Buehler's Fresh Foods:
Delighting shoppers with the unexpected
Florals and giftware are an important part of this Ohio company's commitment to quality and service.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Shoppers new to Buehler’s Fresh Foods in Ohio find out quickly that they aren’t in the average grocery store. These one-stop shopping destinations offer everything from full-service restaurants to complete hardware stores. In floral, shoppers are treated to huge departments brimming with fresh flowers, plants and giftware, all carefully chosen to meet customers’ every need.
the shopping experience
Local buying gives Buehler’s a niche in the market, Mr. Tomassetti says, and it’s also good for the community, an important company value. “We’re very involved in every community we’re in,” he remarks. Local organizations conduct fundraisers in the stores, and each one has its own donation budget.
The 13 stores of family-owned Buehler Food Markets, Inc., headquartered in Wooster, Ohio, are designed to make shopping an experience. “We make shopping fun,” shares Jeff Tomassetti, produce/floral merchandiser.
That means stores full of unexpected amenities. Several have Ace Hardware locations on site. Most have full-service, sit-down restaurants, where the Friday night all-you-can-eat fish is a big hit. The stores offer free child care in the “Kidz Parks,” full-service banks, post offices, UPS shipping and Buehler’s own Scenic River Coffee Co. coffee shops with wireless Internet service.
Buehler’s also is known for its large produce departments. “It’s phenomenal how much produce we sell,” Mr. Tomassetti says. The company supports local farmers, including buying some of its produce from a local Amish auction.
|| buehler food markets, inc.
HEADQUARTERS Wooster, Ohio
OWNER Buehler family
STORES Thirteen supermarkets in Ohio, all under the Buehler's Fresh Foods banner.
AVERAGE STORE SIZE 70,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENTS’ SIZE 800 to 1,000 square feet
COMPANY EMPLOYEES3,000 total; 200 to 250 per store
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Three to 12 per store, depending on department size
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral and gift departments, including custom designs, events, funerals, weddings, delivery seven days a week and FTD flowers-by-wire service
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Mother's Day, followed closely by Valentine's Day
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES 1.5 percent to 2 percent companywide
PRODUCE/FLORAL MERCHANDISER Jeff Tomassetti
WEB SITE www.buehlers.com
Floral is part of Buehler’s efforts to stand out from other grocery stores, Mr. Tomassetti shares. When Buehler’s decided to add florals to its offerings nearly 30 years ago, “We wanted to tackle it all; we wanted to be the place where [customers] could get corsages made, where they could have their funeral flowers. We just didn’t want to sell bouquets and plants and be done with it.”
The company became an FTD member in 1980 and today is one of the “FTD Top 100,” a ranking of members according to the volume of orders they send into the FTD network. Shares Ben Pauley,
vice president, mass markets, for FTD Group, Inc. “Buehler’s is a wonderful FTD partner. They have great floral operations.”
The departments have prime space near the front of the stores. Averaging 800 to 1,000 square feet and with large overhead signs proclaiming “Florist & Gift Shop,” they are difficult to miss. Merchandisers and coolers are kept full of bouquets, fresh and permanent arrangements, and plants and gifts for customers to grab and go. “One of the best things that sets us apart is we have a very wide variety,” Mr. Tomassetti comments.
full selection of giftware
Giftware is merchandised by color in eye-catching vignettes, with displays changing often to catch impulse purchases and keep customers excited about new offerings. The departments focus on home-décor selections such as candles, frames, photographs, linens, urns, tableware and collectibles. Merchandise touting the state’s beloved Ohio State University Buckeyes is a shop staple.
Giftware is an area that helps Buehler’s stand out. Mr. Tomassetti began testing an expanded giftware selection in 2006 in a few locations, and the experiment was so successful he took the concept to nearly all 13 stores. Remarks Jean Rakich, floral manager at Buehler’s Wadsworth, Ohio, location, “We have noticed a tremendous amount of increase [in sales] since our gift shop came in.”
Yankee Candles are a customer favorite, says Ms. Rakich, with the pumpkin-scented ones selling best. Prices range from $1.99 for the small Tarts® to $24.99 for full-size candles. Buehler’s helps keep customers’ interest high by offering a “candle of the month.” The selected Yankee Candle is discounted by 15 percent and is featured in a special display. “We usually sell out,” Ms. Rakich remarks.
