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store profile

Floral impact at Loson's Big M

Full-service departments help this independent stand out from the competition.
by Cynthia L. McGowan

     In 1990, brothers James and Joseph Loson, owners of independent Loson’s Big M in Lyons and Clifton Springs, N.Y., had a decision to make about their floral business—go full service or continue offering flowers and plants only during the holidays.

     “We were building a new building” at the Lyons location, James Loson recalls, after the previous store was destroyed by fire, so the brothers had the opportunity to expand. “Knowing that we did a nice job with flowers and that it was a lucrative thing at holiday time,” he says, “we knew we could put in a florist and make it another resource center.”

     The decision paid off immediately, thanks to the steps the company took to create a professionally run florist, including building a 900-square-foot department, hiring experienced designers and subscribing to wire services. “It proved to be very, very successful right out of the gate,” Mr. Loson confirms.

successful business

     The expanded department proved so successful that the company added full-service floral to the other store, in Clifton Springs. Floral “just adds another dimension to the grocery business,” Mr. Loson remarks.

     In Lyons, a town of 5,000 near Lake Ontario that has only one other florist, the store draws clientele from several surrounding communities. Floral is a high-volume department, and at one point, it contributed 2.5 percent toward total company sales, but that has declined to 1.5 percent more recently because of the toll the recession has taken on the area’s economy and people’s wallets. Still, Mr. Loson comments, “It is an integral part of our business.”

     It’s also part of the company’s strategy to stay competitive as bigger retailers like Walmart move into the area. With Loson Big M’s 22,000 square feet in Lyons and 16,000 in Clifton Springs, compared with 100,000 for Walmart, “We’re at a disadvantage in a small town,” Mr. Loson explains. The company uses its full-service amenities, including catering, bakery and floral, to set itself apart from its bigger competitors.

     That strategy, coupled with friendly service, appears to be working. “We have a good name out there,” Mr. Loson confirms. “The community patronizes us quite well, and we appreciate that.”

full range of services

     In Lyons, the department’s services, provided by the floral manager, Julie Carlson, and part-time designer, Paige Stoep, include custom designs; FTD flowers by wire; and full-service weddings, funerals and events. “We do everything a regular florist does,” confirms Mrs. Carlson, who has been with the store for 12 years and previously owned her own floral shop.

     The two designers also will create arrangements for customers while they shop, but Mrs. Carlson says most are happy to choose from the large selection in the cooler. All the arrangements in the cooler are created by Mrs. Carlson and Mrs. Stoep, and although they make sure to stock it before leaving for the evening, it often is depleted by morning.

     Weddings and funerals are important business for the department. The average wedding floral bill at Loson’s ranges from $500 to $800, and a recent nuptial event had a flower bill of $3,000. The store doesn’t advertise its wedding services, preferring to get the word out through satisfied brides.

     The department works closely with families and the town’s two funeral directors to make sure all the floral needs are handled well. “We do all funeral work—casket sprays, standing sprays, baskets, everything,” Mrs. Stoep describes. “We really try to cater to the community.”

     The department has a full-time driver to handle the large amount of deliveries—as many as 25 a day during holidays and 10 a day during normal periods. Loson’s Big M charges $5 for in-town delivery and more for outlying areas.

     The designers interact well with customers, asking their color choices and flower preferences to ensure they get orders just right, Mrs. Stoep describes. To further enhance customer/employee involvement, the work counter is on the shop floor so that shoppers can watch the creative process. “They find it interesting,” she continues.


