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Feature Story
 
Flourishing
     in the
         jungle
 
by Cynthia  L. McGowan


Floral more than holds its own at food lover’s paradise Jungle Jim’s International Market.

“Jungle” Jim Bonaminio doesn’t do things in a small way. His namesake store, Jungle Jim’s International Market, is a 270,000-square-foot foodie’s paradise, with 110,000 items that include specialty foods from more than 75 countries and 9,000 bottles in the wine department. The produce section alone takes up 1 acre of the 4-acre Fairfield, Ohio, store.
The store has life-size plaster giraffes and elephants outside the entrance, an animatronic dancing Elvis Presley inside, a 40-foot boat called the “S.S. Minnow” in the fish department and busloads of tourists every day who come to experience the amusement-park atmosphere of the supermarket, which had $63.5 million in sales in 2004, according to BusinessWeek Online.

FLORAL INVESTMENT
So when Mr. Bonaminio decided to give floral more of a presence in his store, he did that in a big way, too. He moved floral from the produce section, where it consisted of bouquets sold out of an 8-foot case and a selection of lucky bamboo as well as bedding plants sold under a shadecloth tent during the spring, and gave it a huge showcase greenhouse and floral/gift shop adjoining the main store, across from the main entrance.
Now when Jungle Jim’s 50,000 shoppers a week come to the store, the first thing they are likely to see is the 6,000-square-foot, nearly 80-foot-tall, octagonal greenhouse. The floral department is another 6,000 square feet, and an outside, covered 10,000-square-foot area attached to the greenhouse is used for perennials and garden statuary during the spring. The greenhouse and floral shop opened in February 2004, and Craig Steiner (above right), general manager of the produce and floral departments, says they represent a tremendous investment by Mr. Bonaminio, underscoring the importance floral represents for his business.
“Jim has seen what floral can do, how it generates excitement and repeat business, and how it kind of sets the image and the theme for the rest of the store,” Mr. Steiner says.

RECORD HOLIDAY
Mr. Bonaminio’s investment in floral appears to be paying off, both in customer reaction and in sales. Mr. Steiner says floral sales for the week of Mother’s Day 2005 hit a record $100,000, exceeding the 2004 holiday’s sales by 30 percent, and he expected the week after Mother’s Day to reach that figure, too. A typical, nonholiday week’s sales usually run about $20,000, he says.
Mother’s Day is the store’s biggest floral holiday, and this year, the store completely sold out of floral items, both fresh cuts and plants. “I didn’t have a stem left on Monday,” says Jeanne Wallace (right), floral manager/buyer. “Not one stem.”
Ms. Wallace says shoppers were in awe when they walked into the floral and gift shop for the first time for its grand opening. “It was so exciting. We’d watch them walk in, and their mouths just fell. They said, ‘This is so beautiful.’”
She got that reaction through the use of creative merchandising and having a large variety of products, both fresh and hard goods. Mr. Bonaminio gave Ms. Wallace free rein to design the floral department with props she found in the store’s warehouse. She found “beautiful” antique furniture ranging from hutches to stoves to ice boxes, and when she told Mr. Bonaminio she wanted to use the antiques, he asked her which ones. She replied, “All of them.”

