by Cynthia L. McGowan
Talented duo help Associated Food Stores, Inc. increase floral
Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS), a cooperatively owned
wholesale distributor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is on pace
to see its floral sales increase by as much as 200 percent this
year, thanks to increased corporate support for floral and the
teamwork of two of the chain’s floral executives, Annette Egan
and Roxine Hodson, who have spent the past year refining
programs, increasing efficiency and improving merchandising.
AFS, which had $1.4 billion in revenue in 2004, serves 580
independently owned member supermarkets in eight Western states.
It also owns 23 stores in Utah as part of its Associated Retail
Stores (ARS) subsidiary, under the banners of Maceys, Dan’s
Foods, Lin’s Market Place and Dick’s Market.
Ms. Egan, floral buyer and merchandiser for AFS, works out of
AFS’ 1.25-million-square-foot warehouse in Farr West, Utah, and
does nearly all the floral buying for the member supermarkets.
Ms. Hodson, floral sales manager for ARS, has primary
responsibility for the floral operations at the 23 corporate
stores, but she also works with the membership stores on their
floral programs. “I’m really the retail side of the business,
and Annette is the wholesale side,” Ms. Hodson explains. Between
the two of them, they have helped AFS have some amazing sales
results this year.
Ms. Hodson started at her newly created position a year ago
after serving as a floral manager for one of the Maceys stores,
and for the two quarters just before she came on board, floral
sales at the ARS stores were down about 8 percent from the year
before. A year later, for those same two quarters, floral sales
are up 14 percent and 12 percent.
In addition, AFS’ fiscal year began in April, and Ms. Egan
reports that the company’s floral sales for the first four
months of the fiscal year are already at 63 percent of what they
were for the whole year in 2004, putting them on target for as
much as a 200 percent increase.
Ms. Egan, who has been with AFS for 25 years, buys from 60 to 70
floral-related vendors from all over the world, and most of
their products go through the warehouse before going to the
individual stores. She does the ordering for all the stores in
the cooperative and ensures that the products get to their
stores in a timely manner—nothing stays in the warehouse more
than two or three days. “I think the success we are enjoying is
because we’re getting product in and out as fast as we possibly
can,” Ms. Egan says.
The warehouse is a 24-hour-a-day operation, with 750 truckloads
of products, including floral, going every week to all eight
states that AFS serves. The warehouse, built four years ago,
incorporates the latest technology to ensure efficient
distribution of floral, grocery, frozen foods, perishables and
general merchandise, and the company boasts a 98 percent on-time
delivery rate. The warehouse handles 85 percent of the company’s
distribution needs (the company also has warehouses in Boise,
Idaho, and Billings and Helena, Mont.).
The company also has direct-store delivery when it’s most
efficient or if the stores are far away from the warehouse and
Ms. Egan feels products will be on the trucks for too long.
Bedding plant vendors are local, and they deliver their products
directly to stores.
Another efficiency that has helped boost the numbers is better
scanning data for floral.
“One of the problems we’ve had with floral is getting good scan
information,” Ms. Hodson says. To combat that, she has started
to implement in several banners the use of generic UPC stickers
for floral. The stickers go on all floral products and ensure
that floral catches all the sales it should. “It was interesting
that once they started doing that, that their sales went up,”
she says, “because now the items were being scanned, and they
were being scanned to the right department.”
Part of Ms. Hodson’s role is to implement programs, make sure
that a certain standard of merchandising is maintained, and
train and motivate the floral staff. She and Ms. Egan are trying
programs in all four corporate banners and then are determining
what works best in each one, with the plan to tailor programs to
each banner as they get more sales data.
“I really don’t believe that right off the bat you can say,
‘That’s not going to work here,’ or ‘That is going to work
here,’” Ms. Hodson says. “I don’t think you can do that until
you actually try it. Guests surprise you in what they want and
what they’re looking for.”
The floral departments vary in size, and she has worked with
corporate planners to make sure the space is well used. For
example, during a recent Dick’s Market remodel, a small space
was allotted to floral—only 6 feet wide and 18 feet long.
