Nothing says "freshness" like a flower, and progressive retailers are using floral to profit from the image.
Folding out the department into the foyer, building mass displays that reach toward the ceiling, setting up floral intercepts in other departments, and cross merchandising candles, balloons and flags are all cultivating sales and profits, retailers and industry experts told SN on the eve of the Super Floral Show that opens this week in Tampa, Fla.
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, is one of the retailers that has brought floral to the front at its newest store, in Manhattan. Here, all its fresh departments are stand-outs, and floral leads the way. High walls of floral arrangements, plants and bouquets hug a winding, brick passageway that funnels customers into the fresh foods aisle.
Tall, in-your-face displays are featured right inside, too, at the newest Fairway store on Long Island, N.Y. Just inside the foyer, straight ahead, cut flowers and arrangements tower above eye level and hanging baskets top off the display.
Vertical is the whole idea, said Mark Leenhouts, president, RL & Associates -- Retail Food Design, the Rochester, N.Y., firm that designed the interior and developed merchandising concepts for the new Fairway.
"It's a way to get floral displays massed without taking up a lot of the sales floor," Leenhouts said.
Only 300 square feet at the 55,000-square-foot Fairway unit is devoted to the floral department, a footprint Leenhouts considers ideal for maximum profitability.
The up-front location is particularly important with floral because flowers are not only an impulse buy but one that customers perceive as a luxury, "so you want to get them before they've already spent $150 on groceries," Leenhouts said.
Wegmans Food Markets, the trendsetting, Rochester, N.Y.-based independent, recently relocated its floral department to the front in a remodel in downtown Rochester.
"And it must be working for them, because I noticed just a few weeks ago that they've expanded that space up-front," said an local observer.
At McCaffrey's Market, Yardley, Pa., floral's position just inside the entrance is absolutely essential, said Sandy Liberato, floral manager at the 3-unit independent's Yardley store.
"You only have seconds to grab the customer's attention. If you don't get them right away, you might as well forget it," Liberato said.
Liberato said she's always thinking of new ways to get the customer to stop in her department. For example, balloons play a big part because they add an extra celebratory touch and can be used to remind people that there's something special coming up -- like a graduation or Father's Day or the 4th of July. The height of her displays is deliberately aimed at attracting customers from other parts of the store.
"I make displays high enough so they can see them when they're standing in line at checkout," she said.
From there, right now, customers can see the tops of displays in Liberato's department and also a grouping of very colorful "Happy Father's Day" balloons.
Liberato also has been known to capitalize on the popularity of Martha Stewart by duplicating a bouquet featured in Martha Stewart Living magazine. She'll even hang the page of the magazine alongside the display. That sells some flowers, but what's more important, it causes customers to do a double take, Liberato said.
"It emphasizes the fact that we are a florist. If they don't buy something today, they'll be back or they'll tell someone about us."
Martha Stewart is given credit by some for boosting fresh flower sales.
Certainly Martha Stewart and TV's Home & Garden channel have raised consumers' awareness and made them more apt to treat themselves to flowers without waiting for a special occasion, retailers said. And that has influenced what they're offering.
"We're finding that customers want more of the Martha Stewart look. The little clutch bouquets or just a few stems that spread out in a tall, wide vase," said Vallerie Hinman, director of floral operations for 18-unit Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo.
"It's a casual look. I guess people want their arrangements to look home-done," Hinman said.
Hinman displays separate stems by height and color so customers can make choices easily to create a bouquet themselves that looks good. While there's more profit in selling separate stems, Dierbergs runs the gamut in floral with two designers in each store.
It's one of the few supermarkets that has been very successful in the floral business for years, Hinman said. A member of FTD, and recognized locally as a top full-service florist, the company ranks number one in Missouri and number nine in the United States for FTD deliveries made last year.
They're the destination for flowers and little gifts for everything from baby showers to birthdays to funerals, Hinman pointed out. In addition to fresh flowers and plants, their floral departments carry small, but high-end gifts.
"Dance recitals are big in our area and we sell a lot of little music boxes and ballerinas," Hinman said.
Retailers and industry experts disagree on what type of giftware supermarkets should offer in their floral departments, but it really boils down to what's profitable, they said.
"With all the consolidations that have taken place and the consequent demand for accountability, floral departments are being scrutinized from a dollar-and-cents viewpoint. Department managers are being asked how long this or that item has been there. You'd better turn your inventory to make money," said Tom Lavagetto, principal, The Floral Consulting Group, Spokane, Wash.
Lavagetto, who's a past board member of Super Floral and was at one time floral merchandiser for Jewel Food Stores, pointed out that there's a big profit to be made in supermarket floral.
"What's happening right now is that some of the big chains who have bought up others have found out those others are running very profitable floral operations and they're trying to blend what they're doing into their overall systems," he said, adding that the product mix is part of the equation.
When it comes to what to offer, Mark Wachter, director of floral and gifts, at Kowalski's Markets, St. Paul, Minn., said gift items have to make sense in the context of a floral department. He added that he likes to fit them into a theme.
"For example, I like to group flowers by color, and I might put some pottery of the same color in the display," Wachter said.
And he's apt to position such a display at an "outpost." At the 4-unit independent's newest store, he recently massed blue hydrangeas, blue Persian violets and blue pottery pots together at a fountain just ahead inside the store's entrance.
Candles are becoming big sellers in his department, he said. But again, he usually ties them into a theme. As July 4th approaches, he'll offer a gift pack of tapered candles: Two red, two white and two blue tied together with a flag-motif ribbon. Those, $10.99 each, will be displayed with red, white and blue bouquets and stems.