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Floral Refrigeration Opens Sales Opportunities

Doorless units encourage impulse sales and are easier for self-service departments

By Lynn Tilton

When it comes to refrigeration, the supermarket goal is to keep the product at the proper temperature yet make it easy for the shopper to put the protected product in the shopping cart. That is why floral refrigeration companies have eliminated the door.

"The produce, deli, dairy and meat departments moved from closed cases to open cases years ago," explains Michael Wetzel, president for Floratech of Syracuse, NY. "In floral, the goal is to sell the product, not hide it behind glass or put it up on this magic pedestal for people to admire but not handle. Open cases help drive up your floral sales, mostly because people can touch, smell and hold the flowers that attract them. Open cases lead to impulse sales." Tom Cacciola, store manager of Charlie's Thriftway in Coatesville, PA, says that although the store does not have a full-time floral department, he has been looking at the latest in floral technology at the Food Marketing Institute and other shows. "We do a nice holiday floral business, selling only pre-cut flowers. We do not do a lot on a daily basis, so a three-door case works fine for us."

The store's floral specialist comes in for about an hour a day to change the water, re-cut flowers, dress the cases and handle related paperwork for self-service flowers. Cacciola explains that when he can see a stronger return on investment, he will consider installing a full-time floral department, complete with doorless cases to help boost the ROI.

Wetzel, who has been in refrigeration for many years, reports he moved into floral just under 3 years ago, when he bought the company. "I think the reason the trend to open cases has been late in coming to supermarket floral departments is because many hire people who have a florist background, a florist mentality. The job of the florist is to take care of the plants, to keep them at their peak. People go to floral shops because they need to purchase flowers. But supermarket shoppers make flowers just part of the total purchase.

"The traditional florist is in the floral shop to help fill out specific needs, not market something pre-made. But supermarkets must allow for self-service or partial self-service. It is the self-service side that really drives up sales volume."

Concerning technology, Wetzel explains retailers can choose to buy directly from manufacturers, such as Floratech, or through an equipment supplier. He notes that those who do their homework can get the system they need at a substantial savings. On the other hand, including an expert in the development of a floral department gives one more viewpoint that helps to ensure the department is another profit center.

But the big push in today's floral refrigeration technology is on air flow. "Flower refrigeration is much more challenging than a fixed packaged reefer for cheese, milk or dairy, because the blossom is not in a fixed package. Flowers shed, pieces fall off, and the goal is to improve open cases to keep correct temperatures throughout the displayed blooms and not inflict extra maintenance costs."

When asked what it costs to have reefers without doors, he replies, "My smallest open-air cooler costs $1 a day to run. If it were closed, you might save 10 to 15 cents in electricity, but that difference is far offset by increased sales because shoppers have easy, casual access to flowers." Wetzel then emphasizes, "I have never had a customer who did not report at least a 50 percent increase in sales when he switched to open air cases. Some report sales are up as much as 150 percent, again because doorless units encourage impulse sales."

In addition to open cases, Wetzel recommends modular systems. "There are a lot of seasonal needs, trends and changes you do not have elsewhere in the supermarket, except in produce. Modular systems on wheels, rather than piped-in-place display units, allow you to be flexible, to change with those needs, to be creative. You can really have fun with a floral department. With modular units you can move the department around and rearrange it. I have customers who grow and shrink the display by putting in or pulling our cases." This versatility is especially vital during special holidays, such as Mother's Day, when flower demand skyrockets and when even flower hobbyists seek help in giving the very best in flowers to someone special.

But flowers are a year-round category. Wetzel notes supermarkets with excellent floral sales records keep winter displays at the front of the main entrance. There, the color relieves the winter landscape and provides opportunity for the shopper to brighten the home or office. In mid-summer, when home-grown flowers compete for the shopper's heart, that display can be repositioned against a wall. Best of all, a modular makes it easy to have a dynamic floral department. "With modular, you do not need outside technicians moving hard-wired electrical systems."

Chet Guinn, general manager for Borgen Systems in Des Moines, IA, reports closed coolers still sell flowers. "It is ideal to have some of both, especially until you are through microtuning your specific market.

"If your particular market calls for a lot of bouquets, and is labor intensive, you will want to stock those arrangements at ideal temperature and humidity levels. We had a chain that went with open cases, then had us come in and retrofit some with doors. They were very happy once we gave them a few doors." One of his happy customers is Boesen the Florist, which not only has its own floral shop in Des Moines, but it also is the floral tenant for 11 Dahl's Food Markets. "Eight of those are full-service and the other three are self-service," explains Carol Kahn, director of mass merchandising for Boesen. Kahn uses both open and closed cases.

