Year-round excitement at Lin's Marketplace
manager’s knack for promotions wins customer loyalty at this
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Year-round customer excitement is the goal at Lin’s
Marketplace in St. George, Utah, where Floral Manager
and Events Coordinator Sandi Probst combines her
passion for flowers and a talent for organization to create
over-the-top celebrations that bring in new shoppers and
keep loyal ones coming back.
At the five-store Lin’s Marketplace, a banner of
cooperatively owned wholesaler Associated Food Stores,
Inc. (AFS) of Salt Lake City, Utah, management
recognizes that in this difficult economy, “We’ve got to do
something other than just offer grocery products on a
shelf,” reminds Rich Jensen, Lin’s regional vice
president. “We’ve got to create some type of excitement and
a fun atmosphere in our stores.”
That’s why the company has events coordinators in each
store, something it started about three years ago. “Each
store evaluates its team members and identifies those
individuals who have the energy and the foresight to pull
those plans together and create something fun for the
community as well as the team members,” Mr. Jensen explains.
The enthusiastic Ms. Probst was a logical choice for
the St. George events coordinator position. “Creating
displays with themes has been my passion for many years,”
Ms. Probst shares. “It brings a new energy to our store.”
Confirms Mr. Jensen, “She’s a poster child for keeping
things lively and staying active in the community.” The
strategy is working, too. In addition to regular customers,
“We see a nice influx of new faces when we have these
events,” he shares.
a year’s worth of
Ms. Probst and a team
of store employees plan and carry out the promotions, which
often involve floral in a prominent way. The events start
with Valentine’s Day and culminate with a huge open house
for the Christmas holidays, now in its 10th year.
“Each year it gets bigger and bigger,” Ms. Probst remarks.
For 2009, she threw a “Fabulous Fifties”-themed
rock-’n’-roll party featuring cardboard Elvis Presley and
jukebox props, associates dressed in 1950s-style clothing,
music from the decade and a local car club’s ’50s-era
automobiles in the parking lot for customers to admire.
Bouquets, arrangements and
plants were cross-merchandised with candy, cards, “dinner
for two” from the meat department and baked goods. Customers
“were just overwhelmed,” Ms. Probst recalls, and she heard a
lot of “wows.” The promotion also won an Honor Award for
Best Theme Development from the “Merchandising Award of
Excellence” contest, sponsored by Super Floral Retailing
and Börgen Systems.
Because St. George, in southern Utah, is a desert community,
Lin’s can open the outdoor nursery during Valentine’s Day.
“The patio area entering the store transforms into a
fragrant garden full of mixed pots, baskets, five-gallon
containers of Jackson & Perkins roses, and racks of
annuals and vegetables,” Ms. Probst describes. The colorful
spectacle delights customers through Memorial Day, earning
40 percent of the store’s floral sales during that time.
Last season’s top sellers were vegetables, which Ms. Probst
attributes to the recession.
The nursery is an area
that the store uses to further Lin’s Marketplace’s
reputation for community commitment. “Lin’s wants to create
an extraordinary experience for our guests through being
partners in the community we serve,” Ms. Probst shares. Last
spring, she invited students from the high school’s
Future Farmers of America (FFA) program to display their
garden crops in the nursery, with signage indicating Lin’s
support. Everything sold in three weeks, and the profits
financed FFA events. Ms. Probst already has plans for a
bigger partnership next spring.
In August, the store celebrated Founders Day in honor of
Lin and Reva Ortin, who began the company in
1955. This first-time event was so successful that all five
Lin’s Marketplace locations will celebrate Founders Day next
year. Ms. Probst and her team found antique photos of the
company and displayed them in the store, invited Ortin
family members and encouraged reminiscing. The celebration
was a way of “telling our story of who we are,” Ms. Probst
offers. A local television station and St. George Magazine
covered the event.
“As we move into the fall and our snowbirds come home to the
warmer climate, we are ready to show off our next big event
with ‘Pelee’ mums in all varieties,” Ms. Probst recounts.
Pumpkins also are showcased. In addition, football season
brings opportunities for floral and other departments to
“This is our biggest event,” Ms. Probst confides, with
giveaways, entertainment, product sampling and more. The
November open house “is an opportunity to show our community
what we can do in our store to help [customers] with their
Ms. Probst and her
committee decorate the entire store, both inside and out.
Ms. Probst commissions local schools, with a $25 donation to
each one, to create artwork, and the store hangs it from
garland for customers to see. The floral department is
prominently featured in the promotion, showcasing a huge
display of poinsettias, Christmas cacti and centerpieces for
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
School choirs, some as large as 185 children, also come
and sing, with the entertainment changing every half hour.
