In tune with customers
independent upgrades its floral operation as part of its
emphasis on customer service.
by Cynthia L.
When food marketing expert Phil Lempert—also
known as the “Supermarket Guru”—recently lauded ValuMarket
as “one of the most impressive supermarkets in the country
today,” Super Floral Retailing decided to find out
what made the Louisville, Ky., independent stand out. What
we discovered is a five-store company that knows its
customers, focuses on service departments—including
floral—and makes sure to give shoppers what they want.
In his video report on ValuMarket, which he posted on
his website, www.supermarketguru.com, Mr. Lempert
singled out ValuMarket’s service departments as “outstanding
and enticing.” Indeed, ValuMarket features chef-staffed
delis offering prepared foods and customer samples,
full-service meat and seafood counters, and in-house
bakeries. The stores offer abundant produce departments,
organic sections and even walk-in beer coolers.
Floral is an important part of the customer experience,
emphasizes James Neumann, ValuMarket vice president.
“Along with produce and deli, those three departments really
set the tone for the entire store,” he remarks.
That’s why floral is at the front of three of the
company’s five stores. In the two stores where it’s a little
further back, the floral director, Terri Hasty, makes
sure there is a flower display at the front. “I want people
to be able to tell when they hit the door that we sell fresh
flowers,” she says.
The floral operation
has evolved in the past five years “more than in our entire
company’s history,” Mr. Neumann shares. Before 2005,
ValuMarket had three stores, and just one had what he terms
a strong floral department. In 2005, the company purchased
two Kentucky stores from Jasper, Ind.-based Buehler’s,
including the Mount Washington location where Mrs. Hasty
“When we walked into Terri’s store, we knew we had
something special,” Mr. Neumann recalls. “We immediately
gave her the position of floral director for our company.”
In her new role as floral director, Mrs. Hasty helped
train the staff, some of whom had no floral experience, and
increased services and hours. As a result, Mr. Neumann
remarks, “We went from running some pretty poor floral
departments ... to actually having some bona fide
departments. Instead of [floral] being an ‘also-ran’
department, we have dedicated personnel at each store.”
floral personnel means the stores can offer a full range of
services including custom arrangements, prom and sympathy
designs, and free delivery to nearby areas; a nominal fee is
charged for farther destinations. The stores have cultivated
a small wedding business through word-of-mouth. Customers
also can have designs made while they shop.
Offering full-service florals fits with ValuMarket’s
customer-oriented culture. “We try to keep customer service
at the utmost,” Mrs. Hasty emphasizes.
Part of that service is helping educate customers about
their floral purchases. Mrs. Hasty reminds them about
recutting stems and refreshing the water, and says such
education keeps customers coming back. And if a customer has
a problem with a purchase, which rarely happens, ValuMarket
replaces it without question. “We strive very much for
customer satisfaction,” Mrs. Hasty comments. “I want them to
be 100 percent happy with the product they buy from us.”
The Neumann family
Four stores in
Louisville, Ky.; one in Mount Washington, Ky.
$65 million in fiscal year
2009, according to the Directory of Supermarket,
Grocery & Convenience Store Chains
Averages 30,000 to
47,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE
400 to 1,200 square feet, depending on location
One per store
Full-service florals in most stores including
custom designs, weddings,
proms, funerals and delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY
A tool ValuMarket
uses to ensure customer satisfaction is product selection
based on neighborhood demographics. “Even though we run five
stores under the same banner, each store has its own
identity,” Mr. Neumann relates. “We’ve taken a lot of time
to study and know our communities.”
For example, one of the stores is in a neighborhood
with a large immigrant population, with people from all over
the world including Africa, Vietnam, Cuba and Bosnia. To
reach that customer base, the company has worked with city
and local social service agencies to make sure it is
offering the right products to meet their needs.
And Mrs. Hasty and the floral associate in the store
have tailored the flower offerings to the immigrant
population, as well. They capitalize on international
holidays, such as International Women’s Day (March 8 each
year), which Mrs. Hasty learned about from talking with a
To ensure the floral associates in each store are
providing the right flowers for their demographics, they
order most of their products directly from three local
wholesalers. Mrs. Hasty usually places the initial buy for
the stores for seasonal products such as poinsettias and
Bouquets are top
sellers at all five stores, with a seven-stem mixed bouquet
at $5.99 selling best. A dozen roses for $9.99 and a $12.99
deluxe version, with baby’s breath and greenery, also are
ValuMarket’s store in the Highlands neighborhood of
Louisville, an area of college professors and students, does
well with consumer bunches, selling as many as eight cases a
week. To compare, the company’s other stores sell only about
a case or two each. The prices are $3.99 and $4.99 for
favorites such as Asiatic lilies, callas, Hydrangeas,
Gerberas and spray roses.
