SALT LAKE CITY -- Harmons has opened a floral distribution center in a strategic move to become the primary supermarket floral destination in its market area.
The facility supplies the company's 11 stores with professional floral arrangements, and it will now coordinate home deliveries -- a new service for the retailer.
Inside the 12,500-square-foot, climate-controlled distribution center, trained, certified floral designers create arrangements, allowing store-level floral department associates, who used to do the designing, more time to advise customers. And, besides locally generated delivery orders, the distribution center also handles all FTD wire-service requests.
"My goal, personally, is to become the No. 1 florist in Utah," Harmons' floral director Carla Underwood told SN.
The combined central facility and delivery service greatly expand Harmons' potential to attract more business in the role of full-service florist, providing flowers for funerals, weddings, banquets and all other occasions.
Product quality has improved now that Harmons acts as its own wholesaler and purchases flowers directly from growers, Underwood said. Flowers are shipped directly from the distribution center in climate-controlled delivery trucks so the cold chain is never broken.
"We can control freshness and quality," she said. "That was our biggest goal. We buy direct, and the product is much fresher."
Harmons made a serious commitment to floral at least 20 years ago, when it decided to operate in-store departments independently of the produce departments. Stocked with flowers as well as non-floral gifts and accessories such as candles and baskets, the floral departments have a high profile at the front of each store.
The retailer decided to take the departments to the next level of service as a way of differentiating itself from competitors and providing customers with a greater degree of selection. Harmons competes with Smith's, Albertsons, Wal-Mart Supercenters, Associated and other independents.
To reinforce the full-service message and hone its quality image with consumers, Harmons carries a number of "upper end" flowers, including calla lilies and birds of paradise, Underwood said. In fact, the supermarkets actually have hundreds of varieties of flowers and plants available. Custom arrangements represent a growing segment for the departments.
Underwood acknowledged profit margins on floral products can be fairly good, and she noted that floral's contribution to overall store sales is increasing, despite a temporary dip right after the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. To make the departments successful, she said, stores need trained personnel who know how to care for the merchandise. Other floral industry observers share her view -- some in fact believe floral departments have the potential to be the most profitable department, per square foot, in the store.
Supermarkets also are the flower venue of choice for many consumers. According to industry observers, sales at freestanding florists are declining, while supermarket floral department sales are on the rise.
Certain holidays are major money makers for the floral departments. While Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are the most important holidays, other ones, like Memorial Day, are key flower-selling opportunities for the stores.
"It's nothing for one of my stores to go thru 8,000 mums for Memorial Day," Underwood said. "It's a big holiday here."
In December, the retailer launched a media blitz to make consumers aware of the enhanced services. The retailer took out radio and newspaper advertising. Local TV stations conducted live interviews with floral department officials to promote the services. In weekly store circulars, Harmons normally features three or four items from the floral departments.
Company officials did their homework before making the commitment. Underwood credited company president Dean Peterson for being the driving force behind the scenes. He investigated opportunities for growth in floral two years prior to opening the distribution center.
"I worked on this for nine months, just gathering information," Underwood said. "We didn't take this lightly. We made a big investment."