keys to business success in 2005
For florists, the key to surviving and thriving in the near future is to
become marketers, not sellers, and relationship builders.
by O. Stanley Pohmer Jr.
If it seemed as if 2004 was a less-than-stellar year for the floral
industry, you’re right—it wasn’t a pretty year, especially for the
florist/wholesaler channel. We had a lot of things working against us,
especially the economy and the consumer mind-set wrought with
uncertainty. We were anticipating a recovering economy and, while it did
show signs of life, it was in spits and sputters rather than a sustained
recovery. Add to that the higher energy prices and the increases in
costs of consumer goods related to higher energy costs, and consumers
had less disposable, discretionary dollars to spend. Wage earners
(consumers) still had some uncertainty about job security, and people
focused their spending on essentials, rather than the luxuries and
pleasures of life.
When consumers get even a bit panicked, they hunker down and change the
way they think about their spending behaviors. They become more
price-value focused, key in on “needs” rather than “wants” and shop for
bargains. Impulse purchasing becomes less dominant, and planned or
destination shopping becomes more the norm.
Yet the opportunity to prosper, even in our recent economic period of
uncertainty, remains strong for the retail florist channel. Let’s review
a few of the positives we have going for us:
• We have a product that consumers genuinely like. We don’t have to
convince them of the benefits of flowers or change negative thinking
about them as other product categories do.
• According to the Ipsos-Insight/American Floral Endowment Consumer
Tracking Study, we’re dealing with consumers who are better educated,
have higher income and are old enough to enjoy flowers.
• 61 percent of cut flower purchasers have household incomes of $50,000
and up, a much higher proportion than the U.S. population at large.
• 77 percent of cut flower purchasers have attended college.
• 74 percent of cut flower purchasers are age 40 or older. In fact, 36
percent of our purchasers are over age 55, and this age segment is the
So our consumers are older and better appreciate flowers, have the
income to purchase them and are better educated, meaning they most
likely have the social skills and opportunities to use flowers.
MARKETERS VERSUS SELLERS
So why aren’t importers/wholesalers/retail florists flourishing as a
retail channel and the floral industry prospering if we have all of
these positives to leverage? I see two challenges that are limiting our
growth potential, both of which we, as an industry, control; we can’t
blame our limitations or lack of success on consumers.
First, we are sellers, not marketers, as our competition for consumers’
minds, hearts and wallets are. What’s the difference? Selling is the
activity of eradicating inventory
that one owns or is in the supply pipeline. Marketing, on the other
hand, is the process of identifying the needs and reasons that consumers
purchase products and then communicating (or marketing) the solutions to
these consumer needs, wants and desires. Despite all of the academic
studies the Society of American Florists has conducted that show the
intrinsic value and benefits of flowers, and the marketing success
stories the Flower Promotion Organization has validated, we, as an
industry, are still in the business of selling “stuff” at a price rather
than positioning our products to offer the emotional and psychological
benefits that flowers and plants provide. Are consumers really buying
flowers, or are they purchasing all the benefits flowers and plants
provide to them? Are we selling what consumers are really buying or want
to buy? I think not.
At the 2004 Seeley Conference, an industry think tank conducted by
Cornell University, the topic was the relevance of floriculture to
today’s consumer. After many presentations from psychologists and
consumer trend experts, and much discussion over 3 1/2 days, the
overwhelming consensus was that our products are more relevant today
than they ever have been—we just haven’t told consumers that they are;
we haven’t effectively marketed our message and the benefits because our
mind-set is selling, not marketing. It’s not the consumers’ job to
“discover” the value and benefits of flowers and plants on their own;
it’s our job to communicate these to them!
The second challenge we face is somewhat related. Because we’re in a
“selling” mind-set, we are more focused on transactional, activity-based
involvement with our customers rather than establishing experiential
relationships with them. This may sound like a lot of psycho-babble, but
it really is common sense that can change our whole interaction with
consumers, especially retail florist consumers.
By the nature of their business, supermarkets and other mass marketers
are in the transactional mode of selling; they are highly impulse
driven. They haven’t
demonstrated to their consumers the benefits or needs of purchasing
flowers on a regular basis. Flowers and plants are not yet written down
on their customers’ shopping lists every week along with milk, bread and
other essential items. If consumers walk by supermarkets’ floral
displays, see something that piques their interest, the products look
appealing and they can envision a use or application for them, they may
stop and consider purchasing the flowers or plants.