Floral shop clients buy from the supermarket, but supermarket sales tend to be more of an impulse item. "Open cases encourage impulse purchasing. We have two kinds of open cases: island and wall units," says Kahn. "The wall unit makes it possible to give a more striking display because you can have several rows of bouquets, while the island is pretty well limited to just one level, so all you see is the one bouquet."

Boesen the Florist has been marketing flowers since 1923. When the company started working with Dahl's Food Markets in 1992, the approach was not uniform across the stores. Each floral manager fine-tunes the particular department to meet the needs of shoppers. Kahn says that while one store always has sunflower bouquets, for example, another store less than 2 miles away may have very little demand for sunflowers.

Kahn adds that the supermarket mix includes 30 percent of upgraded plant material, such as a bow, artificial butterfly or dish garden. Speaking of doored cooler cases, she concludes, "The doors need to be designed so the shopper sees the products, not the doors." This means roses and other sensitive flowers or arrangements can get the protection they need, yet that protection does not hinder sales.

Pat Primozic, president of Floraline Display Products in Willoughby, OH, reports, "We sell mostly open cases. We do have a door product, but openness is more and more the call. People are more willing to pick up flowers when they do not have to open a door. Flowers then become more of an impulse item."

Care And Handling

Other features that make it easier to keep flowers in the supermarket include fixtures that are self-cleaning and self-watering. "The attendant can merchandise the case, then tend to other department needs, including customer service." Other needs include the frequent patrolling typical of the produce section to ensure that all floral displays are at their best presentation. Primozic adds that improved technology, especially that of moving a lot of air at a lower velocity, has dramatically increased the bloom's shelf life.

"Flowers are not waving around in forced air, which dries out flowers." Another aid is the automatic system that takes out the old water and puts in new fresh water daily, helping the flowers' longevity. As with other departments, location is important. Primozic reports that using the floral department as a transition from outside to inside helps boost sales. "Customers walk into the freshness of a well-lit, well-cared-for department. We like to think that the bouquet case is so massive, so appealing, they will shop there, then move into the produce section. Coupling the floral and the produce sections ties into the whole freshness concept. This helps make shopping more exciting, more of an adventure rather than just another chore."

Randy Primozic, who doubles as sales and design director for the family firm, adds, "Supermarket floral departments need to offer shoppers a new look, they need to be well designed. A good floral department designer can offer the retailer a turnkey system. They can install coolers, open refrigerators, glass-doored units, all fixtures, including self-watering systems, water lines, drains, electrical needs and have the department up and running in as quickly as 3 to 4 days."

He adds that the retailer can install his own refrigeration. "Most retailers find it easier, though, to buy the whole package [from the manufacturer]. Then, should a problem develop, there is just one person they need to deal with." But, regardless of the type of system installed, Primozic emphasizes, "It has to be a good product. If it is not, then flowers will not last as long. Seven days is a typical shelf life for most kinds of flowers, but a great refrigeration system will give flowers 10 to 12 days to sell themselves. A good system gives the shopper consistency of product. The shopper knows he is going to buy a good quality bouquet from that supermarket."

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, as retailers who have been in the business for some time can testify. But, with proper cases and care, the old supermarket reputation of a place to buy cheap flowers can be replaced with a more positive image. Quality paves the way to market blooms as well as bouquets with a mark-up closer to that found in floral shops. Image is critical. With a supermarket floral department setup costing $30,000 to $70,000, it is vital that the department always presents a positive image. "It is nothing for a supermarket to pick up a 100 to 200 percent increase in sales in a week, thanks to a new design. Shoppers are especially sensitive to atmosphere, to colors. Proper lighting is essential."

Primozic concludes, "I have seen nice, nice supermarket floral departments languish in sales only because they were not properly lit, and that is where a professional designer can help the supermarket boost floral sales, and the right bouquet case makes it easier for the customer to pick up some flowers while buying groceries."

Lamb's Thriftway Marketplace in Portland, OR, reports if reefer cases have doors, the cases need to be large enough so that shoppers can walk inside. "We have about 1000 square feet of floral display space inside the store," explains Kelly Fryer, a floral department specialist who also doubles as a cashier. "Our refrigerated case has four doors, and shoppers can walk in and help themselves to bouquets, floral arrangements or single flowers. We are both a self-service and a service department."

Fryer adds that fast-moving, daily-delivered flowers such as carnations or lilies are displayed outside the refrigerated case where shoppers can easily make their selection. To enhance shelf life, they are transferred at the end of the first day into the walk-in, temperature-controlled area. "We stock bouquets at every checkout stand, and that really helps to move flowers." And it is product movement that is the prime reason behind any supermarket floral department's display strategy.

RELEASED: December 31, 2002


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