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Feature Story
 
Say "I Do" to Weddings
 
by Monica Humbard

Supermarket departments find nuptial florals can be a profitable business.

One of the most underestimated services at some of today’s supermarkets is wedding floral. However, more and more bridal couples are discovering that their local supermarket florists can accommodate their needs. As a result, these satisfied customers are sharing their experiences with others.
Super Floral Retailing talked to several floral managers to discover how they’ve found success in the wedding business. Whether you already offer wedding services or are considering adding them, you can learn from the wisdom these floral experts have shared on staffing, equipment, pricing and getting the word out.

PROFITABLE NICHE
Joyce Good, an FTD master florist and the wedding consultant at Kroger Store 430 in Memphis, Tenn., says 70 percent of her wedding business is from word of mouth. She estimates that her store, which is the design center for her division, does about 15 to 20 full-scale delivery weddings a year that average $2,000 each. Another 40 to 50 each year are smaller weddings where items such as bouquets and boutonnieres are picked up at the store. Although weddings are less than 5 percent of her department’s business, she finds them to be a profitable segment.
Diana Smith, an FTD master designer and the lead floral manager at Kroger Store 616 in Little Rock, Ark.—another store in Ms. Good’s division—does about 12 weddings a year that average $300 each. Her floral department doesn’t usually deliver or set up because its staff isn’t large enough. In fact, Ms. Smith is the only designer on staff. Although wedding floral can be time consuming for her, she, too, considers it profitable.
Joyce Maffeo, floral training specialist for Victory/Hannaford Bros. Co., says 12 of the 20 original Victory stores handle wedding work. (Victory, based in Leominster, Mass., was purchased by Hannaford Bros. Co., a subsidiary of Delhaize America, at the end of last year and is now part of a 142-store chain.) The busiest Victory location does about 145 weddings a year. The average cost of the weddings Ms. Maffeo oversees is $600 to $800. However, the chain has done weddings that cost more than $3,000, with some wedding bouquets costing as much as $300. Ms. Maffeo says weddings are definitely profitable for the chain. At one store, which sometimes handles 12 weddings in one weekend, 15 percent of sales for the department comes from weddings.

TRAINING YOUR STAFF
The largest Victory/Hannaford Bros. store has five designers on staff, but no one specializes in weddings. In fact, no new staffers start out doing wedding work. New designers work on everyday floral orders first and are gradually trained to do wedding work. At first, new designers shadow experienced designers working on bouquets. Next, they work solo on bridesmaid bouquets. Later, they move up to bridal bouquets. Eventually, they start handling consultations. Ms. Maffeo says the stores need several designers trained to do consultations because they have many appointments following bridal expos.
Not all Kroger stores handle weddings. Ms. Good’s division (the region including Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky) has 120 flower shops with 20 master florists on staff. At each flower shop, the number of designers varies. Ms. Good’s floral department in Memphis has four full-time designers, and her store does the largest amount of wedding business in her division. But like the Victory/Hannaford Bros. stores, no one is assigned to do just weddings. Ms. Good, however, does handle all the consultations at her store and personally creates each bridal bouquet.
Because Ms. Good’s store has a larger floral staff than others in her division, her staff sometimes helps out smaller departments at other stores, such as Ms. Smith’s and another in Jackson, Tenn., when they have large weddings.

THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Ms. Good’s store in Memphis has owned its equipment, such as candelabra, since it started doing weddings. Over time, it has added to the selection. Ms. Good stresses that she does not rent individual pieces out. The store uses the equipment only if it handles the entire wedding.
Not all Kroger stores have their own wedding equipment, so sometimes, when it is not in use, Ms. Good loans hers to other floral departments in her division. She considers having the equipment a good investment for her store, because it does not have to rent items. Ms. Good estimates the value of the equipment available to stores in her division at about $10,000.
Victory/Hannaford Bros., on the other hand, does not own its own equipment. Instead, it rents from The Boston Flower Exchange. Ms. Maffeo considers this more cost effective for her company because it has access to a large variety of equipment without having to use its own financial resources to purchase it all. Brides at Ms. Maffeo’s stores can choose the equipment they want from the photo albums of previously done weddings, which are available at each store.

