ENCINO, Calif. -- Everything seems to be coming up roses for Gelson's Markets' floral departments.
After stepping up its commitment in that area three years ago, Gelson's here has watched its floral sales double in its newer and remodeled stores, said chain representatives.
Since that time, the retailer has seen the department's importance in the store grow, to the point where floral sales are accounting for about 3% of total store sales, said Tom Schultz, a floral buyer for Gelson's.
And Schultz believes the key to this success has been service, presentation and product quality.
"We can provide a florist-quality product in a grocery store," he said. "And, once you give them that freshness, we've found that it is fairly easy to keep them coming back."
The chain has full-service or semiservice departments in at least eight of its 12 stores, Schultz said, with personnel doing processing in the department.
Shoppers are drawn to floral sections where arranging and processing are being done, Schultz said. "It makes sense. I think the customer likes to see that. We put that out in front of the customer as much as possible." With the exception of several premade mixed bouquets, all arrangements are created in the departments.
Customers are also attracted by the product's accessibility, he said. Open-front coolers dominate Gelson's departments, and make items like cut flowers more accessible. "We want to make it so that [shoppers] can touch the product," he said.
On the other hand, the departments merchandise a small percentage of Gelson's products behind glass cases to protect them from too much handling.
"We keep a lot of our special orders and a few arrangements in cases. You really don't want the customers to be handling that kind of stuff."
He added that the chain has toyed with the idea of giving its floral departments a common name, but that idea has not come to fruition.
Gelson's departments range from 600 to 800 square feet and carry about 50 different items at any given time. All of the flowers are bought daily based on orders from personnel at each store. In the course of a year, the departments have ordered hundreds of varieties of cut flowers, Schultz added.
Indeed, the floral fortitude at Gelson's was built "one store at a time," Schultz said.
The commitment to floral began with situating the departments near the entrance of new or remodeled stores. That concept has been realized in about 50% of Gelson's units, Schultz said.
"We're trying to locate most of our floral departments at the front of the store," he said. "Floral is pretty impulsive. You get the scents, and it sets the scene for a relaxing atmosphere."
Gelson's renewed commitment to floral marketing has also given the chain the capability of branching out into new areas of floral merchandising and promotion.
The chain still relies on more basic promotions, such as keying in on floral-related holidays, and inserting floral ad material in its monthly newsletter.
In addition, "We're getting much more into events, parties, weddings," he said. However, he added, "We stay away from anything in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. We really like to work with parties in the $500 to $1,000 range."
Getting skilled floral personnel to work in supermarket departments poses the greatest challenge for Gelson's floral operations, Schultz said, echoing a common gripe among supermarket floral executives.
"Getting design people to stay is tough -- floral shops in supermarkets are too structured for them, and they have little room to work."