However, Ms. Hodson turned a potential negative into a positive
by putting in an open cooler, end caps with half-round
stair-step displays and a balloon station. “We increased sales
by about 25 percent because it’s the right fixture and it’s in
the right location,” she says.
Other stores have had updates, too, she says, and “I’ve been
really lucky since coming on board that I’ve had an opportunity
to influence some of those buying decisions with coolers and
fixtures. We’re getting some good updates, and it’s making some
dramatic improvements in our sales.”
Ms. Hodson also is a big believer in the power of in-store
announcements to bring attention to floral, using color blocking
to organize products and using signage to help sell. “Like every
other department, labor is an issue, and with floral, if you
don’t have big sales, you definitely don’t have big hours to
work with,” she says. “Signing is so important because if people
aren’t there to talk to our guests, then the signs have to do
our work for us.”
The stores try to make the signage interesting and relevant to
consumers by including care and handling information. At a
Dick’s Market recently, Ms. Hodson says, some lavender hadn’t
sold until the floral manager put some signs up saying what to
do with it and where to plant it. “Within a couple of days, it
had all sold,” she says. “It made a huge difference.”
Ms. Egan also works with the stores on merchandising. She
chooses weekly themes for the membership stores three months in
advance and gives vendors the opportunity to supply products
that fit the themes. She then lets the stores know what the
themes are so they can plan and organize their displays.
To encourage creativity and to get floral departments to change
their displays often, Ms. Egan has weekly contests. They send
her photos of their displays, and she and others in the
warehouse judge them. The winners receive trophies engraved with
an AFS slogan, “Only the Best.” “It gives them something to
strive for,” she says.
Ms. Hodson also is a believer in changing the look of the
departments. “If you don’t change it up,” she says, “pretty
soon, people think, ‘I don’t have a plant on my list, so I don’t
need to go to floral; it looks the same all the time, I know
what’s in there,’ so you’ve really got to change it up in order
to keep people coming back.”
customers are coming back, as seen by the recent sales
increases. Popular sellers include dozen-rose bouquets for $8.99
or $9.99, depending on the banner; mini-rose plants for $2.99
and $3.99; and ‘Calandivas’ at $4.99 for 4-inch plants and $8.99
for 6-inch plants. Other mainstays include ‘Pelee’ potted mums,
Gerberas and dyed “crazy daisies.”
Ms. Egan says stores choose price points, with the exception of
ad items. She and Ms. Hodson choose the promotional items for
the ads, write the copy and set the prices.
As part of their efforts to build AFS’ consumer bunch program,
Ms. Hodson and Ms. Egan have implemented a “10 for $10” program
from The Queen’s Bouquet Network that they learned about at this
year’s Super Floral Show. Shoppers can get consumer bunches for
$1 each, and “when you buy 10 of them, you have a nice big
bouquet,” says Ms. Egan. “That’s been pretty successful for us.”
Ms. Egan and Ms. Hodson have seen good sales increases from
holidays and special promotions in the past year. The company’s
biggest holiday is Memorial Day, when people in Utah and Idaho
buy potted mums to place on loved ones’ graves. AFS stores sell
6-inch mums at three for $10. “We’ll sell truckloads of mums for
Memorial Day,” says Ms. Egan.
Hodson reports that one store sold out of 9,000 potted mums on
the Friday before Memorial Day. The company as a whole had a
45.9 percent increase in floral sales for Memorial Day this
year, and the ARS stores had a 21.9 percent increase for the
week leading up to Memorial Day. Ms. Egan and Ms. Hodson also
report sales increases for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the
next two biggest floral holidays for AFS.
Ms. Hodson and Ms. Egan are proud of their accomplishments of
the past year but are keeping their focus on continuous
improvement. They conduct two training sessions a year for the
ARS and AFS floral managers, and both are always in contact with
floral staff and available for trouble shooting or advice.
In those training sessions, Ms. Hodson stresses to the floral
managers the importance of creative merchandising for the
success of their departments. “Anything that you can do to
generate a little fun and excitement is awesome,” she says.
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
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