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Room to grow at Dave's Marketplace

This Rhode Island independent found a creative solution when it needed more space for its floral and gift business.
   by Cynthia L. McGowan

     About four years ago, the floral and gift basket operation at Dave’s Marketplace had a problem—it was outgrowing its store space, especially at Christmastime. In fact, the gift basket side of the business moved to a temporary location every fall and winter to accommodate production of the many holiday orders that came in.

     “It got to a point,” recalls Sue Budlong, the Rhode Island independent’s floral and gift supervisor, “that there was just so much to move and so little time. We couldn’t grow the business any more by continuing to do that.”

     That’s why, in 2006, the company opened a 3,600-square-foot floral and gift shop inside a 30,000-square-foot building adjacent to Dave’s East Greenwich grocery store, giving the operation ample room to grow. The new location has a huge sign outside that proclaims, “Dave’s Baskets • Floral Shop • Gifts,” and it includes a 7,000-square-foot gift basket production area (which expands to 12,000 during holidays) as well as Dave’s corporate offices, prepared-foods commissary and storage.

loyal customers

     The creative thinking that led Dave’s to open the standalone shop is indicative of how the company does business, Ms. Budlong describes. “We want to be different,” she emphasizes. “We want to be outside of the box.”

     The growing company currently has eight stores throughout Rhode Island, with a ninth scheduled to open in early 2011. That apparently isn’t enough for some of Dave’s 8,000 Facebook fans, who post pleas for locations to open in their areas.

     “We have an excellent reputation in the state of Rhode Island,” Ms. Budlong confirms. “We have managed to grow because the communities that we’re currently in speak very highly of us.”

     The keys to that consumer praise and loyalty are excellent customer service and fresh, high-quality products, she shares. Thanks to incentive programs and regular recognition, the family-oriented company attracts and retains talented employees who are skilled at engaging customers. “It’s the service that you had in the ’40s,” Ms. Budlong describes.

     The excellent service complements the in-store experience, which includes amenities such as hot buffets, where customers gather for lunch; bakeries that feature artisan breads and delectable pastries; full-service butcher shops; and seafood from local fishermen as well as the Boston Seafood Market. “We have a tremendous prepared food department, a tremendous kitchen and tremendous catering,” Ms. Budlong shares. Adding to the ambiance are coffee bars that feature free coffee for customers to sip while they shop.

“there’s something for everybody”

     Good service and high quality also are hallmarks of the floral and gift operation, branded “Le’s Isle Rose.” In addition to the standalone shop, Dave’s Marketplace has full-service floral departments in two of its stores and large bouquet cases in three others for cash-and-carry purchases.

     In the standalone store in East Greenwich, shoppers can choose from a large assortment of bouquets, arrangements, flowers by the stem, giftware and gift baskets. “There’s something for everybody there,” Ms. Budlong shares.

     At about 1,000 square feet, the in-store floral departments  don’t have the space for gifts, instead focusing on fresh products as well as a selection of vases and greeting cards. The product mix expands at the holidays to include plush, stained glass and containers to upgrade holiday plants.

     In both types of shops, the merchandising emphasis is on changing displays often to keep customers’ attention and interest. “Every floral manager and part-time staff shifts and reorganizes daily,” Ms. Budlong comments. “If you mix up the merchandising, people feel like they’ve found something new.”

thriving floral and gift operation

     About 21 people work for the floral and gift operation, expanding to 50 during the holidays to handle gift basket production. An average of seven work in the stand-alone shop per shift, answering the eight phone lines, designing custom floral and gift orders placed by customers in the shop and handling orders that come in through Dave’s thriving Internet business,

     The in-store departments have a floral manager and a part-time staffer to handle in-store and phone orders. In addition, two staffers go from store to store to fill in where needed. “They get trained in every aspect of the business,” Ms. Budlong remarks, “so they could make a gift basket one day, a floral arrangement the next day, and they could go take care of the outdoor product the next day.”

     Staffing is tight, Ms. Budlong acknowledges, but the talented full- and part-timers in the floral and gift operation work well together as a team. “It’s a nice dynamic to be involved in a great work environment,” she shares. The staff offer a full range of floral services, from custom designs made while clients shop to weddings and delivery.

