Gourmet store’s floral department
thrives by building relationships.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Candie Tipton is more than a florist to her loyal clients at The
Hills Market, where she has been floral director since 1995. For
many, she is a trusted friend to whom they can turn at life’s
“She’ll start off doing corsages for the daughter’s first dance,
and a few years later she’s doing a wedding, and then friends of
the daughter are using her for their weddings, and later on she
may have to do a funeral,” explains Jill Moorhead, marketing
director for the independently owned gourmet grocery store in
“The work that she does, the relationships that she builds with
people—they don’t even think about going somewhere else,” Ms.
Those personal touches are the keys to success for both the
floral department and the store itself. As a 16,800-square-foot,
single-store company, The Hills Market has used service and
high-quality, unique products to differentiate itself from the
many choices shoppers have in Columbus’ competitive grocery
the hills market
FOUNDERS Nancy and Roy Kerscher
CURRENT owners James Stiffler, CEO and chairman of the
board; Mark Agner, president; Kyle Baker, vice president and
merchandising director; and Valerie Carlson, secretary and legal
GENERAL MANAGER Preston Beacom
FLORAL DIRECTOR Candie Tipton
STORE’S SALES VOLUME An estimated $195,000 a week,
according to Specialty Food Magazine; approximately $10 million
STORE'S SIZE 16,800 square feet
EMPLOYEES 100 to 120
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral department, offering
custom designs, weddings, funerals, events and delivery
FLORAL'S YEARLY SALES $500,000
FLORAL'S CONTRIBUTION TO STORE SALES 5 percent
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Seven
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
The Hills Market is in a shopping center at the foot of
Worthington Hills, an affluent, close-knit neighborhood of 1,100
homes that was established in the 1960s. It’s the kind of
neighborhood where residents have community gatherings, Fourth
of July parades and their own newsletter, and says Ms. Moorhead,
“They’re our customers.”
The discerning clientele from Worthington Hills, as well as
destination shoppers from throughout Columbus, are drawn to The
Hills Market’s sophisticated offerings and friendly atmosphere.
Overhead track lighting and an appealing color palette of
browns, oranges and greens create a calm, comforting ambience
that invites shoppers to take their time exploring the store.
The white wooden shelves brim with specialty items like locally
made pastas and sauces as well as niche products from
out-of-state companies. Chalkboard signage on endcaps helps sell
products with such wording as “Goodies for your gift baskets!”
and “Barefoot Contessa products by Ina Garten, as seen on TV.”
The large wine department offers more than 4,000 labels,
according to Specialty Food Magazine, and keeps a database of
all customers’ wine purchases. Prices range from $5 to as much
as $500 a bottle. The cheese case includes selections from
Ireland, France, Italy, Norway and Spain. The well-merchandised
produce department carries only tree-ripened fruit.
The deli, which smokes meats in-house, tempts shoppers with such
items as made-to-order sandwiches, pulled pork and a customer
favorite, homemade ham salad. In the “Chef’s Case,” the
mouth-watering entrées include asparagus with roasted shallots,
sea scallops with spicy green beans, crab-stuffed sole and
Jamaica jerk swordfish. The bakery boasts in-store-created
treats like baklava, crème brûlée, “blonde ambition killer
brownies” and tiramisu.
keys to success
PERSONAL SERVICE The floral department has grown the
business by offering excellent service and building
relationships with customers.
FRESH PRODUCTS Floral deliveries are made every day, and
the department follows good care-and-handling techniques.
AVAILABILITY The floral department has seven designers
and is staffed seven days a week. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6
p.m. most weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays,
and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, giving customers ample
opportunity to place custom orders.
SERVICES The floral department coordinates with the
store’s in-house, upscale catering and bakery departments to
offer customers high-end event services.
GIFTWARE Customers respond well to the giftware
selection, which changes seasonally and includes ceramics,
candles, place mats and books. Greeting cards also are under
WEB SITE The store promotes florals extensively on its
www.thehillsmarket.com, showcasing photos of designs,
describing services and profiling the floral director.
Ms. Moorhead acknowledges that competition has grown in Columbus
in the past five years, giving both destination shoppers and the
core Worthington Hills demographic more choices for grocery
buying. The store’s strategy to retain its loyal customers and
add new ones is to keep its focus on its community ties and its
commitment to service. It sources local and specialty products
as much as possible. “We really rely a lot on our vendors to
help us out and to keep us unique,” Ms. Moorhead explains. “We
definitely work with the small-guy vendors because we’re a small
Events also offer The Hills Market a point of differentiation.
“We do lots of events,” Ms. Moorhead says, “events that other
places really can’t duplicate.” The store has crab boils,
farmers markets and salmon roasts. Top chefs from high-end
restaurants offer cooking classes in the store’s kitchen and
then serve three-course meals in the wine department. Some of
the events take place on the Veranda, an outdoor patio near the
store’s entrance where patrons can enjoy grilled-to-order
entrées for breakfast and lunch.
