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Feature Story
 

the store         within the store
         
by Cynthia L. McGowan


Floral department more than holds its own in Stop & Shop’s new-concept location in Boston.

A visit to a Stop & Shop Supermarket Company new-concept store in a bustling Boston shopping center revealed a busy, vibrant store full of customers who had a wide range of products to choose from in a well-designed, upscale setting. And floral, with its emphasis on fresh, well-merchandised products and excellent customer service, is an important part of the store’s success.

The new store, a Super Stop & Shop, opened just before Christmas in the Dorchester area of Boston, just off Interstate 93. It replaced a store in the same shopping center that the company had outgrown.

“We just needed more space, and we weren’t able to get that in the existing location,” says Peter Poutre, senior director of floral merchandising and procurement for both the 377-store Stop & Shop chain and the 188-store Giant Food-Landover. Stop & Shop operates stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Giant Food operates stores in Maryland; Delaware; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia.

emphasis on fresh
Stop & Shop needed the space for its “store-within-a-store” concept that the Boston location showcases. At least one-third of the store is devoted to the “power aisle,” which has both Dunkin’ Donuts and Boston Market. The power aisle, at one of the store’s two entrances, has a European market feel and boasts a huge produce selection, with fruits and vegetables attractively displayed on wooden merchandisers; a sushi bar; a “quick cuisine” cold buffet area; an olive bar with at least a dozen varieties; salads and fruit bowls to “grab and go”; a bakery; a deli; and a cheese island with its own employee. “Everything we’re doing comes from a fresh perspective,” Mr. Poutre remarks.

The power aisle also has stone tile flooring and subdued lighting. Each section of the store has its own look and floor style as part of the “store-within-a-store” concept, but the store’s décor ties together with a pleasing palette of muted golds and maroons.

On the other side of the store is a huge health-and-beauty section that is set up like a drugstore. Near it is a “Dollar Zone,” a nook in a corner for bargain hunters. In the center of the store is the “Best Sellers” movie section, which has bright signage promoting the latest DVDs and looks like a retail video store.

The store’s central Boston location draws a diverse clientele, Mr. Poutre says. “We get customers ranging from college students to the elderly and everything in between, and dozens and dozens of nationalities and ethnicities. So we’re really trying to cater to everyone here.”

The approach appears to be working. During a recent visit by Super Floral Retailing, the store was alive with customers who were browsing the wide aisles or dining and chatting in the store’s cafe.

the florist shop
They also were visiting the 1,300-square-foot, full-service floral department, which is located at the store’s other entrance near the high-traffic movie section and pharmacy. It, too, embodies the “store-within-a-store” concept. On the wall over the counter, a large overhang decorated with attractive photographs of flowers proclaims “Festive & Fragrant Floral.” Combined with stylish dark tile on the floor; professional, attractive signage; and abundant, well-merchandised fresh products, the overall effect is one of a stand-alone florist shop.

In fact, that is how the company has branded the department. “We call it the Florist Shop so it stands alone as a store within a store,” Mr. Poutre says. “However, most of our customers know us as the Stop and Shop or Giant Florist. These are strong brands in our market area.”

Inside the department, customers are treated to a tantalizing selection of irresistible fresh florals. A large merchandiser that spans one side of the floral counter holds bouquets ranging from the “New Dawn Bouquet,” with Gerberas, roses, Eucalyptus and daisy mums for $24.99, to a “Thinking of You Bouquet,” with one Gerbera, spray mums and carnations for $6.99.

Round merchandisers are filled with a wide variety of potted flowering plants and cut flowers in bright, spring colors. Luscious-looking potted Hydrangeas in hues of bright pink, light green and lavender, with signage advising consumers to “brighten your day,” sell for $19.99. Buckets of gorgeous callas and Hydrangeas at $4.99 a stem each and pretty Irises at three for $5 are customer magnets.

Roses are available by the stems, in bunches and bouquets, and in arrangements. “You’ll always see a lot of roses in our stores,” Mr. Poutre says. “If there’s a signature item, it’s that.”

