by Cynthia L. McGowan
Price Chopper is committed to offering only the “Best in Fresh”
to its floral customers.
A relentless pursuit of quality in all aspects of its business,
from the products to customer service to merchandising, has been
the basis for success for the floral operation at Price Chopper,
a 112-store chain located in six Northeastern states.
A Price Chopper motto is “Best in Fresh,” and perishables is
where the company has chosen to differentiate itself from the
competition, says Jon Strom, vice president of floral
operations. The meat departments offer certified Angus and
choice-grade beef; the artisan bakeries serve up big, crusty
loaves of baked-from-scratch bread as well as made-in-the-store
bagels; the seafood departments offer a wide selection; and the
produce departments are well-stocked with a fresh array of
fruits and vegetables.
corporate support for floral
Floral is an important part of the company’s commitment to be
the “Best in Fresh,” Mr. Strom says. Support for floral starts
at the top, he says, with Neil Golub, CEO and president of the
Schenectady, N.Y.-headquartered chain, whose 20,000 employees
own 55 percent of the company’s privately held stock.
“He loves flowers,” Mr. Strom says. “He’s been in the [grocery]
business more than 50 years, and he comes into my office
probably every day. There are very few floral people at my level
who get that kind of support and attention.”
Floral is its own department, and, Mr. Strom points out, the
fact that “the head of floral is a vice president also indicates
the importance the company gives to floral.” What that company
support means is a large advertising presence; an emphasis on
procuring and selling top-quality products; a highly trained
work force; well-planned and well-executed merchandising
displays and promotions; and big, inviting floral departments
that are branded as Central Market Florist.
The payoff is a well-run floral operation that does thousands of
weddings a year as well as funerals, celebrations and other
special events. “We are custom florists inside a mass-market
supermarket,” says Mr. Strom. And while he declined to reveal
what percentage of total store sales comes from floral, he would
say, “According to what I hear, it’s higher than the national
floral paves the way
The “Best in Fresh” motto comes alive for customers before they
enter Price Chopper stores. Floral products such as lawn and
garden items are merchandised outside the stores nine months of
the year, and flowers are displayed year-round just inside the
stores. Seeing the bright fresh flowers, Mr. Strom says, “really
creates an impression for the whole shopping experience. We are
really happy to lead the way into the stores.”
Inside, perishables line the perimeter of the stores, with
floral strategically positioned “in the last corner, which is
where we want it to be,” Mr. Strom says. Shoppers don’t have to
worry about their groceries crushing their delicate floral
items, he points out.
In fact, Mr. Strom says, most of the floral departments are at
the end of the dairy and orange juice aisles, an “ideal
location,” he says, because those aisles are shopped by nearly
80 percent of customers.
No matter where the departments are, they are
difficult to miss because of their design and
size, which ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 square
feet. “We certainly have a much larger footprint for floral than
the average supermarket,” Mr. Strom acknowledges.
counters are at or near the front of the departments to boost
employee interaction with customers. “While our florists are
working, they also can engage the guests in conversation,” Mr.
Strom says. In addition, “customers can see what we’re doing and
see the skills and the talents of our designers.”
Most departments also have large bouquet cases, reach-in coolers
with doors for high-end designs and open coolers for
“cash-and-carry” florals like single-stem roses or carnations.
“Ninety-five percent of our stores are open 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, so often you’ll put a $70 arrangement in the
cooler and leave at 10 o’clock, and it’s gone by 7 in the
morning,” says Mr. Strom. “People have busy lives these days,
and they know that they can come to Central Market Florist at
Price Chopper to pick up an arrangement any time of day.”
