Service Soars at Blue Goose Market
Learn how this
Illinois independent's floral and gift department engages
At Blue Goose
Market in St. Charles, Ill., employees never begin a
sentence with the word “no.” Customer satisfaction is this
family-owned independent’s top priority in every department
including floral and gifts, where a team of three employees
works with shoppers to ensure they take home the perfect items.
“Part of our culture here is never to tell the customer ‘no’,”
confirms David Lencioni, who owns Blue Goose Market with
his sister, Mary Pearson. “It’s paramount to give
customers what they’re looking for.”
Blue Goose has been doing so for more than 80 years, ever since the
company was founded in 1928 by Mr. Lencioni’s grandmother as a
small fresh fruits and vegetable market. Today, it is an upscale
store that in March 2008 moved into a new building combining the
modern elements shoppers want with nostalgic touches that remind
them of Blue Goose’s long ties to the community.
The new 30,000-square-foot store features warm tones, large
windows that let in plenty of natural light, dark wood, vintage
tin ceiling panels and dyed concreted floors. Photos and murals
show vignettes from the store’s history as well as community
memories, such as children’s teams the company sponsored. The
design reflects “our place in the community and that we’re aware
of who we are and what our roots are,” Mr. Lencioni shares.
The store is 50 percent bigger than its previous location,
adding room for expanded bakery, produce and floral/gift
departments. Shoppers can have lattes in the coffee bar or enjoy
fresh sushi in the dining area. The deli offers prepared foods
for customers’ convenience. An outdoor patio has become the site
for popular cookouts for the community, where Blue Goose serves
its homemade bratwurst and other grilled fare.
St. Charles, IL
Lencioni and Mary Pearson
30,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE
1,100 square feet
full-time and one part-time
including corsages and arrangements for special events;
custom gift baskets
TOP FLORAL HOLIDAY
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO TOTAL STORE SALES
Between 2.7 percent and 3 percent
Annunciata (Nancy) Lencioni,
grandmother of the current owners, founded the company as
Blue Goose Fruit Store in 1928. According to the Blue Goose
Market’s Web site, Mrs. Lencioni saw the name “Blue Goose”
on an orange crate from a produce marketing company and
liked it well enough to use it for the store.
The move to the new
store offered opportunities for the floral/gift department to
expand its offerings and services. Before the move, the store
provided limited floral services. Today, customers can get most
of their floral needs met at the store, including corsages,
custom arrangements and special events. And while the store
doesn’t offer funeral and wedding services at this point,
Floral/Gift Manager Sue Villanova hints that they could
come in the future. “There’s room for us to grow in this
department,” she remarks.
In the meantime, shoppers can find a full
range of enticing
products in the 1,100-square-foot department, which has a
prominent spot near the store entrance. In the sun-filled,
well-merchandised space, the large cooler is full of bouquets
and arrangements, and shelves brim with colorful blooming
plants. Shoppers can choose from a huge selection of mostly
seasonal gifts including tabletop items, candles, greeting
cards, gift baskets and more. The large gift selection reflects
Ms. Villanova’s background in the giftware industry—before
coming to Blue Goose, she owned her own gift shop.
Mr. Lencioni calls floral “a big factor in what our image
in the community is. It differentiates us.” It also is a
high-margin department for the store and generates between 2.7
percent and 3 percent of total company sales.
gifts are on top
The majority of the
sales, about 60 percent, come from the department’s gift items,
Ms. Villanova confides. To ensure that customers are getting the
latest trends and styles in giftware, she and the two other
floral employees visit the showrooms at the Merchandise Mart in
Chicago, which is just 40 miles east of St. Charles, at least
twice a year to check out the latest giftware, gain
merchandising strategies and place orders.
Gift baskets, with prices ranging from $19.95 to as high as
$99.95, are popular with customers, who prefer to work with the
florists to pick out items for the baskets rather than buy
readymades. Themes include wine and cheese, breakfast, pasta and
sauces, snack foods—“almost anything,” Mr. Lencioni says.
Ms. Villanova says the store’s gift basket business has
boomed this year. “I think we got our name out there a little
bit,” she comments. “In fact, just the other day I got a call
from Belgium.” The caller’s mother lives in St. Charles, and the
daughter had learned about Blue Goose from its Web site. “She
had me put together a birthday basket for $100, and the mother’s
friend came in and picked it up,” she recalls.
Best-selling individual gift items sell for $4.95, with
$49.95 at the top of most customers’ price range. And while the
department has the occasional higher-ticket sale, such as a
planter’s bench for $125 and a sock monkey that sold for $100,
Ms. Villanova says she would rather sell a lot of products for
$4.95 each than have more-expensive items sit on the shelves.