Stop & Shop offers premium “Majestic”-branded 70-cm roses. “You don’t see a lot of 70-cm roses in supermarkets today,” Mr. Poutre points out. The Majestic roses sell for $24.99 a dozen. A 50-cm dozen rose bunch goes for $14.99, and 10 stems of 40-cm roses sell for $7.99.

focus on quality
The company has put its emphasis on cut flowers, and they are the floral operation’s top seller. “Cut flowers are really where we distinguish ourselves,” Mr. Poutre says. “We’re spending a lot of resources developing cut flowers and roses because we don’t want to make it a commodity business. Our focus is best in class. Not just in what we do operationally but the product that we have in our stores.”

That focus on quality appeared to get a good reception from shoppers during Super Floral Retailing’s Boston visit. The department was busy with shoppers picking up flowers and plants, and perusing the selections. Customers took their purchases either to the floral counter to pay or to the main registers—one young woman was seen doing the rest of her shopping with a Hydrangea plant peeping out of her cart.

Ken McAllister, the store’s floral manager, says he displays flowers by color to get the biggest impact and draw customers’ attention. He strategically places items where they will get noticed the most, such as his gift-items display of upgraded flowering plants and fresh-cut arrangements. He places the table in a prominent position at a front corner of the department where it is sure to catch the eyes of customers who are running in to get last-minute gifts.

“In this particular store, people are used to coming right in and getting something,” he says. “They’re going somewhere, and they want it then.”

Graduations, from preschool to college, are a huge business for him, and he knows to be prepared. “A crowd will come in an hour before the graduation, and they’ll want the flowers, the ribbon, the balloons and so forth,” Mr. McAllister says. He gets the dates of area graduations and proms ahead of time, often from teens who work in the store, so he can get ready for the influx of orders.

customer care
The Boston Florist Shop is an “extremely high volume” floral department, Mr. Poutre says, although he declines to share numbers. He will say that the floral operation’s contribution to total store sales corporatewide is above the industry average, increasing at peak times such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the top two floral holidays.

Floral is considered a signature department at Stop & Shop, and the company markets itself on the high-quality service it offers its floral customers. “We think our prices are extremely competitive for the quality and variety that we offer, but we’re focusing and marketing on our differences—our people and the great things that they do, and taking care of our customers,” Mr. Poutre says. “And that’s very marketable, and not easy to duplicate.”

Mr. Poutre sees the value in the relationships that customers and floral managers build over time, citing an example he saw when he recently attended the opening of a Connecticut store. Customers were complimenting the floral manager on the new store, and they knew one another’s names. “That’s always what I preach to the senior executives in our company,” he says, “that you never want to move a florist manager if you don’t have to.

“Our folks touch people at the most intimate times in their lives, both good and bad,” he continues, “and they develop that type of relationship, and it’s lasting. Of course, most of these occasions involve food as well, so it’s great for our total business.”

Mr. McAllister embodies those sentiments. Like the rest of the floral operation, he has many repeat customers, shoppers who come in weekly for flowers for home décor, for their churches and for gift giving, and he has developed a rapport with them. “They know all about my family, my kids,” he says with a laugh.

sharing ideas
To help develop those excellent customer service skills as well as flower care and design, the company offers corporate support and training. At the corporate level, for both Stop & Shop and Giant Food, each of the five divisions has a dedicated sales team whose “responsibility is training, staffing and making sure that the programs we’re putting in place are being executed properly at store level,” Mr. Poutre says. “This is a high-talent, passionate group.”

In addition, some of the chain’s growers and local wholesalers assist with training throughout the year. “They love supporting us in that because it just means better
business overall for the industry,” he notes.

At holiday meetings and training sessions, all of the store designers will bring arrangements they designed to share with the others. They discuss the designs and how they made them as well as customer reactions. “It’s always continual learning
and sharing of ideas,” Mr. Poutre says, “and you’ll see some very creative things.”

the supply chain
The company gets most of its cut flowers direct from South American and Dutch growers, using wholesalers for special or emergency orders. Plants come from growers in California, Florida and Canada as well as many local growers.

