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A reputation for service

The floral department helps uphold Palmer’s Market’s customer-friendly standards.
    by Cynthia L. McGowan

      When you’re operating in a marketplace where customers have many choices for their grocery dollars, you have to find ways to stand out from the competition. For Palmer’s Market, a family-owned one-store independent in affluent Darien, Conn., one point of differentiation is outstanding service in all areas of the store, including floral, where four designers are on hand to meet customers’ every need.

      “Our store is known for excellent customer service,” confirms Cindy Palmer Dean, creative director and store co-owner. In addition to the full-service floral department, “we have an incredible kitchen and an upscale meat department where we cut all of our own beef,” Ms. Dean describes. “Our bakery is absolutely fantastic.”

      Those are the types of amenities that have helped Palmer’s Market appeal to the upscale clientele in Darien, a city of about 20,000 people that boasts a median family income of $173,777, according to the 2000 Census. “It is considered to be on Connecticut’s ‘Gold Coast,’ right on Long Island Sound, basically between Westport, Greenwich and New Canaan, all of which are highly upscale communities,” describes Kevin Coupe, founder and “Content Guy” of the food-industry e-newsletter and a Super Floral Retailing editorial adviser, who lives in Darien (pronounced “dair-ee-AN” by locals). Many of the city’s residents work in New York City, which is about a 50-minute train ride away.

      The competitive landscape is heating up in Darien, making Palmer’s Market’s strategy for differentiation more important than ever. The city is on tap for a new Whole Foods Market as well as a Fairway Market, and three other nearby stores either have remodeled or will start renovations soon. “They’re looking at five either new or refreshed competitors in the marketplace,” Mr. Coupe points out. “It’s sort of remarkable.”

greeting customers with flowers
      That competitive marketplace makes Palmer’s Market’s exceptional service more important than ever. The store helps set the tone for a delightful customer experience by placing the floral department directly at the entrance, where shoppers encounter hundreds of colorful, fragrant flowers and plants under a handcrafted pergola. “It’s a wonderful way to greet our customers coming in the door,” Ms. Dean observes.

      The floral department has a European market feel, with all the flowers and plants in buckets or on tables for maximum visual impact and for shopping ease. “Everyone’s always commenting on how gorgeous it is,” confirms Floral Manager Heather Netherwood.

      Customers enjoy watching the florists create designs at the pergola’s counter, Ms. Netherwood says, and they’ll often bring in containers from home and have custom designs made while they shop. All purchases receive complimentary gift wrapping.

      In addition to custom designs, the floral department provides wedding and event services as well as delivery. “We offer every single thing that any local flower shop offers,” Ms. Netherwood emphasizes. An independent contractor handles deliveries for the store, which charges customers $10 to $12 per order, depending on the distance.

      The designers have a variety of levels of floral experience. Ms. Netherwood owned her own flower shop and, after that, ran a highly successful wedding business, handling as many as 650 nuptials a year. The other full-time designer also has a floral background. The two part-timers didn’t have floral experience before their hiring, but both have art backgrounds and have quickly embraced the art of floral design. Ms. Netherwood says she found that a good eye for color and composition can make up for lack of experience.

loyal customers and employees
      The department contributes 4 percent toward total store sales, and Ms. Netherwood attributes that impressive number to loyal, repeat customers. “People do buy their weekly flowers here,” she remarks. “We’re all on a first-name basis, and we know what they like.”

      Ms. Dean says the store has earned customer loyalty by first creating an atmosphere that attracts loyal employees who strive to uphold the company’s standards and build relationships with customers. “Most of our employees have worked here for anywhere up to 40 years, so most of our customers are known by name, even though we get 8,000 customers a week,” she explains.

      The company takes two approaches to get that kind of employee longevity. “There have been a lot of articles that talk about, ‘Is it monetarily why people stay with you, or is it because you appreciate your employees’? And I think we do both,” Ms. Dean confides. “Everybody wants a pat on the back and to be told that they’re doing a great job, and on top of that, I think we pay our employees fairly.”



palmer's market


Darien, Conn.
OWNERS The Palmer family: Joe Palmer Jr., Alphonse Palmer,
Greg Palmer and Cindy Palmer Dean
STORE SIZE 20,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE About 300 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Four (two full time and two part time)
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals including custom designs, weddings, funerals, events and delivery

sourcing the “best of the best”
      In addition to exceptional service, Palmer’s Market makes sure to offer high-quality flowers, and they don’t stay in the store long. “People definitely appreciate how fresh everything is,” Ms. Netherwood shares. “We never hold onto flowers for more than a couple of days. As fast as it comes in, it’s going out.”

      Ms. Netherwood orders flowers from three wholesalers, who deliver products every day. The wholesalers are nearby, “so once or twice a week, instead of ordering over the phone, I’ll just drive over and handpick everything.” Palmer’s Market’s owners encourage such hands-on procurement because it allows her to get “the best of the best,” she describes.