But a consumer who walks through a florist’s front door, picks up a
phone to call in an order or goes to a florist’s Web site to see what he
or she has available has already made up her mind that she is going to
buy flowers; the flower shop is a destination, and the consumer is
already aware of the benefits of the product the florist offers. Yet,
too many florists just “take the order,” a one-time transactional
activity, and lose this precious golden opportunity to leverage the
purchase/interaction into a positive, experiential relationship with
Effective marketers are relationship builders. Take The Coca-Cola
Company, for example. It doesn’t look at the transactional sale of
selling a can of soda a dollar at a time; rather it looks at the
lifetime value of selling more than $6,000 of this product over a
consumer’s purchasing life, and everything the company does, at every
touch point with that consumer, reinforces this longer-term viewpoint.
Coke’s message is clear, concise and consistent (its only deviation was
with “new” Coke, and it was a dismal failure because the company
deviated from the core message it had established over time). Coke’s
signage, tagline, product quality and marketing efforts (even its
drivers’ uniforms and the colors of its trucks) all support the lifetime
value proposition it has worked so diligently to perfect.
And while McDonald’s Corporation isn’t known for its food quality, the
product it offers and the experience it provides are consistent.
McDonald’s isn’t in the food business; rather it’s in the business of
providing fast, easy food solutions to kids—and their parents.
The challenge most florists face is how to populate their stores,
whether that’s through their front doors or some electronic means. And
once you capture those customers, do you just satisfy the transactions,
those single purchase activities, or do you nurture and develop
experiential relationships with those customers so you become their
provider of choice for the rest of their lives?
Are you leveraging all of the touch-point possibilities to develop those
relationships? From the professionalism and attitude at the end of the
phone line and in the store, to the appearance of your employees and
their desire to get customers back again and again, to the service and
attitude of your delivery team, to the follow-up
includes thank-you notes, mailings, e-mail newsletters and reminder
services—all of these are opportunities to help develop the long-term
relationships, the lifetime values.
Some say that you should try to develop this kind of relationship with
every customer. But the reality is that you probably don’t have the time
and resources to do so. The key, as the Coca-Cola folks try to do, is to
identify the 10 percent of the users or purchasers who consume or enjoy
75 percent of the product, and service the heck out of them. These
loyalists become not only your most important consumers but also your
most vocal advocates, praising you to others. And it’s proven that
accolades and referrals from existing customers to others are much more
credible than any other form of advertising you can invest in.
So we really have two interrelated challenges. One is changing from a
selling to a marketing mind-set, selling the benefits and solutions our
products provide, not the products themselves. The second is focusing on
the experiential relationships to maximize the lifetime value of
existing and new customers rather than on the transactions themselves.
Both of these require major changes in the way most of us think about
what we do for a living, the way we manage our businesses and the way we
communicate and market to consumers. These are not simple operational or
cosmetic changes; these are core, fundamental cultural and attitudinal
changes that need to be embraced by you and every employee in your
company in everything you do at every touch point with your customers.
In just four short years, the florist channel share of the cut flower
business shrunk from 55.4 percent of the dollars and 28.1 percent of the
transactions to 48.7 percent of the dollars and 20.9 percent of the
transactions, with increased share going to discount retailers, some to
supermarkets, a little to warehouse clubs and some to Internet providers
(note that the Internet isn’t the major player many give it credit for
being; in the cut flower category, this channel accounts for only 6
percent of the dollars and 1.9 percent of the transactions).
That said, no channel has more opportunity to reposition itself with
consumers than the retail florist channel. Only 13.7 percent of U.S.
households purchased any product from a florist in 2003. Some may say
that’s dismally low, but I view this as a potential for you to penetrate
86 percent of the U.S. households!
There’s a business adage: “If you always do what you’ve always done,
you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” It’s a tough, competitive
world out there, and retail florists and their channel partners have had
a tough go of things over the past few years. But while there’s so much
opportunity and potential for growth for the retail florist, we’ll never
be able to capture and enjoy it doing the same things we’ve done before.
Maybe it’s time for a change in the way we think, the way we market and
the relationships we have with our consumers.
O. Stanley Pohmer Jr. is CEO of Pohmer Consulting Group, Minnetonka,
Minn., and executive director of the Flower Promotion Organization,
PO Box 4368
Topeka, KS 66604
©Copyright 2004 Florists'