A new program at Giant Eagle moves
flowers and plants to center stage.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Eagle, Inc. is all about making shopping easy and convenient.
That’s why its stores offer services from dry cleaning to child
care. And that’s why the company has overhauled its floral
departments during the past year and a half to create a more
focused, streamlined operation that’s easy for customers to
The Pittsburgh, Pa.-based privately owned chain is constantly
innovating to differentiate itself from its competitors in
Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It has 223
corporate-owned and franchised, independently owned supermarkets
operating under the Giant Eagle banner, and in 2003, the company
launched GetGo convenience and fuel outlets. Customers responded
to the combination of Giant Eagle products and in-and-out
convenience, and the number of GetGo outlets has quickly grown
to more than 100. In 2006, the company debuted an upscale
gourmet concept called Giant Eagle Market District with two
prototype stores in Pittsburgh.
The company’s growth efforts are paying off, with $6.2 billion
in sales in 2006, according to the Directory of Supermarket,
Grocery & Convenience Store Chains, and the No. 32 ranking on
Forbes magazine’s list of the nation’s largest private
companies, up two spots from 2005. It has a 50 percent market
share in its hometown of Pittsburgh as well as in the combined
Ohio markets of Cleveland, Akron and Canton, Grocery
Headquarters magazine reports.
In the competitive market of Columbus, Ohio, where Super Floral
Retailing visited one of Giant Eagle’s traditional supermarkets
last summer, the company has a 12 percent market share, for
fourth place, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. In
first place is The Kroger Co. at 38.2 percent, followed by
Meijer Inc. at 14.6 percent and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. at 14.2
percent. The company entered the Columbus market seven years ago
and currently has 22 stores in the area.
giant eagle, inc.
CHAIRMAN, CEO AND PRESIDENT David Shapira
STORES 223 Giant Eagle supermarkets in Maryland, Ohio,
Pennsylvania and West Virginia; two Market District gourmet
supermarkets; 110 GetGo convenience stores
SALES $6.2 billion in fiscal 2006, according to the
Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
STORES' AVERAGE SIZE 75,000 square feet, with stores
varying from 60,000 square feet to more than 100,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES 36,000, averaging 200 per store
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Depends on store size; averages two to
five per store
FLORAL SERVICES Custom designs and events; some stores
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
KEY FLORAL PERSONNEL Debbie Snyder, floral category
manager for buying and merchandising; Dan Moison, fresh-plant
buyer; and Lisa Simmons, floral hard-goods buyer
meeting shoppers’ needs
store that Super Floral Retailing visited seeks to stand out
from that competitive environment by offering 100,000 square
feet of merchandising excitement. The expansive store has
exposed ductwork and a color palette of stylish reds and browns
for a trendy effect. The service-heavy supermarket is laid out
in the “store within a store” concept, and each department has
its own look.
The huge “Farmers Market” produce department, at the front of
the store, has distinctive merchandisers filled with colorful
selections and its own stone tile flooring. In the café,
customers can sip Starbucks cappuccinos or enjoy fresh sushi
under a tin-style ceiling. The spirits department, called “The
Wine Collection,” has a walk-in, closed-door room for its finer
selections, including bottles of Dom Pérignon champagne for $150
each. The greeting card area—“The Card Party”—has wood flooring
and is as big as a stand-alone card shop. The pharmacy has the
feel of a free-standing drug store, with several aisles of
The store takes care to meet shoppers’ every need, as well. The
“Eagle’s Nest” offers free child care while parents shop.
Customers can drop off or pick up clothes at the “Dress for
Success Dry Cleaners” at the front of the store. The deli offers
entrees like Cajun salmon and grilled flank steak for busy
families, and the meat department has cut-to-order service.
floral sets the tone
The spacious floral department, at the front next to produce,
sets a tone of freshness for the entire store. It, too, is set
on stone tile flooring, helping to differentiate it from the
rest of the store. A large work station at the center is
surrounded by bouquets, consumer bunches and green plants,
enticing customers to come near. Tables and step merchandisers
are filled with cut flowers and blooming plants. Coolers offer
more bouquets and artfully designed arrangements for customers
to grab and go.
Giant Eagle began retooling its floral departments in August
2006 to create inviting, easy-to-shop departments that put the
spotlight on flowers and plants. Debbie Snyder, floral category
manager for buying and merchandising, explains that the
departments previously promoted their products with vignettes of
intermingled flowers, plants and hard goods. The company found,
however, that too many choices overwhelmed customers. “We
watched them, and we saw that a lot of them, especially men,
would turn away because they were confused,” she confides. “They
didn’t know what they wanted to buy.”
To eliminate customer confusion and make shopping choices
easier, Giant Eagle streamlined and condensed its offerings by
putting the focus on fresh. Now customers see mass, colorful
displays of flowers and plants, grouped by variety, color and
price points. “It’s getting away from a lot of the show that we
used to do,” remarks Dan Moison, fresh-plant buyer. “It’s not
about the show as much
about the product.”