      The store’s top-selling flowers are roses, Ms. Netherwood says, with more than 100 rose bouquets sold a week. Palmer’s Market offers a “rainbow” mix of Ecuadorean roses in colors that vary by season. Accented with Hypericum and lemon leaf, the 14-stem bouquets are prized as gifts and sell for $19.99 each. The store also offers 12-stem rose bouquets for $12.99 apiece.

      The floral designers create all the mixed bouquets, “so they don’t look like they are mass-produced,” Ms. Netherwood remarks, and price them at $25 to $35. The designers tend to use seasonal flowers and unusual fillers such as Leucadendron for the bouquets, which sell well as gifts.

      Consumer bunches and single stems are strong sellers, especially among customers who purchase flowers weekly. When in season, tulips do well, with the store selling as many as 175 bunches a week at $9.99 for a 10-stem bunch. Customers also favor Oriental lilies, which go for $15 for three stems. Single stems of roses and Gerberas are $1.99 each.

      Arrangement styles reflect the culture of the community, which Ms. Netherwood describes as “very traditional.” Customers prefer compact, lush designs, often featuring Hydrangeas and roses. “We try not to do too funky or contemporary,” she says. “It’s really not the look in this town.” Prices for arrangements average $25 to $60.

favorite plants
      At about $39, “gorgeous” Hydrangeas in 8-inch pots are top sellers in the plant category, Ms. Netherwood says. Other favorites are Azaleas, Cyclamens, primroses, Gerberas and spring bulbs. Prices are $4.99 to $9.99 for 4-inch pots, and $15 and up for 6-inch plants.

      The store also carries European baskets filled with various plants and accented with branches, birds and ribbon. Priced at $45 to $100, they sell well as gifts.

      To encourage gift buying, the department offers a large selection of stylish containers to complement customers’ floral purchases. A contingent from Palmer’s Market, including Ms. Netherwood, visited the The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market in January to choose the latest styles. The store also carries a huge selection of giftware, and although not part of the floral department, it is cross-merchandised among the floral offerings.

effective marketing
      Palmer’s Market isn’t content to rest on its reputation for great service and top-quality flowers to attract customers; it is constantly merchandising and marketing. For example, to add interest and a more organic feel to the department, Ms. Netherwood suspended tree branches from the ceiling and wove them through the top of the pergola. “She hangs plants off of them, and it adds this really cool element” to the department, Ms. Dean describes.

      The floral staff changes the look of the department often to draw attention to new product arrivals. The department also displays a huge arrangement, worth about $300, “to get people to realize what we do,” Ms. Netherwood says. “And that way, we will get the $100 orders.” In addition, flowers are cross-merchandised throughout the store, especially in the bakery and deli.

      Marketing pieces are another important key to the flower business’ success. To advertise its Thanksgiving fare, Palmer’s Market inserted a professionally produced full-color brochure into the local newspaper. The floral department, featured on the front and back covers, showed several selections, with prices from $75 to $150. The piece went to 35,000 people, and the response “was amazing,” Ms. Netherwood recalls. “It doubled our arrangement sales for Thanksgiving.”

      Such brochures work, Ms. Dean offers, because people can save them and refer back to them when they are ready to order. Professional photography that lets the products do the talking is key, she emphasizes; too much copy will get in the way.

      Palmer’s Market posts updates about the floral department on its Facebook page, too. A recent wall posting showed beautiful photos of the department and invited visitors to check out the store’s selections.

      Ms. Dean also is a believer in the power of the mass sale. She recalls a time when Ms. Netherwood visited a wholesaler and discovered “the most incredible Cyclamens, so she bought 200 of them.” She put a huge display of the plants right inside the front door, selling them all. “If you get a half-dozen or a dozen Cyclamens, maybe you’ll sell a few, but if you bring in 100 or 200, you’ll sell them all in a couple of days,” Ms. Dean sums up. “It’s effective marketing.”

customers respond
      The topnotch service, high-quality flowers and effective marketing all serve one need—to satisfy Palmer’s Market’s customers and keep them coming back. And it seems to be working, as this excerpt from a recent letter from a customer reveals:

      “Your employees are very pleasant and professional and project the feeling of being proud to be part of the Palmer family. What really makes [shopping at Palmer’s] fun are all the household gift items and flower arrangements that are scattered throughout the store. There is always a little gift or treat that I find for myself or my friends. These items are sometimes unique to Palmer’s, so thank you for making it so fun to shop at Palmer’s.”

     Responds Ms. Dean, “Our customers are very vocal. They are always letting us know what they like and don’t like. And that’s just terrific.”


keys to success


The Palmer’s Market floral department has four designers who are on the job nearly all the hours the store is open, ensuring customers’ needs are met. The designers offer custom designs, weddings, events and delivery.

MARKETING The sights and scents of the beautiful floral department greet customers when they enter the store. The department changes its look often, helping with impulse sales, and it gets great publicity in professional marketing pieces.

FRESH PRODUCTS Local wholesalers deliver high-quality products to the stores daily, ensuring freshness.


Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.

Photos courtesy of Palmer’s Market

Super Floral Retailing •• Copyright 2010
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.