HANDLING CONSULTATIONS
When meeting with bridal couples for the first time, both Ms. Maffeo and Ms. Good utilize their stores’ cafes or restaurants. However, Ms. Good also will go to her clients’ offices upon request.
To help brides make floral decisions, both stores offer wedding design books from The John Henry Company. Ms. Maffeo also has Teleflora books as well as her own albums of photos from previous weddings. She has different ones for bouquets, centerpieces and boutonnieres. She believes the photo albums are especially useful. “They give them [brides] a higher comfort level with our ability,” she says.
Each store in the Victory/Hannaford Bros. chain creates its own photo albums from past weddings, but Ms. Maffeo says the chain has discussed making them more uniform from store to store.
After each consultation, Ms. Good checks costs, figures the amount of the order and faxes the quote to the bride. Ms. Maffeo, on the other hand, gives brides cost estimates before they leave the consultations based on a formula she designed that allows her to determine costs quickly. For example, with bouquets, she starts with a base price. Each bouquet holder is priced with greens and ribbon. All flowers are categorized into a price structure. All her costs, including labor, are added into the cost of each flower. For example, to add a single sunflower is $4.
Ms. Maffeo and her associates do a lot of mock hand-tied bouquets. The most popular is an 18-stem rose bouquet with a base price of $125. If the bride wants to include other flowers, Ms. Maffeo adds on the price of each based on her chart. If the bride wants a mixed bouquet, Ms. Maffeo figures the cost for each flower. “This unifies the pricing and allows consultants to give pricing on the spot,” she says.
Ms. Maffeo does not give out the pricing structure to her clients because she is afraid someone might take it to a competitor who would try to undercut her prices.

GET IT IN WRITING
Pulling off a dream wedding means having everything worked out down to the finest detail—whether it is the date that the final payment is due or the time that the flowers must arrive at the wedding site. Because there are so many issues to cover in a consultation, Ms. Maffeo asks wedding clients to sign a contract. Last year, she worked with Diane Trainor, the chain’s bakery training specialist, to develop a wedding contract so that the correct procedures would be clear to customers, whether or not everything was discussed in the consultation.
The contract defines when deposits and final payments are due. Ms. Maffeo stresses the importance of collecting the final payment at least two weeks before the wedding date. If it is collected the week of the wedding, she says, you run the risk of having a check bounce after the wedding. The contract also explains that the bridal couple does not receive a refund if the wedding is canceled three days or fewer before the wedding.
Ms. Maffeo stresses the importance of making everything clear. The chain even has a delivery contract to clarify the exact times items are delivered to the home, church or reception location. She says this is especially important when a store has 12 weddings in one weekend, and each may have several different delivery times. Victory/Hannaford Bros. will deliver wherever necessary. Ms. Maffeo says stores have delivered flowers two hours away.

GO TO BRIDAL FAIRS
Because many bridal couples still don’t realize that supermarket florists can handle weddings, it is important to promote yourself. One of the ways Victory/Hannaford Bros. stores get the word out about their wedding capabilities is by participating in bridal fairs/expos. Last year, the chain won “Best of Show” at the Original Wedding Expo in Shrewsbury, Mass.
At large shows, such as the Original Wedding Expo, Victory/Hannaford Bros. presents an enormous booth with 50 to 60 bouquet samples. The chain also supplies bouquets for the bridal fashion show. At smaller fairs, the chain is sometimes the exclusive bouquet designer for the fashion show.
Ms. Maffeo, who always attends, takes her top designers along with a few of the newer ones who need experience. “On the show day, I want the best people there,” she says.
She admits that clients tend to gravitate to the stores with larger floral departments because most of the designers at the shows are from those stores. The brides build a rapport with them and will drive long distances to work with a particular person. All the original Victory stores are within 100 miles of each other. (Hannaford Bros. floral departments did not handle wedding business when it purchased the Victory stores.)

GETTING THE WORD OUT
Another way Victory/Hannaford Bros. stores reach potential clients is through a full-page advertisement in the bridal magazine published by the Original Wedding Expo. The chain also has wedding images on the sides of its floral vans.
In addition, Victory/Hannaford Bros. publishes a brochure that covers both wedding floral and cakes. The floral and bakery departments promote their wedding business together, which Ms. Maffeo says helps increase business.
The wedding brochure covers packages for every season. To give potential customers an idea of the cost, Victory/Hannaford Bros. gives a set price for flowers, a cake and centerpieces for a certain size wedding. Ms. Maffeo says this at least gives customers a good “starting point.”
Ms. Good admits that advertising isn’t a priority for her because word of mouth brings in so much business. However, Kroger’s advertising department handles all formal promotion of the wedding business. Ms. Good says her department also passes out FTD pamphlets to potential clients and cross-merchandises with the store’s catering department (not part of the deli), which does party trays and cakes. The two departments do not offer packages, however.
Although these florists acknowledge that pulling off customers’ dream weddings is not an easy task, they say wedding business has great profit potential for supermarket floral departments if they handle it professionally and meet customers’ expectations.

TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS
Here are some ways supermarket florists ensure they best serve their wedding clientele.
• Clearly outline procedures, requirements and delivery times in contracts.
• Meet with bridal couples at their workplaces if it is more convenient.
• Define pricing formulas that allow consultants to give couples cost estimates before they leave their consultations.
• Determine what the bridal couples want by using some type of sample books or albums.
• Showcase your designers’ talents in photo albums of previous weddings.
• Participate in bridal fairs/ expos to ensure bridal couples are aware of your services.
• Gradually train new designers to handle wedding work. Start them by shadowing experienced designers and working up to consultations.

You can reach Monica Humbard at mhumbard@superfloralretailing.com
or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2004
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.