Each department offers giveaways to thank customers for
their patronage; floral’s freebies include roses, bouquets
and scented cones and, toward the end of the day, the
Customers also can make donations to local assisted
living centers through an “angel tree” that has cards
requesting gifts. The customers bring the gifts back to the
store, and Ms. Probst delivers the gifts to the centers. The
open house “is really giving back to our community and
telling them thanks for all of their support over the
years,” she explains.
St. George, Utah
Associated Retail Stores (ARS),
a subsidiary of wholesale distributor Associated Food
Stores, Inc. (AFS)
1955, by Lin and Reva Ortin
Five (four in Utah and one in Nevada)
Averages 33,000 to 36,000 square feet
500 to 600 companywide
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE
1-2 per store
Some custom design service; free delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS
Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
GEORGE FLORAL MANAGER
marketing to the community
To make sure
customers know about upcoming events, the store takes
advantage of all available marketing outlets. Events are
advertised on the radio and in the newspaper, and the store
also participates in many off-site events. “Sandi does a
great job in staying in the community’s eyes,” Mr. Jensen
comments, by representing the store at local chamber of
commerce events and business expos.
For example, Lin’s Marketplace is the only supermarket
invited to an annual “What Women Want” expo, which draws as
many as 30,000 women in the fall. “We are over there to
advertise our holiday open house plus give people an
opportunity to know where we are located and who we are,”
Ms. Probst shares. “I love taking the store out of the
keys to success
Sandi Probst is both floral manager and events coordinator
at the Lin’s Marketplace store in St. George, Utah. She
helps plan events that create customer excitement about the
store and its products. The floral department also uses
newspaper and radio advertising, in-store signage created by
parent company Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS) and fliers
to get the word out.
Stores can order through AFS or local wholesalers, allowing
for greater flexibility and catering to their own customers’
needs. Products are delivered twice a week to ensure
Expert in-store merchandising keeps customers interested in
floral. Ms. Probst changes the look of the department
weekly, and when she visits other retail locations, she
checks out and takes photos of their displays for
inspiration. AFS also encourages excellent merchandising by
offering a “Masters of Merchandising” competition for all
Inside the store, the
floral department serves as its own powerful marketing tool.
Floral is at the entrance, where a colorful showcase of
bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, and
giftware entices customers to stop and make impulse buys.
Mr. Jensen says floral adds more than ambience to Lin’s
Marketplace’s stores; it is important to the company’s
competitive strategy. “Any supermarket these days has to
have that fresh presence in floral to round out a shopper’s
visit,” he emphasizes. “Without it, you can leave many
shoppers going to your competition. If you’re not in the
floral business, they’re going to find someone that is, so
you can lose a lot of sales.”
Ms. Probst changes displays weekly to keep customer
interest high. She usually resets the department on a
Thursday to help boost weekend sales.
flexibility in ordering
procures most of its products from wholesalers and local
growers, with advertised items coming from AFS. Each Lin’s
Marketplace floral manager orders for his or her store, and
products are delivered twice a week.
The biggest-selling item at the St. George store is a
dozen-rose bouquet for $12.99. Ms. Probst estimates she
sells about 30 a week during the winter, the store’s busiest
time. Mixed bouquets range from $7.99 to $19.99.
Arrangements, from $14.99 to $39.99, are purchased
ready-made from a wholesaler in Nevada. The reliance on
ready-made arrangements is a result of tightened labor
dollars, Ms. Probst says. “I miss [designing arrangements]
terribly,” she admits. She does create vase designs for
customers who pick out bouquets and ask for that service,
and she also designs most of the dozen-rose arrangements the
Foliage plants are big sellers in the St. George store,
especially for funerals and hospital visits. Dish gardens
and planter baskets do especially well for those occasions,
carrying price points from $14.99 to $99.99. Fall mums and
African violets are favorites in the blooming plant
category, averaging $3.99 for 4-inch plants. Ms. Probst says
customers love her 6-inch poinsettias, which she procures
from a local grower and sells for $7.99.
a loyal following
Another key to the
store’s floral success is customer service. Ms. Probst, who
has a part-time associate in the department, offers free
delivery as a courtesy and spends time talking with
customers about their needs, what grows best in the desert
climate and their day-to-day lives. As a result, “I have
very loyal customers,” she says. “They become your family
after a while.”
Mr. Jensen says those kinds of relationships, nurtured
by caring associates and enhanced by store events, help
Lin’s retain its core customers. “They’re the ones that keep
coming back,” he points out. “They’re the ones that shop
your entire store rather than just cherry-pick your ad
items, and those are the ones that really have made us what
Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of Lin’s Marketplace