valentine’s Day products, noting in her contest entry, “Elvis has left the building, along with everything else.”

  albertsons llc

OWNERS Cerberus Capital Management
CEO Robert G. Miller
SALES $6.0 billion in 2007 (estimated)
STORES’ AVERAGE SIZE 56,000 to 63,000 square feet
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral departments, with custom designs, weddings and funerals; some offer delivery
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Average 1.25 per store



the winning elements
     Elements that helped make the display a winning one included:
THEME Ms. Tapp used Las Vegas-style icons to cleverly tie into the “Casino of Love/Try Your Luck at Love on Valentine’s Day” theme. Customers immediately knew the theme from the dice, slot machine replicas and the wedding chapel. On the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, customers had their photos taken with a store employee who dressed as Elvis, which helped to engage them in the theme.
SIGNAGE The display’s signs also emphasized the theme. The oversize dice proclaimed the “Casino of Love” and encouraged customers to “Try Your Luck at Love on Valentine’s Day.” Playing cards served as backdrops for product signage, which was easy to read, identified the items and gave price points.
COLOR HARMONY Appropriately for Valentine’s Day, red dominated the color scheme. The Big Red and Dr Pepper cartons, slot machines and signage worked together for a well-coordinated look.
CROSS-MERCHANDISING The display offered products from throughout the store, including candy, fragrances and baked goods. The produce department also treated customers to chocolate-dipped strawberries.
PRODUCTS The store offered 12 types of mixed bouquets, ranging from $6.99 “everyday” styles to a $39.99, 25-stem design composed of roses, Gerberas, lilies, spray carnations, Alstroemerias, stocks, filler flowers and foliage. “It was gorgeous,” Ms. Tapp recalls. She used the flowers from the bouquet to create an arrangement that she sold for $145.
     Ms. Coleman says Ms. Tapp’s success with that pricey arrangement is indicative of her power to upsell. “She can turn $2 worth of merchandise into a $15 or $16 dollar retail item, and customers are pleased to pay it,” she shares.
     Two tables held bud vases, ranging in price from $9.99 for single stems to $15.99 for three-stem designs. Ms. Tapp and Ms. Castaneda also made custom designs throughout the promotion. Roses were the most-desired flowers for arrangements.
     One area of the display was devoted to the “Kids Corner” where children or people buying for youngsters could pick up gift packs of small Cokes, snacks and trinkets such as heart-shaped erasers. Ms. Tapp created the gift packs any time she had a spare moment, using plastic muffin containers from the bakery department. She put heart stickers on the outside and stapled them shut. She sold 200 at $2.99 and $4.99.
     She also makes the gift packs for other holidays such as Mother’s Day. “People go crazy over them,” she says, and they’re an easy money maker for her department. “We don’t have a lot of cost in them,” she says, “and it doesn’t take long to make them.”

  keys to success

MERCHANDISING Albertsons LLC’s corporate floral team works to put together a coordinated floral program, creating a well-merchandised look in the stores.
FRESH PRODUCTS The company emphasizes the importance of following the cold chain, from the growers to the stores. Deliveries are made two to three times a week to the stores, and flowers are processed immediately after they arrive.
PLANNING AHEAD By working far in advance of Valentine’s Day, the Weatherford store was able to create a huge and successful promotion without incurring overtime.



building customer excitement
     Ms. Tapp has become well-known in her community for her elaborate merchandising. The local newspaper wrote a story on her Valentine’s display last year (an Italian city, see the October 2007 issue of Super Floral Retailing for photos). Ms. Coleman says Ms. Tapp’s displays are a draw for customers. “They actually come out of their normal shopping pattern just to see what she’s done,” she marvels.
     This year was no different. Ms. Tapp and Ms. Castaneda began building the display two weeks before Valentine’s Day, and customers were saying, “I can’t wait to see what you’ve done this year,” Ms. Tapp remembers.
     And although such all-out promotions can’t be done for every display, Ms. Tapp makes sure to change her department often to keep customers’ interest up. “I don’t want them to come in and look at the same thing over and over,” she says, adding that changing the displays often draws customers and increases sales.
     Ms. Coleman says Albertsons encourages strong merchandising in the stores by coordinating product selection at the corporate level. She and the floral team have prebook meetings with vendors twice a year for major holidays, where they first select coordinating sleeves, pot covers and wraps. They then select complementary hard goods and finally meet with the cut-flower vendors and ask them to design styles that will go with the lines they have chosen.
     “When all the product comes into the stores, the merchandising all coordinates so that it’s a seamless thing. No matter where they move it within their department, it always will go together,” Ms. Coleman shares.

taking pride in quality
     Also important to Albertsons is maintaining the cold chain from the growers to the stores. “In dealing with and deciding upon the vendors that we’re going to use, that’s the primary [criterion],” Ms. Coleman comments.
     Products are sourced directly from growers, mostly in South America and some in California. The flowers and plants go to distribution centers and then to the stores, where deliveries are made two or three times a week.
     Ms. Tapp says fresh, long-lasting flowers are a primary reason her customers have made her their florist of choice. “Everybody I talk to says they will not go anywhere but here because the flowers are taken care of,” she shares. Adds Ms. Coleman: “She personally draws so many great customers into our store.”
     Ms. Tapp processes flowers immediately after they arrive in her store, and she is constantly cleaning buckets and retrimming stem ends. Providing high-quality, long-lasting products is a matter of pride for her. “I take that little extra step” with each flower, she says. “I feel like it has my name on it.”

Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at or (800) 355-8086.

Photos courtesy of Albertsons LLC

  the honor award winners

  Look for articles about the 2008 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” Honor Award winners in the September and October issues of Super Floral Retailing.
The Honor Award winners are:
Honor Award for Best Signage Donna Bennett, floral manager, and staff; Hy-Vee Overland Park No. 1; Overland Park, Kan.
Honor Award for Best Cross-Merchandising Patty Malloy, floral manager/buyer; Gordy’s County Market; Eau Claire, Wis.
Honor Award for Best Theme Aaron Cook, assistant grocery manager; Susan Meehan, produce manager; Barbara Split, floral specialist; and David Tapia, store manager; Publix Super Market No. 663; Brandon, Fla.
Honor Award for Best Color Harmony Kara Hagge, floral manager; Hy-Vee Urbandale; Urbandale, Iowa



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