FLORAL SELECTION
Ms. Wallace uses those antiques as well as wooden boxes and tables to show off her fresh florals, plants and giftware. A cooler holds ready-made arrangements as well as vase arrangements that are made in the store. Ms. Wallace displays consumer bunches in buckets on four levels for a stair-step effect. Jungle Jim’s has 45 varieties of flowers in its consumer bunch program, including chrysanthemums, Alstroemerias, Gerberas and Cymbidium orchids. They retail for three bunches for $15, and Ms. Wallace says she typically sells 550 consumer bunches a week and as many as triple that on holidays.
The floral shop’s biggest fresh-cut seller, at 150 a week, is a $5 “grower’s choice” mixed garden bouquet. The flowers will vary, but it typically has chrysanthemums, Alstroemerias and seasonal flowers such as sunflowers and snapdragons.
Roses, priced at $9.99 a dozen, are increasing in sales, Ms. Wallace says. The store sells about 40 dozen a week.
Plants are also popular items. Ms. Wallace says 6-inch tropicals, priced at $7.99, are her best sellers, with 30 to 40 sold a week. Dish gardens, priced at $14.99 to $69.99, also sell well, especially for funerals. A tiki hut holds lucky bamboo, which retails for $2 up to $125. Ms. Wallace says lucky bamboo sales are a surprise hit with shoppers, having quadrupled in sales since the floral shop opened.
Ms. Wallace’s primary cut flower supplier is based in Miami and delivers two truckloads a week. Potted plants are trucked in from Canada and Florida, and orchid plants are flown directly from Hawaii every other week.
The floral and gift shop also sells a wide variety of pottery, Mexican ceramics, wind chimes and stained glass hanging windows with floral motifs, which sell for $15.99 to $99. The most popular stained-glass item goes for $49.99, with several sold a week.

GREENHOUSE GOODS
In the greenhouse, which Mr. Steiner manages, the bedding plants are displayed according to color. “We use the same visual concept that we do in the produce department,” he says, “and it’s been fairly effective.”
Mr. Steiner credits his greenhouse success to high-quality plants sold at the right prices. “Our product is as good or better than independent nurseries, but it’s not priced like an independent nursery,” he says. “The reception from the customers is really good because they’re getting nursery quality for lower prices than they’re used to.” His main supplier is a Michigan company that he has done business with for 20 years. Bedding plants are delivered at least twice a week.
Bedding plant season runs from mid-April until mid-June. In the third week of June, Mr. Steiner sells Amish-style furniture—porch swings, gliders, rockers and so on—inside the greenhouse, as well as tropical plants. In August, the greenhouse is home to fall mums, pumpkins and other autumn-themed merchandise, leading into Christmas, when it’s time for gift basket production, another of Mr. Bonaminio’s big events.
As many as 75 people help produce the popular gift baskets, assembly-line style, with shoppers watching the production. Ms. Wallace says more than 7,000 baskets are made during the season. Gift baskets sell for $20 to $200, with the most popular at $50. The floral shop will add fresh flowers or plants to the baskets, depending on customer requests. Other holiday items such as poinsettias and gift items are merchandised in the greenhouse during the gift basket production, drawing add-on sales.

CONDUCTING TOURS
Jungle Jim’s draws an interesting mixture of repeat customers and curious tourists, and Ms. Wallace and Mr. Steiner have designed a floral operation that appeals to both clienteles. Ms. Wallace constantly changes the look of the floral and gift shop to catch the attention of repeat customers and grab impulse sales, which she estimates compose as much as 85 percent of her sales. Because of its wide selection of international foods, Jungle Jim’s draws a large ethnic clientele, and Ms. Wallace makes sure she has products that appeal to different ethnic groups.
She also makes sure her department is spotless and ready for the constant stream of tourists that come through the store. She acts as a tour guide for visitors, who come from as far as Tennessee and Canada. “I point out to them that we buy flowers from all over the world,” she says. “I point out the lucky bamboo from Thailand, the orchids from Hawaii, the flowers from Holland and Colombia, keeping them on that safari kind of atmosphere that the other side of the store has.” She loves giving the tours, and it doesn’t hurt that afterward, the visitors usually come back and buy something from her gift shop.

KEEPING IT FRESH
Ms. Wallace, formerly the floral director for the Crosset Company, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler that carries a full line of floral, was enticed out of retirement by Mr. Bonaminio’s offer to work in the brand-new floral shop. She insists on selling only high-quality fresh products and makes sure her employees are well-trained in floral care. “We do hands-on training,” she says. “I teach every employee to make sure to touch everything that’s in here, every day, to see if it needs water.” Stems are recut every third day, and anything stale is pulled.
That attention to detail, along with a flair for merchandising, is what keeps customers coming back and busloads of tourists glad they made the trip.


You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at cmcgowan@superfloralretailing.com or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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