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Scoring points with the home team

        
Louisiana-based Rouses Supermarkets emphasizes its local ties through products and merchandising.
  by Cynthia L. McGowan

     When the New Orleans Saints won the NFC Championship on Jan. 24 on their way to this year’s Super Bowl, the floral operation at Rouses Supermarkets, headquartered in Thibodaux, La., was ready. Vendors had been alerted that the company would want to put on a big show of support for the hometown team if they went all the way.

     “I told a lot of the vendors ahead of time that if [the Saints] went on to the Super Bowl, we’re going to have to switch our gears and go from Mardi Gras to black and gold really quickly,” recalls Susan Sistrunk, the floral director for Rouses, a family-owned company with 36 stores in southern Louisiana and Mississippi. “So they were all up watching the game and rooting for us.”

     Around 11 p.m., after the overtime game had ended with a Saints’ victory, she was inundated with text messages from suppliers. They told Ms. Sistrunk, “Don’t worry, we have your stuff; it’s going to be en route,” she relates.

     Thanks to that quick response, Rouses’ floral departments had Saints/Super Bowl-related products ahead of the competition, Ms. Sistrunk reveals. “We created displays with anything black and gold and a fleur-de-lis on it,” she says. Customers, grateful to have the new Saints merchandise available so quickly, snapped up the products to decorate their homes and businesses, as football fever infected the region.

meeting community needs

    
That kind of responsiveness to community needs and wants, and the vendor partnerships that help make it possible, are among the keys to the success of Rouses Supermarkets, which is the ninth-largest independent grocer in the United States. Describes Allison Rouse, the company’s financial administrator, “Rouses is a family-run business whose foundation is built on its relationship with its community.”

     The company emphasizes its ties to the community by buying fresh produce, seafood and groceries from local farmers, fisherman and manufacturers whenever possible, Ms. Rouse reports. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and our mission is as clear as the day Mr. Anthony Rouse started a grocery store with his cousin Ciro in 1960—give our customer two things: the best quality at the best price.”

     Rouses also is committed to a fresh image, Ms. Rouse says, and floral helps communicate that image to customers. “The layout we’ve been building in our ground-up stores for the past 10 years is one designed where the customer enters through the fresh side of the store and is immediately greeted by our lovely floral department,” she remarks.

     The floral departments average 700 square feet and are filled with colorful displays of consumer bunches, bouquets, arrangements, blooming and foliage plants, and giftware. To carry the departments’ fresh message throughout the stores, “We blend splashes of fresh florals through the bakery, produce and wine departments,” Ms. Sistrunk details.

in-store theater

    
Also important to Rouses’ success is customer engagement. “We create theater throughout our stores,” Ms. Sistrunk says, describing cooking demonstrations, crawfish boils, wine and cheese tastings, and outdoor grilling.

     Floral takes part by offering free in-store design classes. “We try to do them around the holidays because that’s when it seems people are really interested in getting their homes decorated,” she comments.

     The classes are a good sales tool for the departments, Ms. Sistrunk reveals. Floral managers show customers how to create simple designs using flowers, vases and other materials they can buy in the stores. The departments publicize the classes on fliers; on Rouses’ website, www.rouses.com; and in the company’s newspaper advertisements.

theme merchandising

    
Adding to Rouses’ theater feel is the floral operation’s emphasis on merchandising by theme. “We love to do themes because it creates energy and excitement,” Ms. Sistrunk says. “Themes definitely draw [customers’] attention.”

     The departments feature year-round themed merchandising, starting with Mardi Gras in January and culminating with Christmas in December. The themes change at least once a month, depending on the events and holidays. In the slower summer months, typical themes include “beach,” “zoo” or “chocolate.”

     “I work with plant, hard-good and flower vendors so all the sleeves, wraps, containers, etc. express the theme,” Ms. Sistrunk describes. “It makes it easy when you develop a relationship with a vendor. Sometimes I think when you do a theme, they’re just as excited as you are.” She plans the themes and orders the products about six months in advance.

     Themes also are ideal for cross-merchandising promotions. For a storewide Italian week promotion, for example, the floral operation will offer balloons and red bouquets and roses.

     In addition to keeping customers’ interest high, the changing themes also serve to create excitement among the floral staff. “They love to see what’s coming next,” Ms. Sistrunk remarks. “You would think they were buying it for themselves.”

 

 

rouses supermarket

 


HEADQUARTERS
Thibodaux, La.
PRESIDENT AND CEO Donald Rouse Sr.
OWNERSHIP Family owned
STORES 36, in Louisiana and Mississippi
ESTABLISHED 1960
STORE SIZE Varies greatly, from a boutique store in the French Quarter in New Orleans at 7,000 square feet, to conventional stores around 30,000 square feet, to large fresh-format stores around 65,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT size Averages 700 square feet
COMPANY EMPLOYEES 5,000
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One to six per store, depending on the size of the store
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals including custom designs, weddings, sympathy, events, delivery, home-decorating services and FTD flowers-by-wire service
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day
FLORAL DIRECTOR Susan Sistrunk
WEBSITE www.rouses.com

customer interaction and service

     The enthusiastic floral staff enjoys interacting with customers and letting them know about products and services, Ms. Sistrunk comments. “They make sure they talk to each customer and assist them, even if it is to just help them pick out a card to go with a bouquet purchase,” she observes.

