HOUSTON -- The supermarket industry is spending too much time and effort on category management in the floral department, according to several senior executives with major chains. "There is far too much emphasis placed on floral category management," said Randall Onstead, president and chief executive officer of Randalls Food Markets here, speaking as part of a panel at the Floral Marketing Association convention here earlier this month.
"There is far too much fretting going on," he said. Onstead said selling flowers is not like hawking other merchandise in the supermarket. As a luxury item -- not a necessity -- plants and flowers need to be addressed as different animals than other products.
"You're talking about catering to people's lifestyles," he said. "You're not selling cans of beans."
Technical concerns are also an issue in floral. Universal Price Codes are not available on every item in the floral department, which makes gathering solid data difficult. Floral also lacks a well-developed broker system to partner with, he said. Robert Mariano, president of Dominick's Finer Foods in Northlake, Ill., said that, over time, category management will probably come to the floral department. "I view category management as a process," he said. "It isn't a cure-all."
Like Onstead, Mariano said floral faces barriers to category management that other areas don't. Floral departments do not have the penetration rates of, say, dairy, he said. In the meantime, retailers need to ask themselves if they would rather allocate resources to behind-the-scenes number-crunching or to bettering the department itself, he said. Technological resources could be better devoted to the procurement process, he said. Category management is tough enough to accomplish in produce, said Reggie Griffith, produce merchandiser for the Houston division of Kroger -- floral is another matter entirely.
"If it's tough to do in produce, it will be near impossible in floral," he said. But he added that produce and floral executives have always practiced a form of category management.
Because they are in the business of selling commodities and highly perishable products, produce and floral buyers, merchandisers and executives are used to targeting what the consumer needs and demands, he said.
Griffith stated that the effort should be made to at least approach category management in floral. The retailers were also not particularly enthusiastic about private and store labels in the floral department. "I don't see applications for fresh products, but maybe in accessories," said Griffith. Consumers are looking for high quality, not a particular name, when they give mom a Mother's Day present, he said. Mariano of Dominick's agreed that consumers are not necessarily shopping for a particular name as they would in other store categories. "At the end of the day, it's something to enjoy," he said. While Randalls does not currently offer store-label floral products, store labels could have some applications, Onstead said. At the same time, the floral department needs to have credibility above anything else, he said. "We need to break away from the stigma of grocery flowers," he said. The panel members were chosen for their support and faith in the importance of floral, according to moderator Dwight Ferguson of Florimex North America in Danville, Va.
Each panelist stressed the importance of having the support of senior management in order to launch a successful floral department. "Growing floral is not easy," said Dominick's Mariano. "It takes time and patience, so the commitment has to be total.
"You can't have a floral buyer trying to make the program. It takes a tremendous amount of people walking and talking," he said. At Dominick's, district managers take part in floral department meetings as one way to get senior-level people involved, he said. At Randalls, the chain has always been committed to floral, according to Onstead, who added that unlike many chains, Randalls has never treated floral as part of the produce department. Floral sales are broken out separately rather than bunched together with those of the produce department. "It's hard to sell watermelons and cut flowers," Onstead said. "Those are different areas of expertise."
Mid-level executives attempting to sell senior management on floral have a tough row to hoe, the panelists said. Mariano of Dominick's said it is important to have a champion in the organization. "You're not going to step up to the plate and hit a home-run at your first at-bat," he said. He also said that retailers who are not serious about floral should get out of the business completely.
Griffith of Kroger laughingly advised mid-level executives to first get a bottle of Valium, before trying to sell the idea of floral to their bosses. More seriously, he said proponents should be able to point to the financial gains of launching or strengthening a floral program. "Sell ideas, concepts and packages, but you need to prove the bottom line," he said. Onstead agreed that approaching floral from the aspect of the bottom line is a good way to go. "I can't believe no one would want floral," he said. "But you need to put together a plan."