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Legacy of floral success

Nearly 60 years after first offering flowers, Save Mart continues to wow customers with top service and selection.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     In 1952, the produce director at newly founded Save Mart Supermarkets began selling plants along with the fresh fruits and vegetables, with a goal to increase sales and gain more labor for the department. From that early start, floral at Save Mart has grown into a high-profile operation with a presence in nearly all of the company’s 244 stores.

     Floral, confirms Ed Corvelo, senior category manager for produce and floral for the Modesto, Calif.-based privately owned company, “is an important part of our heritage and our culture.” Those pioneering efforts by Frank Siciliani, the produce director who introduced floral at Save Mart, helped pave the way for a thriving operation run by produce managers who make floral a priority and offer customers high-quality products and excellent customer service.

“the wow factor”

     Floral’s priority at Save Mart is made evident when customers walk into the stores and are greeted by large departments full of enticing bouquets, blooming plants and eye-catching balloons. The company has placed its floral departments at the entrances for many years, Mr. Corvelo says, describing the effect as “the wow factor.”

     The departments, some of which are as large as 800 square feet, have step and rounded merchandisers for displaying plants and open coolers for bouquets and arrangements. And to make sure the departments continue to have that wow effect, they are the produce managers’ first priority at the start of each day.

     “The first thing they do when they walk in in the morning is floral,” confirms Yun Yi, Save Mart’s category manager for floral. The produce staff waters the plants, replenishes the stock and makes sure all the products are fresh and ready to delight customers.

save mart supermarkets


Modesto, Calif.
OWNERSHIP Privately owned
STORES 244, under four banners: Save Mart, Lucky Supermarkets and S-Mart Foods (full-service grocery stores) and FoodMaxx (no-frills warehouse stores), in Northern California and Northern Nevada
SALES $5.1 billion (estimated) in fiscal year 2008, according to the Directory of Supermarket, Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
STORE SIZE Varies, averages 45,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE Varies by location, up to 800 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One to three per store in the full-service Lucky floral departments
FLORAL SERVICES Mostly self-service floral departments in the Save Mart stores; full service in the Lucky banner; the full-service departments offer wedding, funeral and custom design services
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Mother’s Day in the Save Mart stores; Valentine’s Day in the Lucky stores

meeting floral customers’ needs

     The departments also make sure to meet customers’ needs, despite a “self-service” label. Produce managers handle floral duties at Save Mart’s 129 mostly self-service departments, and Ms. Yi says they are well-trained in floral care and information. “If a customer comes in and says, ‘How do I take care of this?’ they are right there to help them,” she remarks. “That’s the Save Mart culture.”

     In addition, all plants have care tags, and vendors provide care information that produce managers can frame and display for customers. The departments also make sure to have accessories available such as ready-made bows and vases for customers who want to upgrade their selections. The produce staff inflate balloons at customers’ request and also has them ready to grab and go in the department, at the checkout stands, in the bakery and in the cards aisle.

     The company’s 70 Lucky stores, acquired from Albertsons LLC in 2006 and rebranded with the Lucky name in 2007, offer full-service floral. Those stores have one to three floral clerks, depending on volume, and handle weddings, funerals, corsages and boutonnieres for graduation and proms—“a huge business,” Ms. Yi reports—and custom designs. The departments also can create arrangements for customers while they shop.

commitment to service

     The services the floral departments provide are in keeping with Save Mart’s commitment to offering superior service in all areas of the store. “Customer service is No. 1,” Ms. Yi emphasizes, and the company backs up that commitment with cash incentives. In its “Customer Connection” rewards program, employees and customers nominate Save Mart staffers who have excelled at service.

     Prizes include gift certificates, consumer electronics devices and cash. Just recently, 150 employees who were identified as providing exceptional service won shopping sprees that allowed them to run through the stores and collect up to $500 worth of groceries.

     The emphasis on excellent customer service comes all the way from the top. This holiday season, Bob Piccinini, chairman and CEO, rewarded 10 employees with cash prizes of $10,000 each as part of the Customer Connection program. The rewards came during his annual visit to all the company’s stores, distribution centers, warehouses and offices. It takes two months, Ms. Yi says, and he “shakes everybody’s hand and tells them he appreciates what they do.” The visits serve as a way of reinforcing employees’ value to the company and their importance to Save Mart’s mission of providing exceptional service.


valentine merchandising


During major holidays like Valentine’s Day, “We have huge support from the entire company,” shares Yun Yi, Save Mart Supermarkets’ category manager for floral. “Everybody works floral then.”