Excellent customer service is an equal part of the store’s
strategy for success. Shares General Manager Preston Beacom, “We
expect every employee to say ‘hi’ to every customer and to go
out of their way to make sure that we give them a pleasant
experience every time they come into the store.”
growth in floral
The floral department embodies the company’s philosophy of
over-the-top service. “I have the best customer service people,”
Ms. Tipton, the floral director, says of her staff of six floral
designers. “They always are friendly and smiling.”
The staff builds relationships with clients, cultivating a loyal
following. “We have a lot of repeat customers, and we have good
relationships with them,” Ms. Tipton shares. When Super Floral
Retailing visited the store in June, Ms. Tipton was designing a
casket spray. The client “called me at home because it was
important,” she says.
Those loyal customers have been a key part of the success of the
floral department, which Ms. Tipton started in 1995. The store
previously was served by an independent florist who rented space
in the store.
Within three years of Ms. Tipton’s taking over, the floral
department was recognized as one of the top 25 florists in
Columbus by Business First, a local business magazine. “This
business has just grown by leaps and bounds,” Ms. Tipton
remarks. The floral department now generates $500,000 a year in
sales, contributing 5 percent of total store sales, Mr. Beacom
drawing customers in
The floral department is at the entrance to the store, drawing
customers’ attention with bright, colorful flowers and plants.
The focal point is the work counter, where the staff can
interact with customers while creating their floral designs. The
counter always is covered with a selection of vased mixed-flower
arrangements, the department’s signature item and top seller.
Over the counter, a three-dimensional metallic sign proclaims
“Floral Shoppe.” Words painted on the wall behind the counter
tell customers “We do weddings.”
White merchandisers, matching the rest of the store’s shelving,
are filled with bouquets, greeting cards and giftware. Buckets
of flowers by the stem front the work counter. The overall
effect invites impulse buying, which Ms. Tipton estimates
contributes 25 percent of the department’s sales, with the rest
coming from preorders.
Keeping its emphasis on the personal touch, the department makes
all the arrangements and the bouquets it sells. Prices for
arrangements on the counter for impulse sales start at $13.99
and go to $48.99, with the most popular price point at $19.99.
Vase arrangements of a dozen roses sell for $42.99.
The mixed-flower arrangements are beautiful and lush, featuring
specialty flowers like roses, Hydrangeas, lilies and Gerberas.
“We try to do a lot of different flowers and colors,” Ms. Tipton
says, and it’s common for the department to replenish the supply
throughout the day as customers buy the designs for home décor,
gifts and dinner parties.
Customers also can have custom arrangements made while they
shop, using their own vases or ones supplied by the store.
Equally popular is the store’s stem program. “We have a lot of
people who come in every week and buy cuts to take home” and
make their own arrangements, Ms. Tipton describes. The
best-sellers are ‘Stargazer’ lilies for $5 a stem, roses at $3
and sunflowers for $2.50.
Ms. Tipton, who has high standards for all products that leave
the floral department, tried sourcing bouquets from wholesalers
but decided her designers could do better themselves. Every day,
the staff creates bouquets filled with upscale flowers like
lilies, Irises, sunflowers and roses, adhering to guidelines
developed by Ms. Tipton. The department sells them for $5.99 to
Plants also are important to the business, which always has
blooming and foliage plants in upgraded containers for funerals
and hospital visits. For home use, 6-inch Gerberas, daisy mums,
Begonias and Gloxinias, from $10.99 to $18.99, are good sellers.
The floral department receives shipments of flowers and plants
every day from local wholesalers. They are immediately
processed, and the department regularly cleans buckets and
practices good care-and-handling techniques.
“We stay after our flowers to make sure they’re always fresh and
always good quality,” Ms. Tipton says. Sometimes customers will
tell her, “I bought an arrangement two weeks ago, and it’s still
going strong.” She jokes, “I don’t know if that’s good or not.”
Customers apparently tell others about their satisfaction. “Word
of mouth has just been incredible for Candie,” says Ms.
Moorhead, the marketing director.
Ms. Moorhead recommends Ms. Tipton to friends, sending many to
her for weddings. “She just takes care of details,” she remarks,
making sure to be at the site early, bringing extra corsages and
boutonnieres, and helping wherever needed. “She doesn’t just
drop off the flowers and leave.”
The store also promotes its florals through bridal shows, its
Web site and in-store classes where Ms. Tipton teaches flower
arranging. One of the local television stations filmed the
designers creating arrangements this past Mother’s Day, which
Ms. Tipton called the department’s “biggest ever.”
The high-quality products, personal attention and friendly
atmosphere combine to create a store that customers return to
again and again. “We’re like family,” Ms. Tipton says of her
co-workers. “We’ve worked together for years. We all support
each other. It’s a very warm and welcoming environment.
Customers do pick up on it.”
You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan
email@example.com or by phone at (800)