Teaming up with firefighters on
Valentine’s Day is just one way this floral department attracts
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Cathie Thompson was looking for a
way to fire up business for Valentine’s Day last year. As the
floral manager of a new Coborn’s Superstore in Ramsey, Minn.,
and facing her store’s first Valentine’s Day, Ms. Thompson
needed a promotion that would attract shoppers’ attention, get
their sales and keep their business after the holiday was over.
Ms. Thompson more than accomplished those goals with an
innovative promotion that had local firefighters making
Valentine’s Day deliveries, with all delivery fees benefiting
the fire department. Her 2006 Valentine’s Day promotion, along
with other events she coordinates to attract customers to her
new floral department, serves as an example to other floral
managers looking for ways to increase their business.
OWNERS The Coborn family
HEADQUARTERS St. Cloud, Minn.
STORES 60, in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota,
South Dakota and Wisconsin, under six banners: Cash Wise, 9,
Coborn’s, 11, Coborn’s Superstore, 13, and Save-A-Lot, 4 (all
supermarkets); Holiday Station Store, 4, and Little Dukes, 19
CHAIRMAN Dan Coborn
SALES $720 million in 2005, according to the 2006
Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
FLORAL SERVICES Most stores provide full-service floral
with custom designs, weddings, funerals, delivery and Teleflora
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Valentine’s Day
FLORAL manager, Ramsey, Minn., store Cathie Thompson
the planning stages
Coborn’s Inc., a privately held company that is based in St.
Cloud, Minn., and has 37 supermarkets under the Coborn’s,
Coborn’s Superstore, Cash Wise and Save-A-Lot banners, is a
strong supporter of the communities it serves, Ms. Thompson
says. Working with the firefighters for Valentine’s Day was a
natural fit, especially for Ms. Thompson, whose brother is a
firefighter in another Minnesota city.
She had introduced herself to Ramsey Fire Chief Dean Kapler when
the store opened in September 2005, so approaching him about the
promotion was easy. He received permission from the city, and
Ms. Thompson began her planning in earnest.
First, she ordered products that fit with her fire theme.
Flame-embellished balloons had “You’re Hot!” on one side and
“Happy Valentine’s Day” on the other. Bouquets were called “Red
Hot” and “Hearts on Fire.” She also had traditional Valentine’s
Day products for sale, such as dozen red roses, ready-made and
custom-made arrangements, plush and other gift items.
Closer to the holiday, she launched an all-out publicity
campaign. She contacted a local newspaper, which featured a
nearly full-page article, including three large photographs,
about the promotion a week and a half before Valentine’s Day.
One of Ms. Thompson’s quotes in the article said, “When I first
met Dean [Kapler], the first week we were open, I told him I
wanted to become his favorite florist. Actually, I want to be
everyone’s florist.” In addition to providing information about
the Valentine’s Day products available, the article informed
readers that the floral department is full service, providing
flowers for weddings, funerals and special events.
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, the floral department created
bag stuffers full of information about the store’s offerings for
Valentine’s Day. One side was devoted to floral, with the words
“Have the Ramsey Firefighters Bring a Spark to Your Valentine”
The other side invited shoppers to visit the store’s other
departments for their Valentine’s Day selections, saying “Let
Coborn’s help you create your Valentine’s Day shopping list.”
Cross-merchandising is important to Coborn’s, and the flier
offered suggestions for every department. For example, in the
Meat Department, shoppers could find “sweetheart steaks,” shaped
like hearts, for their romantic Valentine’s Day meals; in
Bakery, they were enticed to try the triple chocolate delight
cheesecake; Produce offered strawberries; and even the Photo
Department got into the act, with discounts on photo
Ten days before Valentine’s Day, intercom announcements began
informing shoppers about the special deliveries. An example: “Is
your heart burning with love? The Ramsey Firefighters will help
to light that torch and deliver your Valentine flowers for you.
Go to the floral department and order yours today. And thank you
for shopping Coborn’s.”
the big day
Shoppers apparently heeded
the announcement’s advice, placing orders for 25 deliveries,
exceeding Ms. Thompson’s goal by 15. The firefighters delivered
the flowers in their Ford F450 and F150 fire and rescue trucks.
“As they all drove off, I prayed that we wouldn’t have a fire,”
Ms. Thompson confides.
There were no fires, just delighted recipients who told Ms.
Thompson that they were excited to see the fire trucks pull into
their driveways. And the promotion benefited the firefighters,
even more than the $222.50 that they received from the delivery
fees as well as donations. “They were grateful because they were
able to see their customers at a happy time,” Ms. Thompson says,
“not a vulnerable time—putting out their fires.”
The store benefited, too. Ms. Thompson exceeded her sales goal
by $500, she received tremendous exposure for her store and
floral department, and she gained new customers. The
firefighters’ spouses have become repeat customers, and Ms.
Thompson has prepared centerpieces for firefighter celebrations.
She plans to team up with the fire department again this year
for Valentine’s Day deliveries.