Fresh arrangements, all made in the stores, start at
$19.99. Customers can pick them out from the cooler to grab
and go, or they can ask for custom designs.
Permanent designs also are an important part of
ValuMarket’s floral business, selling from $40 to $100.
“When we do custom silks, I’ll always encourage customers to
take them home and make sure they fit where they want them,”
Mrs. Hasty shares. “We’re more than happy to tweak them to
make them fit specifically where they want.” She also keeps
ready-made designs on hand for impulse purchases.
Potted violets are always a favorite plant, selling for
$3.99. Seasonal spring plants, including tulips, also are
“We do a lot with balloons,” Mrs. Hasty comments,
including balloon bouquets and sculptures. The floral
departments keep a large supply of balloons inflated to spur
impulse sales. “Some of the unusual shapes sell best when
they’re inflated and out where customers can see them,” she
reminds. Customers respond especially well when the
departments feature a dozen latex balloons for $9.99.
Christmas is a
whole-store affair for ValuMarket. The stores
have two open houses, one in early November and the
second in early December. “The stores are decked
out” for the holiday, Terri Hasty, the floral
The stores have about 20 demonstration tables,
offering customers samples of everything from meat
to seafood to produce. The floral departments
showcase their offerings on the various
demonstration tables, including upgraded
poinsettias, centerpieces and other floral items.
The open houses draw as many as 25 percent more
customers than on a normal day, remarks James
Neumann, ValuMarket vice president. The open
houses serve to tell customers, “we have the items
you need for your holiday tables,” he reminds.
It doesn’t require a lot of extra effort
to get ready for the open houses, Mrs. Hasty says.
The key, she offers, “is just planning a little bit
The locally owned
ValuMarket helps emphasize its community roots through its
promotion of the “Kentucky Proud” program. It’s a state
initiative that features Kentucky-grown and -produced
products, and scores of items with the Kentucky Proud logo
are found throughout ValuMarkets’ stores.
Floral also gets into the Kentucky Proud act. Mrs.
Hasty describes buying bedding plants and poinsettias from
local growers. The company also buys floral products at a
nearby Amish market. In addition, the floral departments
create “Kentucky Proud” gift baskets, with candles, barbecue
sauce and other gift items. A local company purchased 30
baskets last Christmas for about $50 each.
Mrs. Hasty advises
changing the look of the departments often to help keep
customers’ attention. “One of things I really enjoy doing is
tearing the department down and resetting it,” she shares.
“You can bring product toward the front, and that gives it a
new look and a new life. Customers will stop by like it’s
something that has just come in, even if it’s an item that
has been here for a while.”
The entire store gears up for the Kentucky Derby
(always the first Saturday in May), which Mr. Neumann calls
“our fourth summer holiday.” There is hoopla and parties and
media. “It definitely is the one time of year that our city
gets the chance to showcase itself,” he adds.
That means people are beautifying their homes, Mrs.
Hasty says. The floral departments offer bedding and hanging
plants for customers to spruce up their outdoor spaces, as
well as novelty items such as Derby garden flags.
With ValuMarket’s close attention to customer service and
local preferences, it’s easy to see why Mr. Lempert, the
Supermarket Guru, sang its praises. And the floral operation
is a key part of that success. As Mr. Neumann points out,
“It creates a much more pleasant shopping experience, having
a well-decorated, well-done floral department. It’s
definitely new purchases for us. It’s profitable purchases,
and it gives our customers one less reason to have to go
keys to success
delivered to ValuMarket stores three times a week,
ensuring freshness. The floral director, Terri
Hasty, says her goal is “to choose the best quality
product, whether that’s cut flowers or plants, at
the best price.”
The departments offer a full range of floral
services. The floral departments’ counters are in
the open where customers can watch the florists
create their designs, encouraging interaction and
Mrs. Hasty offers
training to floral associates before major holidays
so they can see what’s new and get inspired before
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Customers learn about ValuMarket florals through
in-store merchandising, bag stuffers, word-of-mouth
and newspaper advertising.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of