    The floral departments take over the stores’ front lobbies and cross-merchandise with the wine, bakery and general merchandise departments. Some stores offer red-carpeted “Lovers’ Lanes” for Valentine’s checkouts, and others have drive-through tents in the parking lots. “It’s awesome,” Ms. Yi reports.

    Ed Corvelo, senior category manager for produce and floral, expects this year’s Sunday Valentine’s Day sales to be about the same level as last year’s. “It was a little soft,” he recalls. “Valentine’s was not as good as we’d have liked it to be,” with the economy and the Saturday date affecting sales. He says the economy and another weekend date will continue to be factors this year.

    But on a happier note, he shares, “We hit it out of the park for Mother’s Day and for Easter.”


continual training

     Training and communication are the keys to making sure the produce staff and floral clerks have the skills and knowledge to provide good service. “It’s constant training,” Mr. Corvelo describes. New employees receive a training manual for produce and floral with instructions on everything from receiving products to care and handling. They also receive hands-on, day-to-day training with more experienced members of the departments.

     In addition, all the produce managers meet twice a year and receive information on holiday plans and new programs. Further, Mr. Corvelo explains, Save Mart has operating supervisors who are in the stores every day, teaching and training. Mr. Corvelo and Ms. Yi have weekly conference calls with the operating supervisors to ensure that the programs planned at the corporate level are carried out in the stores. In addition, a company merchandiser spends time in the stores helping train employees on product display. “It’s amazing what a new set of eyes will do on a display,” Mr. Corvelo points out.

sourcing for quality and variety

     When sourcing products for the floral departments, Mr. Corvelo says, the company makes it a point to stay on top of trends and consumer desires. “Our departments are known for variety,” he remarks. “We’re always trying to be a little different from the guy across the street.”

     To that end, the company works mostly with California vendors in order to have quick access to products and also to have the local connection that today’s customers want. California “is a great place to be,” Mr. Corvelo says, remarking on Save Mart’s ability to get a quick turnaround on hot products at a great price from local, high-quality growers. “It happens quite often,” with the stores able to quickly adjust programs to offer customers what Save Mart calls “sizzler opportunities.”

     Ms. Yi says offering local products also reduces freight costs and enhances shelf life due to the shorter transportation time. The company promotes locally grown products in its weekly advertisements and in signage.

     In addition to the local trend, Ms. Yi reports, “Customers are looking for value,” in these recessionary times. Save Mart has responded by changing selections to offer lower price points. For example, the floral operation is providing more plants in attractive wraps rather than more expensive pot covers or baskets.

     It also has reduced the number of $24.99 bouquets and offers price points of $8.99 to $14.99. The best-selling bouquet is a dozen roses for $9.99. Save Mart procures all its roses from Ecuador—an exception to its California-grown connection.

     The Lucky stores offer consumer bunches at three for $12. “We have it all” in the “Farmers’ Market Bunches,” program, Ms. Yi remarks, including Hydrangeas, Alstroemerias, callas, lilies, carnations and seasonal items.

     In the Save Mart self-service departments, produce managers order arrangements from a wholesaler who provides direct-to-store delivery. If customers don’t see what they need in the cooler, they can look through a binder of choices and ask the produce manager to place the order for them. Prices are $8.99 to $15.99 for bud vases and $12.99 to $99.99 for larger designs.

     Six-inch Hydrangeas, at $16.99, are the top-selling plants. Other favorites are azaleas and miniature roses. Save Mart also promotes orchids as long-lasting plants that offer a good value for economy-conscious customers. “You can get three months out of [an orchid],” Mr. Corvelo reminds. “We promote that value.” Save Mart sells California-grown Phalaenopses and Cymbidiums at price points ranging from $9.99 to $24.99.

     The departments also do a huge business in Christmas trees. “We do about $2.5 million in Christmas
trees,” Ms. Yi reports. The trees arrive the day after Thanksgiving, and for about three to four weeks, Save Mart sells noble fir and Douglas fir trees for $19.99 to $39.99. Some stores sell as many as 1,800 trees each. Stores also sell 12-inch wreaths and offer decorative accessories.



keys to success


FLORAL PRIORITY Save Mart Supermarkets have had florals in the stores since the company’s founding in 1952. That commitment has continued, and floral is now a “wow” factor at the front of nearly all its stores.

CUSTOMER SERVICE The company rewards exceptional service through its Customer Connection program, and makes sure that customers who need help in the self-service floral departments get what they need from well-trained produce managers.

PRODUCTS Products are delivered twice a week from local growers or wholesalers, helping to ensure they are fresh for customers. Produce and floral staff check products daily for freshness.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Florals receive prominent space in weekly newspaper advertisements, and during major holidays, the floral departments get display space in the store lobbies.



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