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Feature Story
         to chance
by Cynthia  L. McGowan

Roche Bros. makes sure every aspect of its floral operation is of the highest quality.

Roche Bros., a 16-store supermarket chain in eastern Massachusetts, earns its floral customers’ loyalty and sales by offering constant attention to service, quality and freshness.
Headquartered in Wellesley, Mass., Roche Bros. supermarkets have an inviting, shopper-friendly atmosphere. They have wide aisles, lifestyle signage, wood and stone-tile flooring, huge produce sections filled with abundant fresh vegetables and fruit, prepared food areas for consumers needing easy dinner solutions and delis with dining areas.
The floral departments invite shoppers to stop, smell and buy the flowers. Rows and rows of gorgeous rose, tulip, Alstroemeria and Gerbera bunches as well as a variety of bouquets entice shoppers to take some home to brighten their living spaces. Hydrangea, tulip, foliage and other plants are attractively displayed on tiered merchandisers. Upscale arrangements are prominently shown in high-end coolers. Well-made signage, with pricing clearly labeled, is easily accessible to shoppers.
In most of the stores, which average 45,000 square feet, the floral departments are at the entrances along with produce, but in a few, they are in a unique spot: the center of the stores, near the checkout stands.
Paul Kneeland, director of produce and floral, explains that the floral departments were put there as a way to “get customers re-excited” midway through the stores, as well as to tie floral into greeting cards and gift items, which are nearby.
The close proximity to the cash registers also is a plus for impulse sales. “It’s just a very visible location,” says Debbie Loche, floral buyer/merchandiser.

But no matter where the departments are, which average 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, they are successful. Floral sales compose 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of total store sales in most stores in the chain and as much as 4 percent in some stores, says Mr. Kneeland. But strong sales aren’t the only reason floral is important to Roche Bros.
Floral helps sets a tone for the chain. “It adds to the quality of life,” he says, and brings a desired customer into the stores. “The quality of the program compared to what you have in the marketplace will definitely set you apart, and that customer is very important to us.”
Ms. Loche describes those customers as highly loyal. She attributes their loyalty not only to the chain’s high-quality products but also to its customer service.
“We are really one on one with the customers,” she says. The highest compliment to her staff, she says, is when she is behind a counter and offers to wait on a customer in place of a busy floral designer, but the customer opts to wait, saying, “‘She knows exactly what I like, or she knows the color of my dining room, or she did something for my neighbor last week, and I want something just like that.’ They really bond with the customers.”

In addition to great customer service, Roche Bros. is committed to freshness at all levels. The chain has no warehouses, so vendors must be able to deliver to the stores, ensuring greater freshness and less handling.
Ms. Loche buys mostly from local vendors because she likes to “buy hands on; I like to be able to see what it is,” and she and her vendors work closely together to make sure her stores are on top of the latest trends. She works with one wholesaler to customize bouquet recipes every week—“I’ll say, ‘I want a little of this, a little of that.’”
Bouquets, which range from $5 to $20 every day, and up to $30 on the holidays, are among the departments’ most popular items. “For the most part, our customers find more value in the $12 and $15 bouquets” than in a $5 one, which, she says, in a whole bucket of bouquets “will look very nice, but when you get it home and it’s just the one single bouquet in a vase, it doesn’t have quite the same impact that the larger ones do.”
Arrangements start at about $20 and can go to $100 and more. Ms. Loche says customers will bring in their own crystal containers in which to have arrangements made, “which is nice because that shows that there’s an element of trust in the stores and the designers.”

Ms. Loche knows her floral designers have to capture the attention of customers who are in the stores doing their weekly food shopping. Impulse sales make up about 50 percent of floral sales, and Ms. Loche says her key to merchandising is changing the look of the departments weekly. “Otherwise,” she says, “customers will just walk right by if it looks like the same old thing.”
Each department has a primary focal position and a secondary position for merchandising. Ms. Loche runs weekly advertisements, and the primary focal spot changes every Friday morning to match the focus of the advertisements.
Roche Bros. offers other weekly promotions, including a “happy hour” on Fridays that Ms. Loche started nearly a year ago in six stores. From 4 to 7 p.m., one dozen roses and five stems of Alstroemerias are sold for half price at $7.49 and $2.49 respectively. In addition, the departments offer special prices on from two to four other items, depending on what Ms. Loche can get from her suppliers that week. Public-address announcements tell customers every 15 to 20 minutes about the specials, drawing an influx of shoppers every time the announcements are made. The departments serve light refreshments and have the displays in a separate area so it’s easy for customers to see what the happy-hour specials are. “It’s a fun program,” Ms. Loche says, and the response has been so positive that she plans to expand it to more stores.
Roche Bros. also has a “Spotlight” program, which is a storewide promotion that corresponds to its sales week, from Friday to Thursday. Each week, a new item is spotlighted in every department. Large, glossy, eye-catching signs tell customers what the spotlight items are. In floral, the sign has a color photo of the product and gives customers care and handling information, expected vase life and other facts. Ms. Loche says the program is a good way to let customers know what’s new in the department and also to introduce unusual items they might not have seen before, such as kangaroo paws. “It’s drawing customers in every week, hopefully, to see what we’re featuring,” she says.
The floral departments also heavily promote the holidays, which can yield up to 12 percent of a store’s weekly sales. Easter is the biggest holiday in terms of dollars, and Ms. Loche offers two reasons for that: Easter is based around a meal, so people are in the store buying anyway, and “in this area, everybody’s so sick of winter, by the time that holiday comes, things are starting to brighten up, the days are getting longer, and they want flowers and potted plants.” A perennially popular item for Easter is a “bunny bowl” composed of a 6- or 8-inch rose bowl, tulips and mini carrots from the produce department. “It’s a wonderful item for us,” Ms. Loche says, “because about half of the customers who look at it will buy it because it’s adorable, and the other half will say, ‘I can do that’” and they buy the ingredients from floral and produce. The chain sold up to 400 this year at $19.99 each.

Roche Bros. continues to invest in new projects and in floral. The company remodels and updates its stores to stay ahead of customer trends, and it is building a 17th store that will open in July in Marshfield, in the southeastern part of Massachusetts. At that store, the floral department will be near a glass greenhouse, which will have its own entrance. Ms. Loche anticipates having a lot of customer activity for floral through the greenhouse entrance.
Both Mr. Kneeland and Ms. Loche speak with excitement about the new store opening and about their company in general. Roche Bros. engenders not only customer loyalty but also employee loyalty through its commitment to its associates, company recognition programs and benefits. Associates are enthusiastic about their work, and that enthusiasm comes through to customers.
Ms. Loche says she has little turnover among her floral staff, which includes, on average, one full-time designer (the floral manager) and five to eight part-time associates. On the rare occasion that there is a full-time opening, she says, “There’s always way more people that want it than [positions] available.”
The company takes a team-building approach to work. “I feel very fortunate that I work for a company that recognizes that and promotes it,” Ms. Loche says. Part of that team building is the training that Ms. Loche schedules. She’ll run workshops four or five times a year, and when the staff get together, the creative juices start flowing. “Ideas start bouncing off one another,” she says.
The chain’s investment and commitment to its floral program is evident, Mr. Kneeland says. “When you make that commitment—and the company has to make that commitment from the top down—then you have to make sure you follow through on every detail, whether it be equipment, the people, the training, the quality of flowers, the quality of vendors. Everything has to kind of gel. And it definitely works for us.”

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

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