 

  loson's big m  
 

LOCATIONS Lyons and Clifton Springs, N.Y.
OWNERS James and Joseph Loson
YEAR OPENED 1962
STORE SIZE 22,000 square feet in Lyons; 16,000 in Clifton Springs
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 900 square feet
COMPANY EMPLOYEES 150
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Per store: 1 full time; 1 part time
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals including custom designs, weddings, funerals, events, delivery and FTD flowers-by-wire service
FLORAL’S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES 1.5 percent
FLORAL MANAGER, LYONS STORE Julie Carlson
FLORAL DESIGNER, LYONS STORE Paige Stoep
WEBSITE www.losonsflowershop.com

 

drawing attention to the department

     The floral department is at the back of the Lyons store, so Mrs. Carlson and Mrs. Stoep employ a variety of visual merchandising techniques to attract customers. They make sure the department is always filled with bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, balloons, and giftware. And because sell-through is so quick, the merchandise changes often, which helps keep customers’ attention.

     The staff also designs innovative merchandising displays. Mrs. Carlson recalls a recent holiday display that Mrs. Stoep created involving what appeared to be a large Christmas package on a wall. Creative ideas like that draw customers—“We have people who come just to look at our displays,” Mrs. Carlson enthuses.

     Signage is another important merchandising tool. During holidays, the floral staff puts up reminders on plywood signs next to the nearby highway and at the store’s front door. “As people drive by or walk in, they are reminded that we are here,” Mrs. Stoep explains.

best-selling florals

     Colorful bouquets of carnations, chrysanthemums and Alstroemerias are the top-selling floral item, with prices ranging from $5.99 to $9.99. The department has a limited stem program, offering roses for $1.99 each and carnations for $1 a stem.

     Customers favor centerpiece-style arrangements, averaging $25 each. The clientele typically chooses more conservative, traditional styles, but “sometimes we’re surprised,” Mrs. Stoep describes, and they’ll purchase modern designs.

     Blooming plants, including Cyclamens, mums, various bulbs, Gerberas and roses, sell well, Mrs. Carlson reveals. Their prices range from $7.99 to $24.99. Also popular are dish gardens, from $18.99 to $65.

sourcing for price and quality

     Mrs. Carlson sources floral products from a variety of suppliers including the company’s distributor, C&S Wholesale Grocers; local wholesalers; and Canadian growers, in a quest for both the lowest prices and best quality. “We shop a lot,” Mrs. Carlson emphasizes. “I have all sorts of people that I call to find out the most economical price,” which she says is important to her customers.

     Quality is just as important. “Paige and I are extremely fussy on the freshness of our flowers,” Mrs. Carlson shares. “If they’re not the way we would want them for our houses, we don’t use them.”

     They receive flowers every day of the week and process them immediately when they arrive. That attention to quality ensures customers will come back, remarks James Loson. “Our reputation is our calling card,” he emphasizes. “Somebody can get a flower arrangement at home today, and the flowers aren’t falling on the table in three days. That speaks volumes for repeat business.”

     Loson’s Big M’s flowers also have a 100 percent guarantee. If someone has a problem with a purchase, Mrs. Carlson says, she will go to his or her home to replace it. “I will go after it, even if it’s out of town,” she says. “When I say it’s 100 percent satisfaction, I want everyone to be very happy with what they get.”

customer loyalty

     That kind of attention to quality and satisfaction results in repeat business and customer loyalty, Mrs. Carlson reports. Shoppers write notes to express how happy they were with their purchases, and some even bring in flowers to show how well they are faring weeks later.

     They also tell others about their experiences at Loson’s Big M. “Our work is our advertising,” Mr. Loson shares, “and we have found that the words that come out of customers’ mouths seem to do us the most justice.”

     That response from customers affirms the decision to add full-service florals the brothers made back in 1990. “We’ve been at it 20 years,” Mr. Loson remarks, “and it’s been a wonderful addition to our grocery business.”

 

 

keys to success

 
 


SERVICE
The designers at Loson’s Big M offer customers a full range of floral services, from custom designs to weddings and events.

PRODUCTS Floral products are sourced for both quality and price. Floral products are delivered every day, assuring freshness.

GETTING THE WORD OUT The store publicizes its flowers and plants through word-of-mouth, its website and newspaper ads.

 

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

Photos courtesy of Loson's Big M

Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2011
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.