Mr. Tomassetti and the floral managers with full gift departments visit the Columbus MarketPlace in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio Wholesale, Inc.’s showroom in Seville, Ohio, to make gift selections. They also rely on vendors to help keep up on the latest styles. “We work very closely with our vendors,” Mr. Tomassetti says. “We have some great account managers who really help us with new trends.”
|| keys to success
CUSTOMER SERVICE Buehler’s Fresh Foods believes in offering excellent customer service. The full-service floral departments have as many as 12 floral staffers per location, depending on store size, and do “whatever it takes” to satisfy customers, Jeff Tomassetti, the produce/floral merchandiser, says.
PRODUCTS Customers are treated to a large selection of gifts, fresh florals and plants, spurring both impulse sales and call-ahead orders.
TRAINING Floral employees receive training through one-on-one interaction, FTD University, design seminars and floral industry events.
GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about Buehler’s floral services through newspaper advertisements, the company’s Web site, delivery vans listing the floral department phone number and satisfied shoppers’ word-of-mouth.
The stores buy fresh products from both wholesalers and directly from suppliers, receiving deliveries three to four times a week. Most products go straight to the stores. The floral managers do their own ordering from a list of preferred vendors, allowing the departments to tailor their selections to their customer demographics.
“We are known for quality and freshness,” Mr. Tomassetti shares, adding that Buehler’s stands behind all its products with a 100 percent guarantee. “We believe in our quality, and our customers do, too.”
Bouquets are the top-selling floral item. Buehler’s has experimented with cross-merchandising bouquets at the entrances to the stores in about six locations and has had “huge” sales increases, Mr. Tomassetti reveals. “Our bouquet sales have doubled or tripled at some of the stores where we’ve done that,” he says. “I hope to see that at all of the stores.”
The company’s larger stores sell 200 to 250 bouquets a week, he says. The No. 1 seller is a dozen rose bouquet for $12.99; Ms. Rakich estimates she sells at least 40 dozen a week. Also popular is the FTD® Gold Bouquet, which comes with a $5 rewards card toward the customer’s next wire order. “We always sell out of those bouquets,” Mr. Tomassetti says.
“Consumer bunches are also becoming more and more popular,” he observes. Buehler’s program features sunflowers, carnations, spray roses, spray mums, Gerberas, Alstroemerias, filler flowers and more, selling at three bunches for $18. A bunch typically includes seven stems.
Customers favor vase arrangements although a Yankee Candle design is one of the company’s top sellers. Flowers are arranged into floral foam in the top of the candle. They sell for $35 to $40, and customers buy them for gift-giving.
Buehler’s started a “design of the month” program about a year ago. The goal is for designers to create something unique, “not your typical basket or vase arrangement, so we can show off a little bit,” Mr. Tomassetti explains. He picks the featured design each month from ones submitted by the floral staff. Signage in the cooler lets customers know it is the special design.
In keeping with Buehler’s emphasis on gifts, half of the blooming plants stocked in the departments are upgraded with bows and picks. “It’s just a great impulse buy,” Mr. Tomassetti says. Undecorated 6-inch plants range in price from $12.99 to $16.99.
service to customers
Ms. Rakich says Buehler’s reputation for high-quality offerings and friendly service is the key to the company’s success: “We do whatever our customers would like.”
Customer service is a core value at Buehler’s. “We always say customer service is the No. 1 priority at Buehler Food Market,” Mr. Tomassetti remarks. “In the grocery store and the floral industry, there are other options, so every customer you lose is lost sales. We do whatever it takes,” to satisfy customers.
The company backs that pledge with a commitment to labor and training. The smaller stores have from three to six floral employees each, and the largest, like Ms. Rakich’s, have as many as 12, in a combination of full-time, part-time and seasonal workers. Ms. Rakich explains that “seasonal” means she schedules them when she needs them. She often has the seasonal employees come in at least once a week so they don’t lose their floral skills.
New floral employees are trained using the FTD University online tutorial and with one-on-one, hands-on interaction with more experienced floral designers. The company also sends employees to design school, training seminars and industry events like The Super Floral Show.
Emphasizing the importance of service, floral designers are in the stores from 8 a.m to 7 p.m. most days and even later during busier times. Shoppers can have arrangements made while they shop, but Mr. Tomassetti says most custom orders come in over the phone to the departments’ direct lines. Ms. Rakich says her department receives as many as 25 calls a day placing orders.
The departments offer prom, funeral, wedding and event services and delivery every day. Larger stores average 15 to 25 deliveries a day, Mr. Tomassetti shares. Prices for delivery are $8 locally and $10 for out of town. The company recently had to raise the prices because of rising fuel costs, but Mr. Tomassetti says customers understood the change.
Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at email@example.com or (800) 355-8086.
Photos courtesy of Buehler's Fresh Foods.