  Dave's marketplace

OWNER Dave Cesario
LOCATIONS Eight stores in Rhode Island; a ninth is scheduled to open in early 2011
SALES $128.0 million in fiscal year 2009
STORE SIZE Averages 32,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 1,000 square feet in the stores; the gift/floral shop is about 3,600 square feet
FLORAL EMPLOYEES About 21 total, expanding to 50 during holidays; each store with a full-service department has one full-time and one part-time staffer, and most of the others work in the gift/floral shop
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals including custom designs and gift baskets, weddings and delivery
BIGGEST FLORAL holiday Mother’s Day

growing wedding business

     Weddings are a growth area, Ms. Budlong offers: “We have weddings every single weekend.” She attributes Dave’s wedding success to several factors. First, she hired a floral manager two years ago who was especially talented in wedding services. Next, she advertised wedding packages on Craigslist, a classified advertising website. Finally, Dave’s showcased its wedding work at two bridal shows. After that, the brides started coming in, and they haven’t stopped.

     “We haven’t done another show, and our wedding business has doubled,” Ms. Budlong marvels, saying brides’ positive word-of-mouth has kept the business growing. Dave’s also posts photos of weddings it services on its Facebook page.

     Most of Dave’s weddings are ones in which the couples pick up their florals in the stores, with prices averaging $1,500, but the florists also handle full-service weddings, with complete setup. For example, the company was chosen to provide flowers for three high-style weddings in Newport last summer, at about $10,000 each, even though Dave’s doesn’t have a location in that famous resort city.

customers’ favorites

     Dave’s Marketplace’s flowers have “an excellent reputation” for quality, Ms. Budlong describes. “That’s why people keep coming back.”

     Floral managers order for their own stores—even though Rhode Island is a small state, it has diverse demographics, and the floral managers know their customer bases best. Dave’s Marketplace procures flowers and plants from local wholesalers; its primary wholesale supplier, Bozzuto’s Inc.; nearby growers; importers; and the Boston Flower Exchange.

     Bouquets, the most-popular floral items, start at $6.99, with $10 versions selling best. The average arrangement sale is $35 to $45, “but during holidays,” Ms. Budlong reveals, “that goes up tremendously.”

     The gift and floral shop offers flowers by the stem year-round, but the in-store departments sell them only during holidays. Favorite flowers are Hydrangeas, at $5 a stem; callas, at $3; and orchids, from $8 to $10.

     Potted orchids also sell well. Dave’s buys them from a local grower, seeking out genera that usually aren’t offered at competitors’ stores. Prices can range from $45 to $80, with an Oncidium selling for $54.

     The giftware at the stand-alone shop includes personal accessories, such as scarves, jewelry and handbags; gourmet foods; greeting cards; and home décor items. Dave’s procures gift items at the New York and Atlanta gift shows.

hundreds of gift baskets

     Gift baskets are a lucrative business for Dave’s Marketplace. During the holidays, the company produces as many as 450 a day, for Internet, gift shop and corporate customers; about 60 a day are created during the regular season. “People know we have tremendous value,” Ms. Budlong confides. “Our baskets are hands down the best that you’re going to find.”

     In addition to custom baskets, the company offers a wide selection of ready-made themed baskets, from “baby” to “thank you”; specialty gourmet styles including breakfast, cheese and Italian; and fruit baskets, which is the top-selling category. Selections that pair flowers and fruit are especially popular, Ms. Budlong shares. Prices range from $29.95 to $160 for ready-made baskets, and custom baskets sometimes command even higher prices.

     Corporate clients are important to the gift basket business, Ms. Budlong offers, giving as an example a company that ordered 46 dish gardens last year, at $60 each, as employee gifts. “We have maintained and kept the corporate client base when other people are losing them due to the economy,” she remarks. “Part of it is, if you only have $20 to spend this year, we’ll find a way to make something work for you.”

     Gift basket production is at its highest level from October through November. That’s when the company doubles the floral staff, expands the work area and sets up seven 36-foot-long tables to handle the load. Despite the size of the operation, however, the quality remains. “We work hard to make sure every product we send out is unique for that customer and to that recipient,” Ms. Budlong shares.

     That attention to detail in products and service is what keeps the floral and gift operation at Dave’s Marketplace thriving despite the difficult economy. The keys to success, confirms Ms. Budlong, are “consistent quality and consistent service.”



keys to success


Dave’s Marketplace offers a large selection of high-quality florals, gift baskets and giftware.

CUSTOMER SERVICE The skilled staff can offer a full range of floral services, from custom designs to weddings. Dave’s offers floral and gift basket delivery throughout Rhode Island via independent contractors. The company doesn’t use a flowers-by-wire service, but gift basket orders can be sent out of state through UPS.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about Dave’s flowers and gifts through the floral operation’s e-commerce website, Facebook and positive word-of-mouth. The products on the website are updated often to keep customers coming back.   


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

Photos courtesy of Dave’s Marketplace.

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