Although Giant Eagle has gotten away from giftware in its floral
overhaul, it continues to sell vases and containers—“anything
that can do with upgrading plants or fresh bouquets or bunches,”
Ms. Snyder says. Mr. Moison, Ms. Snyder and Lisa Simmons, the
floral hard-goods buyer, work together to select the products
based on the company’s streamlined approach. “We try to
coordinate the plants and fresh bouquets along with the hard
goods to get the look we want in the departments,” Ms. Snyder
remarks. The vases aren’t intermingled with the fresh products;
they’re on shelving in separate areas.
keys to success
FLORAL OVERHAUL The company has retooled its floral
departments to emphasize fresh products and take any confusion
out of floral purchases.
COMMUNICATION AND TRAINING The floral managers and
corporate team meet at least six times a year to discuss
upcoming promotions. The floral buyers send product care sheets
to the floral managers with every shipment so they can give
correct care to their florals.
FRESH PRODUCTS Deliveries are made at least three times a
week, and the company buys from local, high-quality growers when
ADVERTISING The floral operation has a section in the
weekly newspaper ads. Radio spots advertise floral during
holidays. The company’s Web site touts its floral departments.
The floral team aims to keep customers interested in the
departments by coordinating weekly themes or product “seasons,”
planned at least a year in advance. Ms. Snyder sends weekly
merchandising plans to all the stores so there’s consistency
throughout the company. Typical product seasons include
poinsettias, hardy mums, bedding plants and Easter lilies, and
during each promotion, the departments brim with those products.
Giant Eagle also has increased its consumer education efforts,
offering care and product information on its florals. The idea
is that educated customers are more apt to buy, Ms. Snyder says.
Signage in a recent Alstroemeria promotion included photos from
a May Super Floral Retailing article that showed how long the
flowers can last with proper care.
And although the company declines to release sales figures, Ms.
Snyder shares that the new floral focus “has been the best thing
that we’ve ever done.” Customers say the departments “look
fresher, are easier to get in and out of, and it’s easier to
make decisions,” she comments.
Many customers are buying consumer bunches and bouquets, the
floral operation’s top-sellers. Bright-colored flowers,
especially Alstroemerias, roses and Gerberas, sell best. During
Super Floral Retailing’s visit, customers could buy
mix-and-match bunches, three for $12.99.
Best-selling bouquets range from $12 to $15, and rose bouquets
are customers’ favorites. They also prefer a more European,
hand-tied look for their bouquets, Ms. Simmons reveals.
In addition, customers can choose from arrangements in the
cooler or ask to have designs custom-made while they shop. Most
stores offer full design services including for proms and other
Mr. Moison, the fresh-plant buyer, reports success with seasonal
pushes. “Whether it’s poinsettias or Easter lilies, it
definitely seems to be where we’re seeing some of the best
growth” in plant sales, he remarks. Foliage plants, mostly in
the 4- and 6-inch sizes, also sell well, as do 10-inch floor
plants, he says.
Orchid plants are a strong and growing
Mr. Moison says. As part of its community outreach, Giant Eagle
buys orchids at certain times of the year from the horticulture
program at Bidwell Training Center, a nonprofit
vocational/technical school in Pittsburgh that offers free
training to the unemployed and underemployed. “It’s a very good
product, so it’s a win-win for everybody,” he shares. Giant
Eagle also procures orchids from Hawaii. Orchids in stylish
containers sell for $25.99.
A new initiative for floral is its Market District candy line.
The private label gourmet candy has its own merchandiser with
the Market District logo and offers an option for customers who
want to pair candy with their florals.
Giant Eagle sources most of its floral products direct from
suppliers, who ship them to the company’s distribution centers
in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Floral managers place orders
through the corporate office, and deliveries are made to the
stores at least three times a week.
“We are very committed to our local growers, as well,” Ms.
Snyder comments, for such products as bedding plants and hardy
mums. “We’re not just going out there always looking for the
best price. We do look at quality and consistency and
reliability from our vendors.”
That local connection offers quick turnaround, ensuring optimal
freshness and quality, she says. And, Mr. Moison points out,
sourcing products locally is important to some customers.
A commitment to quality is seen throughout the floral program,
including in the way the new initiative was launched. The
corporate floral team, including its six floral specialists, had
group meetings with the department managers to explain the
change and train them on the new procedures. During the
transition period, the floral specialists and Ms. Snyder, Mr.
Moison and Ms. Simmons teamed up and reset the stores.
Ms. Snyder reports initial resistance from some floral managers,
who, she said, were used to “having all the show, the glitz and
the glam” in their floral displays. But after seeing the
results, she says, “they will tell you that it’s easier to
maintain and take care of.”
Communication is key to working through those kinds of issues.
The floral managers, buyers and specialists meet at least six
times a year to share information about upcoming sales events
and for training. The floral specialists are in the stores
regularly, offering support and feedback. In addition, the
specialists and the buyers meet at least once a week to discuss
The company is adding a seventh floral specialist, which Ms.
Snyder says underscores Giant Eagle’s commitment to floral. “We
put a lot of emphasis on floral,” she points out. “We’re not
just there to decorate the store and make it look good.”
You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan by e-mail at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)