Customers also can place orders for custom arrangements and shop
while their orders are being completed. The stores also take
orders in advance by phone and at Price Chopper’s Web site,
which this year won the “Best Web Site Award” from the National
The look of the departments changes constantly to grab shoppers’
attention. “A typical grocery shopper may make two visits a week
to your store,” Mr. Strom mentions. Even a splashy display
“blurs into the background” the third or fourth time a customer
walks by it, he says, “so we really believe in rotating and
Helping to make sure that happens is Kristal Horton, Price
Chopper’s manager of floral merchandising, and three floral
specialists. “The thrust of my group’s impact is executing
various programs at the stores, and giving feedback on how the
stores are reacting and how the customers are reacting,” she
The company recently started a bouquet merchandising program
that is designed to have a “wall of flowers” effect with
vertical striping, Ms. Horton says. The bouquets are arranged by
price point—$6.99, $9.99, $14.99 and $19.99—and “each look is
very different from the next,” she says, but the line is
“designed so that it coordinates well as a group so that it
gives a major impact when it’s displayed.”
rose of the month
The new bouquet program is just one example of Mr. Strom’s
belief that “new ideas and new products are really what make a
company successful.” He began at Price Chopper three years ago,
and he introduced 25 new products his first Valentine’s Day with
A willingness to take risks also brings the possibility of
failure, which Mr. Strom embraces. “You don’t grow without both
success and failure,” he remarks.
A risk Mr. Strom took 2.5 years ago has paid off tremendously. A
supplier told him about a “rose-of-the-month” program, and “I
really loved it and said, ‘Let’s get behind this,’” he recalls.
company advertised a six-stem rose bunch in a sleeve for $6.99.
It’s one variety for the entire month, which, Mr. Strom points
out, can be difficult on a supply basis because rose growers may
have 30 to 60 varieties in their greenhouses. “To produce one
variety in the volume we need means we get all of their
production for that particular month,” he says.
“So we put it out and gave it a shot,” he continues, “and I
started getting e-mails and calls from the stores, and they
said, ‘Jon, the customers want to know what’s next.’ And
immediately I thought, ‘OK, we’ve got a winner here.’”
He worked with the advertising department to develop a poster
with the 12 varieties for the year, “and that got people really
excited.” He then worked with the marketing department to make
the rose-of-the-month program part of the company’s loyalty card
program, which is called AdvantEdge.
When consumers buy six bunches in nine months, they get the
seventh one free. Customers’ receipts at checkout tell them how
many reward points they have in the program, and putting floral
on the receipts adds to the visibility of the floral operation.
Customers love the program. The first year, the company
increased rose sales tenfold, and the second year, rose sales
doubled. “It’s become a seven-figure business for us, this one
little tiny item that nobody ever thought about,” Mr. Strom
Another benefit from the program is the data mined from rose
purchasers’ use of their loyalty cards. “Each year we do some
marketing directly to our rose-of-the-month purchasers,” Mr.
Strom says, “which drives our sales up. That’s been very
getting the word out
Price Chopper runs newspaper advertisements at the beginning of
every month to promote the rose-of-the-month program. Floral
also has a presence in the company’s
weekly newspaper ads. “We get tremendous ad support,” Mr. Strom
A recent ad offered a “Fresh Dozen Rose Bouquet” for $9.99;
10-stem daffodil bunches at two for $3; a 4.5-inch potted Oxalis
(shamrock, clover) plant for $3.99; 4-inch potted miniature
roses at four for $10; and “Flower Market Bunches” at 10 for
Valentine’s Day this year, floral had its own four-page section
that wrapped around the regular advertising supplement. In
addition, floral is advertised on radio and television during
major holidays, and the company has a television ad promoting
its wedding services.
The company also promotes the floral departments through public
relations efforts on local radio stations and in newspapers. For
Valentine’s Day this year, for example, “we gave away a dozen
roses every day,” through 35 radio stations on the days leading
up to the holiday, Mr. Strom says.
To make sure that its floral products are the “Best in Fresh,”
Price Chopper partners with about 100 suppliers. Says Mr. Strom,
“I’m confident that we have the world-class supply team that we
need to bring the freshest and the best product to our
customers.” The suppliers include growers in South America,
California, Florida and Holland as well as local and Canadian
growers for nursery products. The company also buys from
wholesalers. Floral managers do their own ordering for their
stores through the corporate office, which sends the orders to
From initial procurement to the final sale, the company’s
emphasis is on quality. “We don’t just make sure the product is
fresh, we also care for it and handle it very, very well,” Mr.
