SALT LAKE CITY (FNS) - Floral vendors have a better chance of growing if they know what goals a retailer has, what competition they face in their market and then introducing them to products that satisfy an unmet need, according to veterans of the floral industry.
Sales reps should visit stores before meeting with retail buyers to "see where your product line could fit" into and complement the retailer's merchandising direction, noted one expert, who formerly worked on the retail side of the floral business.
"Pay attention to the retailer's needs, not just to what you have to sell," said Pat Bauer, vice president of sales for Temkin International, a Payson, Utah-based company that makes floral packaging.
Bauer worked for Cincinnati-based Kroger, where she developed the chain's procurement networking and served as director of floral before joining Temkin in 2002.
Another Kroger alum, Ben Pauley, vice president of mass markets for FTD, Downers Grove, Ill., offered similar advice to vendors.
"Know your stuff," Pauley urged.
By doing their homework, suppliers can develop a realistic plan showing how their products will fit into the retailer's floral blueprint, he said. Before joining FTD, Pauley spent more than 20 years in Kroger's floral program, in floral merchandising and procurement.
Vendors also should suggest new approaches to boost traditional products or stimulate non-holiday sales. It's also worthwhile to engage retailers in a discussion of industry trends, such as scan-based trading and recent demographic shifts.
In fact, a potential supplier's knowledge of market areas and demographics is crucial, noted Barbara Stach, floral category manager at 112-store Price Chopper, Schenectedy, N.Y.
"What I want to hear, for instance, is what you thought of our recent rose promotion and how the departments in our Connecticut market area compared to those of our competitors when you visited recently," she said.
Sales representatives must understand Price Chopper's need for a complete program that will fit all stores, including those with full-service floral departments as well as stores with floral departments that are part of the produce department, she said.
A vendor's sincere interest and thorough understanding of Price Chopper's floral business could open doors, Stach noted.
"What we look for in potential new suppliers are companies who can differentiate, proposing current offers with a new twist or a totally novel approach to an established product, to bring incremental sales to our already successful departments," she explained. "New suppliers have the added burden of proving they are willing and able to provide new ideas that will add considerably to our current success."
Just as important, an execution plan should provide a means for tracking results, along with a communication or training plan for the stores, Pauley said.
The keys to developing long-lasting partnerships with retailers are through programs offering quality, service, differentiation and repeat sales, he said.
Photos showing the proposed floral displays in store settings and success story anecdotes should also be in the rep's arsenal, he said.
Presentations should be prepared with the retailer's history and current issues in mind. Pauley recommended both visiting stores to verify merchandising limitations and checking competitors' departments to gauge the local market.
Retail buyers are also looking for expertise in new areas, such as scan-based trading, said Paul Bouma III, an account manager at Masterpiece Flower Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. Designed to improve plant quality, scan-based trading is used by Home Depot, one of Buoma's accounts.
"Offering pay-on-scan is an effective way of sharing the risk in doing business and can be just the right detail that will close a deal," Stach agreed.
Another way to capture Stach's attention is through "everyday" programs.
"When we can add substantial sales dollars to an 'off-holiday' week with a promotion that wows the customer and adds to the bottom line, management takes notice," she explained.
Education is another powerful tool for vendors, Pauley noted.
"Buyers love to learn," he said, and they are generally interested in learning about floral care for store associates and for the customers who take the flowers and plants home.
A floral buyer and supplier must strive to attain a sense of friendship and partnership focused on identifying mutual interests and long-term goals, said Justin Dautoff, sales director, Nurserymen's Exchange, Half Moon Bay, Calif. In his position, Dautoff has developed floral marketing programs for retailers across the country.
Through "communication and collaboration," buyers and vendors should not only plan together, but also evaluate results and learn together from mistakes, he said.
Dautoff also suggested sharing corporate direction and values, so vendors will understand how the floral strategy fits into the overall corporate mission.
A good floral buyer must be passionate about quality, said Gay Smith, technical manager, Pokon and Chrysal, Miami. "If we don't ratchet up the floral quality level, we are not only losing sales, we are losing the culture of flower buying," she said.
To recognize quality, a floral buyer must have a basic understanding of flowers and plants, including their blooming cycles and how growing conditions and post-harvest handling affect their appearance and longevity, Smith said.
To maintain product quality at the store level, buyers should require their suppliers to assist in training store employees to use proper techniques, she noted.
"Keeping in touch with vendors about all quality issues - both successes and failures - is essential," Smith said. "Good buyers tap into all of their vendors' resources."