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store profile

A new kind of partnership


At Harps Food Stores, floral and general merchandise team up for success.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     Floral operations in supermarket chains often are stand-alone departments or under the produce umbrella. So when Harps Food Stores, based in Springdale, Ark., decided to merge floral with general merchandise (GMD) in 2001, the company was venturing into unchartered territory.

     “I’ve yet to run into anyone that has floral with general merchandise,” acknowledges Bob Yehling, Harps’ director of general merchandise operations. “It is unique.”

     The unconventional marriage has proved to be a successful one for both floral and GMD, and the move reflects Harps’ ability to develop creative strategies in a competitive marketplace, a key reason it has thrived in Walmart’s backyard.

a growing company

     The employee-owned Harps has 65 locations in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, with a goal to have 100 stores within the next five years, through both new construction and acquisitions. “We are definitely growing,” Mr. Yehling offers.

     In the past, Harps built stores as big as 68,000 square feet, but the company discovered that those large stores were not the way to compete with Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, Ark., fewer than 20 miles from Harps’ headquarters. Instead, Harps’ standard store design is now 31,500 square feet, which allows the company to build more locations and increase sales volume.

     It’s a strategy that is working, Mr. Yehling says. “We’ve been battling Walmart since 1963, and we’re the only one that has survived in this area,” he remarks.

strong in general merchandise

     Another way Harps has differentiated itself is through its general merchandise department. “We’re pretty strong in GMD,” Mr. Yehling reports. The company offers high-quality products at competitive prices and promotes them well. “We are very big in seasonal and holiday promotion in GMD,” Mr. Yehling shares. “We have designated space in our stores for this,” including on nearly every end cap. In addition, the stores make sure to cross-merchandise fresh products with GMD items.

     That’s why, in 2001, it made sense to Harps to build on that strength and add floral to the GMD umbrella. It already had full-service floral departments in about 20 stores, but the longtime floral director, Jean Ann Boyer, was preparing to retire. She proposed the floral-GMD merger to the company president, Mr. Yehling recalls.

     Ms. Boyer saw that GMD had the buying power and expertise needed to purchase the right hard goods to enhance the floral departments and their fresh products, such as containers and plush. “She thought we could incorporate that with floral and make a better program,” Mr. Yehling comments.

successful partnership

     Nine years later, Mr. Yehling says, the move “has worked out really well.” The two departments complement one another, with flowers and GMD’s upscale offerings pairing well. The merger’s success, he says, is thanks to cooperation between the GMD staff and Ms. Boyer, who stayed on as a consultant, giving the company the benefit of her floral expertise.

     “We’re on the phone with her at least every week to two weeks,” Mr. Yehling shares. “We fly her up here five or six times a year, she will help us through all the major holidays and she will assist us at some of the buying shows that we go to for the holidays.” Harps also sends her to the International Floriculture Expo (formerly The Super Floral Show) every year.

     The merchandising and administrative duties go to Mr. Yehling and the other members of the GMD team, including Randi Sharp, the floral coordinator, and four GMD merchandisers. At the store level, floral merchandisers report to the general merchandise managers.

     Floral and GMD work together to add to the overall ambiance of the stores and enhance customers’ shopping experience, Mr. Yehling remarks. The departments are at the front of the stores and are merchandised under strict guidelines to reflect a high-end look.

     “We do not clutter our departments,” Mr. Yehling declares. “We try to keep them very clean and neat and with simple price points.” If hard goods aren’t selling, they aren’t marked down in the floral departments; instead they are moved elsewhere. “We want the floral departments to have a positive, upscale image,” he emphasizes.

     In addition, all signage must be printed—nothing can be handwritten. Signage is posted in black frames that are standard for every department. Cooler doors must be free of signage so customers can see inside. All buckets must have price signage. “We go through a lot of signs,” Mr. Yehling acknowledges.


harps food stores   


Springdale, Ark.