     Of Rouses’ 36 stores, 32 have full-service floral departments, offering everything from custom arrangements made while customers shop to delivery to wedding work. “We offer any service a regular floral shop offers,” Ms. Sistrunk confirms.

     The floral departments have one to six employees per store, allowing them to react quickly to clients’ needs when emergencies arise. For example, Ms. Sistrunk says, tuxedo-clad young men have come into the stores an hour before prom asking for corsages. “They all know they can come in, and they’re going to end up getting something,” she remarks.

     Rouses’ florists also decorate customers’ homes for holidays and other occasions. Most customers who ask for that service want their Christmas trees decorated and doors and porches embellished. Rouses charges a product and labor fee for the service.

licensed florists

    
The Louisiana locations have licensed florists, a state requirement for full-service shops. To receive Louisiana licensing, the florists must pass a written test on design, flower care and identification, and other general knowledge about the floral business. Until recently, florists also had to take a test demonstrating design proficiency.

     As part of its licensing, the state also does random inspections of floral departments and shops. “Each store is inspected at least twice a year, if not more,” Ms. Sistrunk says. Inspectors check buckets and coolers for sanitation, flowers for freshness and plants for signs of insect infestation. They also make sure that each store has at least one licensed florist on staff for the required 36 hours a week. That’s not a problem for Rouses, where most stores have more than one licensed florist, and one has five.

     Ms. Sistrunk says the licensing requirement is not difficult to comply with and helps ensure customers receive good service and a high-quality product. Licensed florists are trained and knowledgeable, she says, and they, in turn, pass on their knowledge to the department’s nonlicensed floral clerks.

     Rouses also has two floral merchandisers who are in the stores daily to offer ongoing training and to ensure programs created at the corporate level are carried out in the stores. The corporate team also encourages the floral staff to excel through positive reinforcement. “We thank them for all their hard work on holidays and point out the good,” Ms. Sistrunk reveals, including customer compliments and sales increases.

flower preferences

     Rouses is attuned to its customers’ tastes and makes sure to find the right products for their preferences. For example, Ms. Sistrunk says, “the New Orleans area is all about color. You cannot get enough color.”

     That means asking Rouses’ floral suppliers, who include a mixture of local wholesalers and growers and the company’s main supplier, C&S Wholesale Grocers, for products in bright colors including lime green and hot pink. Even at Easter, she describes, pastels won’t do for Rouses’ New Orleans customers. “They’ll pass up all the beautiful pastel bouquets and go right to the crazy daisies because they buy the color,” she remarks.

     Companywide, the best-selling product is a dozen 40-centimeter roses, branded as “Market Fresh Roses,” for $8.97, available as all reds or in a rainbow of colors. As a 50th anniversary special, they’re on sale for $6.97 and are selling even faster than usual, Ms. Sistrunk reports.

     Mixed bouquets, ranging in price from $5.99 for crazy daisies to $19.99, are strong sellers. Rouses’ $12.99 signature bouquet is a vendors’ choice design that changes weekly. In the three-for-$12 consumer bunch program, customers can choose from Alstroemerias, Gerberas, snapdragons, lilies, carnations, stocks and more.

     Potted mums are a huge seller at All Saints Day (Nov. 1), when it is traditional to place the plants at loved ones’ graves. Rouses sells up to 50,000 every year during a four-day period.

     Poinsettias, especially those painted blue, sell well at $8.99 a pot during Christmas. Poinsettias transitioned well into the New Orleans Saints promotion, for which the vendor painted them yellow.

     Giftware, including locally produced, handmade triple-scented candles; ceramic containers; and colored glass, also is important to Rouses’ product selection. “Customers find it convenient to be able to shop for gift items and fulfill their grocery list on the same stop,” Ms. Sistrunk comments.

people will talk

     The product selection, combined with high-quality service, results in satisfied customers, who “can’t believe we can provide the quality of work for the price,” Ms. Sistrunk says. Those happy customers help Rouses get the word out about its floral business. First-time shoppers often tell floral managers they were referred to Rouses by friends, Ms. Sistrunk remarks. “They’ll say, ‘So-and-so told me to come in and talk to you.’”

     The company also promotes its florals in weekly newspaper advertisements, on the radio and on Rouses’ website. In addition, the floral managers have business cards to give to companies, hospitals, funeral homes and individual customers.

delighting customers

     Whether scoring points with customers through a New Orleans Saints promotion or having the ability to offer the thousands of mums needed for All Saints Day, Rouses makes sure to meet its shoppers’ needs and exceed their expectations. Remarks Ms. Sistrunk, “In everything we do, we like to be outside the box.”
 

 

keys to success

 
 


FRESH IMAGE
The spacious floral departments are at the front of most Rouses Supermarkets stores, and they help set the tone for freshness for the entire customer experience. Flowers are delivered three to five times a week to the stores, ensuring customers are receiving fresh products.

MERCHANDISING Rouses uses themes to create customer excitement about its florals, changing themes as often as once a month.

CUSTOMER SERVICE Rouses’ florists, many of whom are certified by the state of Louisiana, offer a full range of floral services. The floral staff interacts with customers and is attuned to meeting their needs.

BUYING POWER Rouses buys florals from a mixture of local wholesalers and growers as well as C&S Wholesale Grocers. C&S gives Rouses access to a wide range of nationwide cut flower, potted plant and hard goods vendors. “It gives us more buying power to consolidate with C&S,” Susan Sistrunk, the floral director, says. 

 

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

Photos courtesy of Rouses Supermarkets.

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