LUBBOCK, Texas -- United Supermarkets has vowed to capture more business this summer by showcasing all the products and services it can offer anyone planning a wedding -- or any other celebration.
For the first time, the chain married four departments -- in-store bakery, carry-out catering, floral and giftware -- to present an eye-catching, staffed "wedding showcase" display. Set up inside the entrance at select stores, the displays are designed to look like a wedding reception complete with bountiful buffet, cakes, flowers, a gift table and even a "bride."
The weekend showcases have been held in conjunction with a series of health-oriented Living Well Expos that are part of a new marketing effort the chain launched earlier this year. [See "United Minds Health," SN, March 14, 2005].
"Scheduling [the wedding displays] on the same weekend, and at the same stores where the Living Well Expos are held, gives us extra foot traffic and adds to the air of excitement," said one department head.
In fact, the crowds visiting the Living Well Expos and wedding displays have been every bit as big as officials had expected and attendees obviously do some shopping while they're there.
"Our [total store] transactions are up 10% on those weekends over a normal or typical weekend. And we've booked at least one wedding at each of them," said Eddie Owens, director of communications for the chain of 47 stores.
The eye-catching wedding displays have attracted tremendous attention, he added. "They're a special feature of the Living Well Expos and they're impossible to miss, with a bride in bridal gown walking around, talking to people and offering samples of wedding cake, and maybe something from the catering table," Owens said.
Usually an associate at the respective store volunteers to be the "bride" for the weekend, Owens said. In addition, there are flashy, flag-like banners in bright, trendy colors hanging overhead at the showcase tables. They proclaim, "We Do I Do's." Available to customers, a colorful, new brochure details what each of the four departments can offer for wedding celebrations.
"We've had wedding cakes for a few years and most of the other things, too, but what's new is the packaging. We've brought them all together in a package to show people," Owens said.
The combination of the Living Well Expos and the wedding showcases creates a level of excitement that rivals the aura of a grand opening, floral director Rex Henderson told SN. What's more, positive results have been seen quickly.
"The Tuesday after the expo [and wedding showcase] in Lubbock, the floral manager there had four wedding consultations," Henderson said. "A lot for one day. These events feature our Market Street stores, but all our stores will benefit."
The chain's five Market Street stores, where the first events were held, are an upscale format emphasizing fresh foods. The sixth and last of the spring series, held over the weekend of May 20 at the newest United Supermarkets banner store in Abilene, Texas, attracted a large crowd. Attendance was gratifying, "with store traffic up a good 10%, just like it was at the Market Street stores," Owens said.
At a debriefing scheduled for the week after Memorial Day, company officials will discuss what tweaking, if any, is needed next spring for another set of wedding showcases and a similar weekend series that will kick off early in the fall. The events may be trimmed down from three days to two because logistically the work that's involved is extremely taxing, Owens said.
"What we do know for sure is that we'll do this again," Owens said. "We've had a number of wedding consultations following each one of these showcases, and we're still seeing significant sales increases in all departments. The residual effect has been good."
Already, after the earlier events this spring, the departments directly involved in the wedding showcases saw their sales jump -- and continue -- beyond projections.
"Our catering business has increased noticeably at the Lubbock store since the Living Well Expo and wedding showcase there the first weekend in March," said Diane Earl, United's director of deli/food service. "That, the first [wedding showcase], was very eye-opening to many people. They hadn't connected the dots before. They didn't know we offered all these products and services."
Tammy Kampsula, the chain's bakery director, heartily agreed.
"What was most important was raising people's awareness of what we do," Kampsula said. "For example, that we do specialty cakes. We've recently revamped our wedding cake program, adding varieties and creating a look that's more modern. We had several wedding cakes there, but also a groom's cake and a bridal shower cake. The sampling was important, too. I was pleased at all the positive feedback we got. Hopefully, people will think of us now for any celebration they might be planning."
Smack in the middle of a market that's served by units of Wal-Mart Stores, Albertsons, H.E. Butt Grocery and Brookshire, United expects the Living Well Expos and wedding showcases to help sharpen its competitive edge.
The fall showcases -- to be launched in late September or early October -- will involve the same four departments that got together for the wedding showcases. Plans haven't been finalized, but the theme is likely to focus on holiday entertaining, or similar big-group events, officials said.
"We just know we'll be doing them in conjunction with the Living Well Expos because we've been happy with the response and the results this spring," Owens said.