AND CEO Roger Collins

Employee owned

65, in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma


Ranges from 17,500 to 68,000 square feet; all new stores are built at 31,500 square feet

size 350 to 600 square feet


One to three per store

Varies by store; full-service florals including custom designs, weddings, sympathy and delivery in three stores; FTD flowers-by-wire service in one store; limited service and cash-and-carry florals in others

Mother’s Day

Bob Yehling

Randi Sharp

Jean Ann Boyer


a range of floral services

     The floral departments are a mixture of full, limited and cash-and-carry service. The newly built 31,500-square-foot stores offer end caps for bouquets and arrangements, with room to expand during holidays. “Because [the stores] are smaller, we can’t put full-service departments in,” Mr. Yehling laments. “I’d like to, but there’s just not enough room.”

     Three stores have departments that offer a complete range of floral services including designs made while customers shop, weddings, sympathy and delivery. There are 20 limited-service stores that offer custom designs but no delivery or weddings.

     Floral employees are good at interacting with customers, and they have extra incentive for making sure shoppers are satisfied, Randi Sharp, the floral coordinator, shares. “We’re employee owned, so they own it,” she reminds. When the company performs well financially, the employees benefit, too, in the form of stock increases.

     “That is a big incentive for working here at Harps,” Mr. Yehling says, and it helps keep turnover low. In turn, employees “have incentive to take pride in what they’re doing.”

     Harps offers several training sessions a year to keep the floral and GMD associates up to date on trends, design and new products. Ms. Boyer leads the meetings, with products provided by Harps’ primary floral supplier, Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG).

     The seminars include hands-on design work, discussion of pricing and sharing of ideas. “They go back to their stores all pumped up” and ready to use what they learned, Ms. Sharp comments.

top-selling florals

     Ms. Sharp does all the buying and ordering of fresh goods for the floral departments, with AWG delivering flowers and plants once or twice a week. Bouquets, ranging from $3.99 to $14.99, are the top-selling floral item. A $5.99 “crazy daisy” mix sells best. Dozen-rose bouquets, at $8.99, also sell well.

     Mr. Yehling says the company chose not to offer a consumer bunch “three for $10” type of program because “to me, it just doesn’t show a quality image. You look like you’re just trying to sell a bunch of flowers quickly.”

     Arrangements are priced from $14.99 to $59.99 and higher. Harps often will place a showy arrangement, priced as high as $89, in a cooler to show customers what the floral staff can do. It might not sell every time, but it gets the message to customers that Harps designers have the skills and creativity for that kind of work, Mr. Yehling remarks.

     The cash-and-carry stores stock only ready-made arrangements from AWG. In the full- and limited-service stores, arrangements priced below about $25 often are ready-mades, but higher-priced options are made in the departments.

     Harps also has a successful outdoor business in the spring, selling a full line of lawn and garden products including bedding plants, hanging baskets and hard goods. The greenhouse business has its own staff from GMD, but floral associates help out when needed.

buying hard goods

     The GMD team visits close-out shows to buy discontinued but high-quality hard goods, ensuring it can offer customers low-priced, unique items including vases, picks, plush, balloons, ribbon and weights. The purpose of buying from the close-out shows is to give the floral departments an upscale look without the upscale price. “We can have a very expensive-looking vase with our arrangements at a very cheap price compared to everybody else,” Mr. Yehling shares.

     All hard goods go through Harps’ Discount Distributor warehouse in Springdale before going to the stores. The warehouse is also where the GMD staff creates Harps’ signature “Just Perfect” gift baskets, with prices ranging from $3.99 to $59.99. The baskets are offered for both everyday and holiday occasions.

     “Coke Packs,” which feature Coca-Cola products, candy and assorted items, are huge sellers at Valentine’s Day, with some stores selling hundreds of them. The prices range from $4.99 to $15.99. “It’s great for kids to grab for teachers,” Ms. Sharp relates.

keeping the departments fresh

     The floral staff is constantly changing the look of each department with resets and new products, Mr. Yehling shares. “It’s changing all the time,” he emphasizes. “Whatever is in season—we want something fresh.

     “We don’t want the same thing in the store week after week,” he continues. After all, “we have the same customers week after week, and they want something different.”

     And thanks to its willingness to try a new strategy, Harps is keeping those loyal customers’ interest high.


keys to success


The floral departments are at the front of Harps Food Stores, where they help create a fresh and inviting ambiance for shoppers.

FLORAL AND GMD Floral is part of the general merchandise department (GMD), a match that has worked out well.

TRAINING The floral and GMD staff attend training sessions that keep them up to date on design and new products.


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

Photos courtesy of Harps Food Stores.

Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.