INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to attracting and retaining employees, floral department managers agree training and incentives are as key to a healthy bottom line as inviting price points and merchandise displays.
The right hire, who pays for training, where incentives come from and state regulations regarding floral designers also come into play when managers seek to boost sales, they said.
The panel was convened during last week's Super Floral Show at the Indiana Convention Center, where participants shared solutions to common problems, offered hints for convincing store owners of a floral department's value and called for more states to institute licensing programs for designers.
"No one wants to feel stupid," which is why training and strong follow-up are so critical, said roundtable moderator Rita Peters, floral director at Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, which operates 200 stores in the Midwest.
Another moderator, Jerri Prose, floral director of Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind., said her 28-unit company recently switched training funds from a store manager's budget to the human resources department.
"Now managers are eager to get people trained," she said of the change.
For supermarkets with little or no training funds for floral department employees, several of the experts recommended calling on vendors to do the task. Suppliers can be particularly good educating associates on the care and maintenance of flowers, said Linda Evans, director of floral department operations in the Arlington, Texas, office of HSFD Floral Distributors, based in Richmond, Ind.
Rebates from suppliers and floral delivery programs support incentives and training in many stores. One way to boost the budget is to get the owner or manager on the side of the floral department, the experts suggested.
Another option is using fellow employees, some of the best teachers in the floral department, Evans said. "The best learning comes when you are teaching something," especially for employees who feel like they have nothing to offer.
When co-workers train each other, employee morale usually improves because an individual may realize, "'Gosh, I know all this stuff, but I took my knowledge for granted.' We call this grass-roots education," Evans said.
An informal poll of the audience found the amount of training for floral department employees varied from about six hours to three weeks, depending on the corporation. Training was provided by supervisors and managers, state floral associations, proprietary schools and other professionals.
Specialty or advanced training, such as designing wedding or funeral arrangements, frequently is used as an incentive or reward for valued employees. Sometimes, advanced training or the completion of certificate or licensing requirements leads to higher wages, but not always, panelists agreed. Some stores required employees to pay for part or all of the training, while others did not.
In Louisiana and Virginia, floral designers are licensed, something one audience member thought was a good idea, especially when it comes to boosting incentives for employees covered by union contracts. Certified or licensed designers also convince customers that the employees in the floral department are qualified professionals, said the attendee, a floral merchandiser with the Kroger Co.'s Memphis, Tenn., division.
Training is strengthened with adequate follow-up materials to support classroom and hands-on learning, said a floral director from a Texas-based supermarket chain.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," she said. "You have to have a manual with written documents, but [make sure you] show examples of great displays."
For this retailer's manuals, she takes digital photos of floor and cooler displays and includes diagrams with step-by-step instructions for store set-ups and making floral arrangements.
Encourage employees to visit other supermarket floral departments, especially when they are in other parts of the country, the operators said.
Floral can often be overlooked in a retailer's total-store strategy, so it's important to emphasize the value of the floral department, the panel acknowledged. One way to do this is to compare it to another area of the store that specializes in fresh products, such as deli. Managers who compare sales to the number of hours worked may find how high the margins can be in floral. That's because floral departments frequently are not staffed for as many hours as other departments in the store, yet their sales compare well, said the Texas retailer.
It's also important to make sure management is aware of floral's contribution to sales. Often thought of as less important, store managers may steal employees to work in other departments, said Patty Malloy, floral manager of Floral Expressions of Cub Foods, Eau Claire, Wis.
Other tips shared in the seminar:
Give a bonus or time off after major holidays or particularly busy times.
Create a traveling trophy to encourage positive competition among stores.
Check to see if state funding is available for training. Some states have programs for training senior citizens or disadvantaged residents.
Recognize that training is an investment in time and money, and that the payoff is long term.
Encourage employees to use company computers and Web sites to access information and updated training methods. Video or animated presentations work well with computers.
Split responsibilities among employees.
Arrange for visits to the department by corporate officers and owners.
For managers trying to make a point with the boss, the experts suggested targeting one store to implement the practices, procedures and methods they think will boost consumer traffic, sales and employee morale. Set a time frame to demonstrate potential, but make sure to make it long enough to get a good read on results, they said.
When a department supervisor can state the issue in numbers of hours worked, sales and other forms of measurement, the argument about staffing and training can be quite persuasive, said one source.