NORFOLK, Va. -- Farm Fresh here is using its floral program as a signature to herald its new generation of stores, giving the department a higher in-store profile and identity, backed up by a new wholesale operation that streamlines operations and introduces efficiencies to the department.
The 45-unit chain recently opened its ninth remodeled unit, raising the number of stores containing floral departments to 36. The opening comes as the retailer is undergoing a three-year, $80 million facelift following its acquisition by Richfood Holdings, Glen Allen, Va.
Putting floral in the spotlight is part of the chain's effort to capitalize on its strengths. Since Farm Fresh has long been known for its floral program, it seemed to be a natural place to start.
"We are putting in new equipment and giving floral a predominant spot in the front of our stores," said Ron Dennis, president of Farm Fresh. "We're making it a focal part of operations."
Richfood, a wholesale distributor and operator of retail stores in the Mid-Atlantic region, bought Farm Fresh after the chain filed for bankruptcy protection in January, 1998. Immediately following the takeover, Richfood called for a complete overhaul of the chain, making floral a major focus in the redesign.
"All of our stores are going to be remodeled," said Dennis. "We expect to get 15 to 18 stores done this first year, and that many or more next year."
A cornerstone of the floral department's makeover has been the retailer's name for the operation, the House of Flowers. Using this name reinforces the select nature of the department in the minds of consumers, creating almost a boutique image. Dennis said that Farm Fresh has traditionally kept floral separate from its larger cousin, produce.
"In our company, floral is not part of produce," he said. "It's a separate operation, separate sales, separate grossing department.
Dennis said the average size of the floral departments ranges from 800 to 1,500 square feet, though sizes in the remodeled units will depend on overall store size and design.
As Farm Fresh continues to upgrade store design, Dennis explained, floral will continue to be a gateway to the store, with most of the floral departments positioned near the front entrance. Even though some of the remodels won't permit truly up-front positioning, the design will focus on the vibrant colors and variety found in the department, he said.
"The floral department will have a predominant place in the store," said Dennis. "Not every store will have exactly the same prototype; floral will have an appropriate space near the front of the store, in every store."
As a member of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Florists' Transworld Delivery, Farm Fresh's floral departments combine its own, in-house creations with standard pieces and arrangements available through FTD. Farm Fresh originally signed with FTD in 1978 and has remained with it ever since, said Dennis.
"We have an advantage over some of our competitors in this area that don't do FTD," said Dennis. "Not every supermarket in this area offers FTD service."
Farm Fresh alerts consumers to the FTD services, as well as in-house floral options, with a multitude of signage that lists pricing information and product descriptions.
"All the stores are well signed, so you can easily identify the department," said Dennis. "We have signs on all the products. In some cases [the signs] talk about where [floral products] are from, but the main thing you talk about is the price, the event that it's designed for -- birthdays or anniversaries, or it's a boy, it's a girl."
According to Dennis, Farm Fresh's tradition as a service-oriented chain is especially apparent in floral. He said that all of Farm Fresh's floral departments are kept fully staffed during normal business hours.
"Our entire commitment in our organization is to service," said Dennis. "Our No. 1 objective is to provide customers with the best possible service in every department in our stores. And floral is no exception to that.
"That's what [the floral] department is. If you're not committed to serve the customer in that department, then you might as well not be in this business," said Dennis.
To better assist its customers, Farm Fresh stations a trained designer in each unit's floral department. He said that all the designers receive training through an FTD-sponsored program.
"The majority of our floral people are master FTD certified designers," explained Dennis. "Our people are constantly graded on their performance and their level of expertise."
Dennis said that customers can interact with the designers at any given time, because the floral arrangements are assembled in full view of the customer. He said that Farm Fresh also meets the needs of the consumer by relying on customer-response cards.
A majority of the floral arrangements are merchandised in large, reach-in self-service coolers enclosed with glass doors, said Dennis. He said that walk-in coolers provide storage for the remaining stock.
Displayed in the coolers is a product mix of FTD arrangements, as well as large displays of various Farm Fresh-inspired creations, including occasion pieces and everyday sellers, said Dennis. He said the next big floral ring will occur on Valentine's Day, which will feature a number of half-dozen and dozen-sized rose options, as well as a number of vase choices.
Even though the chain doesn't issue floral coupons, it does run floral ads in the weekly circulars and store circulars. "Typically, we advertise green plants, floral arrangements and bouquets," said Dennis. "We have weekly specials in our store where we run a dozen roses every day of the week for $9.99."
In addition, Farm Fresh also advertises its outdoor sales, held during milder weather. During the sales, floral displays are set up outside, adjacent to the main store entrance, along with a register for customer convenience.
"This market lends itself to [outdoor sales]," said Dennis. "We have a big spring and big fall plant sale. In the spring, we do a lot of outdoor plants and annuals. In the fall, we do a lot of garden mums and annuals."
Supplying the floral products to each of Farm Fresh's units is a newly opened central wholesale operation. The 25,000-square-foot floral distribution facility, called Central Floral Wholesale, opened in November in Virginia Beach, Va. The facility is staffed with 55 full-time floral designers and provides products for all of Farm Fresh's floral departments, as well as independent retail florists in the market area.
In addition to providing these floral services, the wholesale facility also fulfills FTD orders placed through its Web site affiliation. The Web site is named after its floral department and is linked through FTD's home page. Farm Fresh delivers seven days a week to the entire Tidewater area. With a fleet of 14 delivery vans, it can also deliver orders received by 2 p.m. the same day, according to Dennis.
A tour of the site indicated that the wholesale facility specializes in funeral tributes and weddings, as well as providing custom arrangements containing balloons and fruit and gourmet baskets. It also distributes to military bases and hospitals, and accepts corporate accounts. Farm Fresh guarantees satisfaction and claims to be a "Top 25" FTD member.
Through the site, a wide variety of FTD products are offered. Each product is accompanied by a color picture, a price point and a product description.
Some product examples include the FTD Big Hug Mug Bouquet, a small bear attached to a coffee mug that contains an assortment of red, white or yellow daisies for $28.99. An FTD Puzzle Fun Bouquet, which includes an assortment of red, white and yellow carnations inside a puzzle-shaped foam container, lists for $32.99. All items incur a $2.95 service charge and a 4.5% tax add-on, and can be ordered directly over the Web or through a toll-free number.