All floral products are delivered to a distribution center in
refrigerated trucks and kept in the cold chain during the entire
process, Mr. Strom says. If the items are shipped wetpacked,
they are transferred directly to the stores. But if they come in
drypacked, they are processed at the distribution center.
The process is excellent for quality control, Mr. Strom says,
“because we see every product before it goes to the stores.” It
also benefits customer service by taking some of the
care-and-handling labor out of the stores, allowing florists “to
turn and face the guests and really provide service and fulfill
their needs,” Mr. Strom says.
meeting customers’ needs
That customer service is something the floral operation prides
itself on. “Floral is known in Price Chopper as one of the
premier customer service departments,” Ms. Horton says.
The company is so confident in its floral products and services
that it offers a 200 percent guarantee—if a customer has a
problem, his or her money will be refunded, and the product will
be replaced. However, Mr. Strom says, “I hardly ever hear of it
he says, he receives heartfelt expressions of thanks from
customers for the services they have received. In the past year
alone, he says, he has received more than 150 complimentary
e-mails and “countless” letters from satisfied customers.
A highly motivated and well-trained work force makes that level
of service possible. The floral departments, depending on size
and volume, employ from two to eight people, both full and part
time. In all, more than 700 people in the company are involved
The company is constantly training the floral employees through
one-on-one interaction, meetings, newsletters, phone calls and
e-mails. The three floral specialists are assigned zones, with
about 35 stores in each zone. “They’re able to give a lot of
hands-on focus to each store and answer their questions, visit
them quite frequently and give them tips and pointers on what’s
working, how to better merchandise their departments, their
financials, you name it,” says Ms. Horton, who also is
constantly in the stores.
The corporate staff also is available by cell phone to the
stores. “They all know they can reach out to their specialists
at any time,” she says.
That availability and responsiveness at the corporate level is
part of Mr. Strom’s customer service philosophy. “Everyone who
works for me knows that our customers are the floral managers,
and we treat them the same way we want them to treat the guests
who walk into the store,” he says. “We have a real customer
focus in everything we do.”
In addition to the one-on-one feedback, Price Chopper has a
companywide meeting every fall for all department managers and
their suppliers. Another meeting in January is just for floral,
and the staff sets goals, discusses holidays and plans programs.
The specialists also regularly conduct meetings with stores in
their zones to go over ordering, merchandising, scheduling labor
and whatever they need to discuss.
The corporate team sends out weekly planners to the stores. Each
week, the color cover highlights a successful display or
merchandising technique, and the floral managers enjoy having
their stores showcased in that way, Ms. Horton says.
Mr. Strom also communicates to the floral managers through
“Jon’s Weekly E-Mail.” “It lets them see how they fit into the
big picture, and it also gives them direction and encouragement
and excitement about what’s coming up,” he says.
The company also motivates the floral staff through sales
contests, Ms. Horton says. Prizes have included cruises, gift
certificates and a trip to Miami.
The company offers training classes twice a year that were
developed with the help of FTD Group, Inc. The floral
specialists run the two-day sessions, and the company now has
more than 200 certified designers.
partnering with ftd
That FTD connection is important to Price Chopper, and the
company is a top member. Mr. Strom says 91 of the company’s 112
stores have FTD services. “We’ve been growing our business with
FTD by 30 percent a year for the last three years,” he says. The
company has done that by aggressively promoting its FTD
services. It advertises its FTD partnership heavily and has
in-house contests to promote sending FTD. “I read every
statement for all 91 stores every month,” Mr. Strom says, making
sure no orders missed going to an available Price Chopper.
That focus on details and the company’s emphasis on quality and
freshness are key factors in the floral operation’s success.
Says Mr. Strom, “Floral is important to Price Chopper, and it
shows up in the support we get and also in what we do. We take
that on as a big responsibility.”
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800)
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