All of Stop & Shop and Giant Food’s cut flowers initially go to the same distribution center, in Carlisle, Pa. “The benefit is that you have all stores pulling from one facility, so procurement and inventory management is easier,” Mr. Poutre says.

From the Carlisle center, flowers slated for Stop & Shop go to one of three distribution centers, and from there, they go to the stores. Mr. Poutre says the company has made improvements to the supply chain in the past year. “That’s something we’re working very diligently on now, from the farm level, to make sure that our cold-chain management is the best in class,” he says.

All of the floral products are date-coded to ensure freshness. Store employees “know when the product’s coming, and they know what the shelf life is, but they’re constantly looking at the product,” Mr. Poutre says. “It’s our [corporate staff] obligation to make sure that they get the freshest product at store level so they can satisfy the customers’ needs.”

The corporate staff procures the products, and floral managers order from that supply to ensure they have the right products and supply to meet their customers’ needs. Stop & Stop also sends out a daily note via intranet to the floral managers on market conditions, availability or any retail changes—“just everyday maintenance,” Mr. Poutre says.

In addition to that daily communication, the floral operation sends weekly merchandising bulletins that tell the focal items and give planograms. “There is still some flexibility because so many of our formats are different,” Mr. Poutre says. “It’s hard to just say, ‘This is where everything goes.’”

spurring impulse sales
A merchandising effort that Stop & Shop has had tremendous success with is its use of supplemental displays for cut flowers. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays—and every day for the high-volume stores—the floral departments display the “hot” cut flowers that week, such as tulips and daffodils, in mobile merchandisers in the departments and at store entrances.

“These displays give us tremendous incremental volume of up to a 20 percent increase in sales,” Mr. Poutre says. “Who can resist fresh cut tulips or a vibrant bouquet?” The supplemental item at the Boston store during Super Floral Retailing’s visit was tulip bunches for $6.99, displayed at the edge of the department right as customers entered the store—where they couldn’t miss them.

The departments also set up arrangement tables at the front of the stores, usually on weekends, to highlight the custom design work they do. The tables showcase designs with different price points, textures and styles. “That makes a statement to the customer that these are the things that we can offer you, and we can custom design them for you,” Mr. Poutre says. Shoppers can have arrangements made while they shop. That happens “all the time,” Mr. Poutre says. “We don’t refuse an order.”

Mr. McAllister, of the Boston store, says arrangements are big sellers at his store. The average price point ranges from $30 to $40. His cooler is full of arrangements for all occasions, including gift giving and home décor.

delivering success
Signage throughout the department advises customers that the floral department delivers, an initiative that started in November in the Massachusetts stores. The company has a “hub-and-spoke” delivery model, with six stores that service most of the state of Massachusetts. “Instead of having every store with a dedicated van and driver, we’re able to keep it regional so that the fulfillment happens out of one central area,” Mr. Poutre says.

The addition of delivery has been a “tremendous success,” he says, and it has allowed the company to get more funeral business, an area that is growing for the company. It also complements its wedding business, which already is highly successful. Mr. Poutre estimates Stop & Shop provides flowers for 8,000 to 10,000 weddings a year.

Mr. McAllister says, “I do a lot of weddings, some of them last minute. I had one last week who wanted them for the next day!” He helped the couple and saved the day. From April to October, his store sometimes handles three weddings a week, with a staff of two full-timers and two part-timers (like other Stop & Shops, he can pull from cross-trained staffers in other departments during busy times).

meeting needs
Stop & Shop prides itself on the kind of service that Mr. McAllister offered the last-minute wedding couple. The company takes steps to make sure it is always meeting customers’ needs by talking with shoppers, having corporate staff in the stores and getting feedback through more formal research.

“Our market research department does a lot of consumer diary panel research and blind panel research, and we’re always looking” at the results, Mr. Poutre says. In fact, the senior management of the company recently spent an entire day looking at the data for 2005. “It’s something we take very seriously,” he says, “because our customers are the boss.”


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


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