2017 Retail Florist of the Year
The winner of our 15th annual contest uses innovation and education to sow the seeds of success.
By Brenda Silva
Photos By Amanda Rossell
If Lori Haveman had followed her mother’s original advice, the only flowers she would see every day would be as a nurse when she entered a patient’s room. “My mother believed all women should become nurses to ensure job security, but she also wanted all four of her daughters to work in a flower shop so they would learn about the finer things in life,” Lori shares.
One of the finer things for Lori includes winning the 2017 Retail Florist of the Year award, a prestigious industry contest cosponsored by Florists’ Review and Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA).
Over time, the career goal suggested by her mother was achieved by all of Lori’s older sisters, but Lori had a different plan for her future – one that involved caring for plants instead of patients. At age 15, she began working in the floral industry and found a niche to call her own. Four years later, after college lost its appeal, Lori began working at Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts in Grand Rapids, Mich., and enrolled in business courses. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although, it’s easy to imagine what could have been a successful nursing career for Lori, as she spends her days caring for her flowers, her staff, and her community in much the same way.
Business Plans and Location Expand
Lori began working at Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts when she was 19, and she didn’t need any business course to tell her the business was on a decline and had been for some time. “The original owner, Gordon Kennedy, was the kind of florist who was more interested in having a shop than actually working in one.” Lori explains. When he died, Katherine Ryan, a woman who cleaned for the store, bought Kennedy’s for the equivalent of the unpaid taxes. During her time as owner, she managed to increase business thanks to “the carriage trade.”
By the time Katherine passed away, business was much improved, which gave Lori and her business partner, Joan Kraft – a floral designer and store manager – even more reason to buy Kennedy’s in 1984. The women kept the shop at its original Croswell Street location – a two-story building of about 2,000 square feet – for 11 years as they continued to grow. However, continued difficulties with their landlord led them to seek out a new location for Kennedy’s, which they found on Cascade Road. They bought the 7,700-square-foot building, and when they moved in, Kennedy’s occupied only one of the four storefronts the building comprised.
Business continued to increase, and so did the need for more space. As the other three tenants moved out, Lori and Joan were able to expand a little more each time. Today, Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts occupies the entire building, allowing Lori and her staff (Joan has since passed away) plenty of space to highlight the wide range of floral and gift products the shop has to offer.
Innovative Promotions and Industry Marketing
The business courses Lori took served to enhance her business; yet, she’s still wise enough to realize you can always learn more from others in the same industry. “When I was starting out, I would always do the things that successful people told me work, and most of the time, they were right. I was never too embarrassed to ask questions and learn more because I knew it would benefit me and the store,” she says.
One of Lori’s well-known promotions still benefits the shop with occasional customers who became regular clients. As a way to celebrate her 60th birthday, Lori began a promotion to give away little vases with tidbit flowers for free to the first 250 people to claim them. As part of the promotion, the people who received the vases were entitled to return as often as they liked for one year to get them refilled with more tidbits. The genius of the promotion showed itself when Lori’s initial investment of $500 resulted in more than $5,000 in additional sales each month.
“When people came in to get their vases filled, we informed them it would be a few minutes to get it done. So while they waited, they shopped around and would ultimately buy other floral products they liked or gifts they needed. So while the promotion got them into the store, they usually spent money on other products as well,” Lori explains.
Lori ran a similar promotion at Kennedy’s in March, when she sold small vase arrangements for $10 each and allowed people who bought them to return for free refills for two months. During these return visits, people also bought additional items before leaving – only too thankful for their free flowers.
Another way Lori and her staff are increasing sales at Kennedy’s involves getting help with marketing techniques from industry professionals. “I’ve been with TeamFloral for five years, and it has made a huge difference in increasing sales at my store. They’re very knowledgeable and can help anyone in the floral industry better understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing your business. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who wants to increase their sales.”
Lori adds that she also works with WhizBang Retail Training, located in Grand Haven, Mich. “They’re great at teaching you how to sell, but you still have to sell things the right way in order to make money.”
Increasing Education and Increasing Sales
Aside from successful promotions, Lori believes education is key to increasing sales within the floral industry. She plans to focus more on this in the future, not only educating herself and her staff but also offering floral design classes to instruct her customers.
“Education is the most profitable part of the floral industry right now,” she observes. “You need to keep things fresh and interesting and get the knowledge out there. You need to listen to what other people are doing and to listen to your customers, because both of these will benefit your bottom line.”
Lori suggests remaining optimistic about the potential for future sales and working to anticipate the needs of customers. “Flowers are a respite for people,” she notes. “You need to make it fun and be positive. Stay on top of the needs of customers, and even if they don’t buy something every time they come in, they’ll remember your shop when they do need something in the future.”
She continues, “Our philosophy is create an environment where really talented, smart, committed people want to show up and work together to provide Kennedy’s clientele with a positive experience and be part of a culture of innovation.”
At Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts, the future looks to blossom as Lori’s adult children plan to join the family business where Lori and her husband, Jack, worked together for almost 25 years. Both Nick, who is already working at Kennedy’s, and his sister Holly, who will be starting later this year, are eager to continue the great reputation their parents worked hard to establish.
When it comes to being successful, a popular saying suggests one should “bloom where you’re planted.” In the case of Lori Haveman and Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts, they have done that and more, with the seeds of success just waiting to be cultivated.
(Bottom center) As part of their gift area, Kennedy’s offers candles, containers and comfy throws as complements to their extensive floral options.
(Below) Kennedy’s believes it’s important to keep pace with trends in the floral industry, such as the current attention being given to foliage and the color green.
kennicott’s plays a role in kennedy’s win
At the Kennicott Brothers Company location in Grand Rapids, Mich., Supply Manager Linda Hamilton has great things to say about Kennedy’s owner, Lori Haveman, and she explains why Kennicott Brothers endorsed the nomination of Kennedy’s for the “Retail Florist of the Year.” (Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts staff member Amanda Rossell nominated her employer for the award.)
“They have a really nice shop, in a beautiful location, which gets them a lot of walk-in customers. Their store is very large, and they carry a wide range of products. Lori’s an extremely smart businessperson; she does a lot of great promotions that bring people in, and I think that has helped her shop really grow over the years,” Linda says.
Linda adds that Kennedy’s Flowers & Gifts is an important customer of hers and has been for many years, and she points out how a great staff can make all the difference for a floral shop (an assertion Lori agrees with wholeheartedly, as she takes every opportunity to talk about the importance of her staff). “At Kennedy’s, Lori has an amazing staff and she values them a lot. I think her business sense and her staff are the major reasons why she is so successful,” Linda concludes.