Thompson reaches out to the community in other ways, too, in
order to get exposure for her floral department and store. She
has had flower-arranging demonstrations for the local Red Hat
Society and the garden club, where she reminds the members that
they can get all their floral needs, including supplies and
floral foam, at her floral department. “They come to my store
now to shop,” she reports.
She also will be going into area schools soon as part of the
“Flowers for Kids” program, an initiative sponsored by
Ecuadorean growers that aims to instill in children a love of
flowers. (For more information on the program, go to
Her efforts are paying off as the store gains new floral
customers. Store Manager Nathan Tykwinski says the floral
program has grown consistently since the store opened. Although
he declines to say what floral contributes toward total store
sales, he offers that floral’s growth has been “at a little bit
better pace than the other departments within the store.”
He attributes that to the professional, high-quality work of Ms.
Thompson and her staff, which consists of two part-time floral
clerks as well as other part-time help during the holidays. “I
would more than put any of Cathie’s work up against any
independent floral shop in the area,” he says. “She does a
superb job with all of her products.”
the right products
And because each Coborn’s floral manager does his or her own
ordering, Ms. Thompson is able to buy products that fit with the
tastes of her clientele. She orders from several local vendors
as well as Supervalu, which supplies Coborn’s stores, and gets
floral deliveries as often as three times a week.
Bouquets are her best-sellers: Customers buy about 45 dozen-rose
bouquets a week, 30 half-dozens and as many as 90 mixed
bouquets. A favorite in that category has one ‘Stargazer’ lily,
two roses and fillers such as heather and baby’s breath.
A consumer bunch program lets customers create their own
bouquets. Customers go most for the Gerberas and spray roses,
Ms. Thompson says, and she also sells other popular flowers
including sunflowers, carnations, chrysanthemums, Hypericums and
Plants are important to the floral operation, too. Ms. Thompson
keeps “a great variety of sizes and shapes” on hand. Ivies sell
well, as do perennial chrysanthemums in the fall. “We go through
hundreds of those,” she says.
The cooler always is kept stocked with arrangements including
bud vases, dozen-rose designs and centerpieces for customers to
grab and go. Customers also can order custom designs and have
them made while they shop.
keys to success
PROMOTION Coborn’s Superstore in Ramsey,
Minn., takes advantage of opportunities such as presentations to
clubs and schools as a way to promote the floral department. The
store also advertises its floral products in the weekly
PRODUCTS The local floral managers order their own
products from trusted local vendors, ensuring that they are
getting the right florals for their customers.
SERVICE Full-service departments such as the one in
Ramsey can handle custom designs, weddings, funerals and other
events, ensuring they can meet all their customers’ floral
needs. The Ramsey store is open 24 hours a day, and the floral
department is staffed from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through
Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on
CROSS-MERCHANDISING Floral teams up with departments
throughout the store on promotions to get add-on sales and draw
attention to displays.
That kind of convenience is part of the niche Coborn’s has
carved for itself as a “one-stop shop,” Mr. Tykwinski says. The
store has a dry cleaner, drive-up pharmacy, photo lab, gas
station with convenience store, sit-down deli, bakery, video
rental store and liquor store.
The floral department is in a highly visible area near the
checkout stands. The spacious department has a large sign
overhead that says “Flower Shop / Weddings • Funerals • Special
Occasions • Teleflora.” Customers are drawn into the department
by a variety of colorful products that are attractively arranged
on wooden tables and glass and metal shelves. A pergola holds
hanging plants and features cut flowers and blooming and green
Ms. Thompson changes the look of the department every three to
four weeks to keep customers’ interest. She bases the style on a
color theme or seasonal promotion, such as weddings, when she
highlights the fact that her store, true to its one-stop
shopping philosophy, can provide full wedding services, from
flowers to cakes to catering.
storewide cooperation is emphasized throughout the year.
“Cross-merchandising is very big, and our store does it well,”
Ms. Thompson says. “We’re all working together,” resulting in
floral displays in all areas of the store, from silk
arrangements atop dairy cases to bouquets at the entrances to
balloons at all the checkout stands and a cart of giftware at
the photo shop. The produce, liquor and floral departments also
work together to create gift baskets.
The store came together for a breast cancer awareness promotion
in October, too. Ms. Thompson brought products into the floral
department from throughout the store that had tie-ins to
awareness efforts. She sold 55 vased arrangements of a dozen
pink roses, each with a pink bracelet attached, and $2 of each
sale went to the local American Cancer Society branch.
Mr. Tykwinski says he discusses opportunities for
cross-merchandising at weekly staff meetings. The presence of
Ms. Thompson’s wares in other departments not only offers an
opportunity to sell more floral products but also “gives those
departments attention,” he says. “It gives a warm feeling
throughout the store.”
That warm feeling is what Ms. Thompson wants her customers to
feel every time they leave her floral department with a
purchase. Whenever she meets potential new customers, she hands
them her card and gives what might be called her signature
saying: “We want to become your favorite florist.” With a
welcome like that, it’s a good bet that those customers will be
You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
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