A flounce of daffodils, a handful of tulips, a dozen roses, a pot of daisies -- a good supermarket floral department can have it all when it comes to products.
But the problem is a supermarket floral department can lose it all, too, if what is missing is a well-trained staff.
Because of this, floral departments across the country are looking for training programs that will help them better deal with the challenge of product perishability and shrink at the store level.
"Training is one of the most important things to do at the retail level, and the focus is on care and handling," said Terry Humfeld, vice president of division programs at the Floral Marketing Association in Newark, Del., a trade association that among its projects, has seized on floral training as a top priority.
"There's a common concern in the industry that mass markets need to do a better job of handling and taking care of floral products in the store. That goes for all products -- whether it's a dozen roses or a potted poinsettia or a foliage plant," Humfeld said.
He cited three main problems floral departments must overcome to keep floral sales healthy: employee turnover, inexperience and product shrink, which can average 8% to 10% of total inventory.
"Our goal is to inhibit the rate of decline a floral product experiences from its arrival at the store to its departure in the customer's hands," he told SN -- and one of the best ways to address it is through efficient training programs.
With training a major challenge for virtually all perishables departments, floral may typically fall lower down on the priority list. Median floral sales as part of overall supermarket sales consistently range between 1.5% to 2% across the board, according to Humfeld.
But though it's a small percentage of store sales, gross profits can range between 35% and 40%, which makes floral departments an investment-worthy section of the store. And supermarkets are waking up to that fact.
"In many chains, they're moving the floral departments toward the front of the store -- into the high-traffic areas," Humfeld said.
To educate, retailers need tools. The FMA offers a workbook training program with videotapes for supermarket use, Humfeld said. The association is also in the process of developing a videotape, due in early summer, that will focus on care and handling specifically designed for floral clerks.
Another training resource now available from the American arm of the Flower Council of Holland is "Tools for Mass Marketers," a program that includes a step-by-step video, full-color training manual, reference books on potted plants and cut flowers and a floral care and handling guide.
Retailers, however, told SN they have not been waiting around for training programs to appear on their doorstep. Instead, they've created their own hybrid versions, borrowing from here and there to put together store-specific programs.
For example, at Randalls Food Markets, Houston, in-house floral training is taken seriously. Managers here begin with a program for floral-management trainees, a 12-week course which covers everything from paperwork to buying and merchandising.
Trainees work at floral departments in stores designated as training sites, and must pass tests at each phase before they can graduate to the next level. At the end of the program, Randalls certifies them.
Trainees progress at their own pace, explained Debbie Robinson, vice president of floral operations at Randalls Food Markets and its Tom Thumb division.
"We require all of our designers to complete the Houston School of Floral Design program, which is comparable to the Texas A&M master's florist program. At HSFD, our techniques are taught to them," she said.
"In addition, through FTD, we strictly test our designers. We bring in judges from around country who test designers' skills. It's a rigorous test that rewards them with master designer certification upon completion."
The tests consist of a written exam of flowers' botanical names, style of design and care and handling of plants and flowers.
"Our top designers need five or more years of experience just to take the test to become master designer," Robinson said. "We also encourage floral clerks to go to HSFD. This and the FTD programs are an extremely important part of the business. We commit to training because we want to be considered the customer's neighborhood florist. We provide everything a full-service florist offers, from flowers for large weddings to funeral service arrangements.
"We're creating our own [training] systems because our standards are high," Robinson stated. "We're willing to invest money in education, which ultimately means higher profits."
The downside of Robinson's training regimen? Managers sometimes get too busy to provide one-on-one training to trainees, and the rookies end up learning through a trial by fire.
One Southwest retailer trains her new hires through the buddy system. A trainee is paired off with a designer for a 16-hour training program, spread out over the course of several days. A training manual outlines product information, how to design, customer service guidelines, how to take inventory, how to receive product and how to order product. Following their 16-hour program, trainees take a multiple choice test to become certified.
This retailer noted a minimum amount of time is allotted to training in mass markets, and floral in particular. Not finding much luck with outside training sources, she's in the process of making the in-house training manual easier to read and comprehend.
On-the-job training is the modus operandi at Cub Food Stores in Stillwater, Minn. "We teach them all they need to know from working the cash register to product mark-up, display, care and handling and how to send and receive wire orders," said Nancy Vetsch, floral director.
Trainees learn the basic elements of design -- proportion, texture, color, balance, harmony and how to make a piece aesthetically pleasing. The manager does the bulk of the training, and others pitch in to fill the gaps.
"I'm an advocate of having an educational background in floral," said Vetsch. If employees haven't taken courses at a technical or community college, she'll direct them to design classes sponsored by floral wholesalers and suppliers.
At Schnuck, Gooch offers an incentive program of a $1-per-hour raise when a floral clerk completes a FTD master's program. Schnuck also employs a full-time floral designer coordinator, whose job is to coordinate all design work and do all the teaching.
"I have a teaching certificate, so education is a priority," Gooch said. "We take our seminars on the road, to our fellow markets in several surrounding states throughout the year. We also sponsor a large educational program [five times per year] to discuss floral-merchandising ideas, education and budgeting. It's a full-day event developed strictly to educate and preview holiday products. We bring in floral managers, as well as store managers, so they're aware of what's going on in the floral departments."
In addition, the floral department joins with the produce department once every two years for "Fresh Expo," an in-house educational get-together consisting of seminars and lectures. Training even stretches to the Christmas gifts floral managers receive from management: subscriptions to Flowers and Florist Review.
Inexperienced employees can learn, too, and Gooch starts them at Schnuck's central floral design center -- a separate central distribution facility -- where they work one day to several weeks depending on the amount of training they require.
One of the major focuses of Schnuck's training program is to assemble a loan library with video training tapes, current books and the Society of American Florists' Chain of Life Books, which include care and handling instructions.
"There's a tremendous amount of education out there, but it's not put together in an efficient fashion," she said.
Pulling it all together can be difficult, Gooch said. "We're not all speaking the same language because no central standards exist. However, the FMA is making strides toward creating industry standards."