Agrees Mr. Lencioni, “Turnover is the name of the game in the
keys to success
The look of the floral/gift department at Blue Goose Market
changes weekly to keep customer excitement high.
The three employees in the department engage customers and
work closely with them to find out exactly what they need.
The 1,100-square-foot department is packed with a huge
assortment of giftware and fresh florals.
Christmas is the biggest holiday for the floral/gift
department at Blue Goose Market. The four- or
five-week holiday period is “when the department really
sparkles,” remarks David Lencioni, who co-owns the
St. Charles, Ill., store.
floral/gift manager, says planning for Christmas begins in
the summer, when the department chooses its themes for the
holiday and orders products. The first products start going
on display in late October, in an area where they won’t
clash too much with the department’s fall and Halloween
“The day after
Thanksgiving, there is not one brown or orange item in the
department,” Ms. Villanova reports. “It’s all Christmas.”
The department stocks ornaments, gift wrap, party goods,
tabletop items, wreaths, garland and small trees—“We do a
lot of décor,” she says.
In addition, Blue Goose Market has a holiday open
house called “Taste of the Season.” All the departments
sample their products, and “we get probably three times the
normal crowd on a Saturday afternoon,” Mr. Lencioni shares.
The floral/gift department gets into the act by
helping decorate the store with its Christmas products,
talking with customers about how they can decorate their
homes and demonstrating a holiday design “how-to.” Says Mr.
Lencioni, “It’s become an event that people look forward to
When the new store
first opened, the floral team stocked the cooler with ready-made
arrangements provided by its main cut flower supplier, W.
Newell & Co., a subsidiary of Supervalu, Inc. Thanks
to training from Supervalu, hands-on practice and reading
industry publications like Super Floral Retailing, the
talented staff today creates all arrangements in-house. Ms.
Villanova says the three florists share ideas and fuel each
other creatively, adding, “You get three creative people
together, and it’s amazing what happens. I think we’ve learned
from each other over the years.”
The cooler is kept fully stocked with arrangements,
$4.99-to-$12.99 mixed bouquets and three-for-$12 consumer
bunches. The department often uses unique containers such as
antique-looking pitchers to add interest to designs. Gifts for
teachers are especially popular at the store, so the department
keeps desk-size $6.99 designs, featuring such flowers as mums,
carnations and waxflowers, on hand.
Shoppers can call ahead for custom arrangements or have
them made while they browse or sit at an inviting table in the
department and sip coffee. In fact, Ms. Villanova prefers to
have customers in the store for the 10 to 15 minutes it usually
takes to complete their orders because one of the other florists
often will talk with them and wind up selling them more
products. “We’re kind of a tag team,” she remarks.
Upselling also is important to plant sales. “We do a lot of
what we call ‘value-added,’” Ms. Villanova says, explaining that
the department gets a good markup by upgrading blooming plants
with bows and baskets. Bulb plants do well in winter when
customers are looking for any signs of spring, selling for
$12.99 for 6-inch plants. The department gets its plants from
another key to the department’s strong sales. All merchandise is
themed and grouped by color, and the look of the department
changes every week, helping draw in a large share of repeat
customers. “Every time you come into the store, the department
looks a little different,” Mr. Lencioni comments. “There’s
always something new to see.”
Ms. Villanova says that just moving products in the
department can boost sales. Customers will spot items they
hadn’t seen before and say, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve got new stuff!”
she shares. They’ll snatch up the “new” items, reducing the need
to put slow sellers on sale later.
The store also uses cross-merchandising strategies for
sales. Mr. Lencioni runs the wine department, and he often pairs
wine with florals. Offerings from the floral department can be
found in the gourmet cheese department and wherever a tie-in
works. “I try to get floral out there as much as possible,” Ms.
talking with customers
In addition to visual
merchandising, the floral team engages customers by talking with
them and making suggestions. “We try to stay on the sales floor
as much as possible,” Ms. Villanova says. “We’re very visible.”
If, for example, a customer is decorating a mantle for
Christmas, she will say, “From what you’re telling me, you’re
going to need this much garland, this many picks, this many
snowmen,” and so on. And then she urges the customer to take the
items home, try them and bring them back if they don’t work out,
which seldom happens.
Ms. Villanova sees spending time with her customers
and helping them beautify their homes as part of the service
that Blue Goose Market is committed to providing. “Whatever a
customer calls and asks me for, I’ll basically meet their
needs,” she confirms. “I’m in the business to sell merchandise
and flowers, and I just pretty much do whatever it takes.”
Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at
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