2005 retail florist of the year
Strong promotions, outstanding service and fabulous products attract
customers and keep Palmer Flowers & Decorating Gallery growing.
by Shelley Urban
shops are among the few types of retail businesses that conduct
significant sales over the phone, without ever seeing or meeting
consumers, and, often, without the customers ever seeing the purchased
products. In fact, some florists strive for strong phone sales, aspiring
to achieve 80 percent, even 90 percent, of revenues from telephone
orders, perhaps because these types of transactions can be quicker,
easier and more cost-effective than in-store transactions. They can also
allow for greater labor efficiency, since designers can focus on
designing rather than talking to walk-in shoppers, some of whom might be
browsing with no intention of purchasing.
But none of these efficiencies really matter at Palmer Flowers &
Decorating Gallery because focusing on strong phone sales, which might
seem penny-wise, could actually be a bit pound-foolish. That’s why Spiro
Palmer, CEO of this 29-year-old shop in Fort Collins, Colo., maintains a
much different business philosophy. He knows that if customers visit
stores well-stocked with fabulous products, they can’t help but buy. And
they’ll spend more, and come back more often to spend again, if they
smell, see and touch all the wonderful merchandise for themselves.
Mr. Palmer and his staff work hard to build in-store traffic. As a
result, fully 60 percent of his company’s annual revenues—which have
reached an impressive $3 million, the majority of which are fresh
flowers and plants—is derived from walk-in sales.
Keeping sales strong even during the slower economic climate of the past
several years—the shop experienced a 45-percent increase in sales from
1998 to 2003—with an almost nonstop schedule of creative advertising and
promotions; top-notch customer service; and a seductive, ever-changing
shopping experience that continues to allure new and established
customers, has enabled Palmer Flowers to grow tremendously, both
financially and physically. As a result, throughout the shop’s history,
the staff have become well-acquainted with success, winning numerous
awards over the years, including having been voted the best florist in
Fort Collins for the past seven years.
For 2005, they have another award to add to their impressive list of
achievements: Retail Florist of the Year. Conferred upon Palmer Flowers
& Decorating Gallery by the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier
Association (WF&FSA) and Florists’ Review, who jointly sponsor the
annual competition, the prestigious award includes a $1,000 cash prize.
In a recent conversation about their win, Mr. Palmer and his associates
shared what makes them winners, in the floral industry as well as the
In the early 1900s, members of the Palmer family, who had immigrated
from Greece and put down roots in Joliet, Ill., opened the first Palmer
family flower shop. Family members shared their craft with subsequent
generations, some of whom migrated westward. In 1976, Spiro Palmer, who
learned the business from his brothers, Leo and Paul, who had opened
shops in Boulder, Colo., brought the family tradition to Fort Collins,
opening Palmer House Florist along with his wife, Angela. It was a tiny
shop in the downtown district of this northern Colorado community,
which, at the time, was populated by a mere 35,000 residents. Today, the
population of Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, has more
than tripled, to almost 127,000.
A mere six years after its inception, Palmer House was almost bursting
at its 1,000-square-foot seams. Clearly, expansion was required for the
company to grow, and Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, whose vision of their
company’s future had expanded along with their burgeoning business,
multiplied the shop space 10 times over when they relocated into a
growing Fort Collins neighborhood. This impressive 10,000-square-foot
retail space afforded the opportunity to create lots of enticing
in-store displays, and customers couldn’t get enough of the lavish
further serve its ever-expanding customer base and to reach new consumer
markets, a second retail space was acquired, so the company could offer
home interior items, including “silk” florals and home décor, such as
furniture, fine art and home accents. That’s when, in 1996, positioned
adjacent to the flower shop, the Palmer Decorating Gallery was born.
The two businesses were combined in 2004 in a nearly $1 million
expansion project, which resulted in the 25,000-square-foot facility
that now houses Palmer Flowers & Decorating Gallery as well as the
Palmer School of Floral Design, established and directed by Mrs. Palmer,
who is also a founding member of the Colorado Retail Florists
Association. (See the sidebar on page 44 for more information on the
school and its design certification program.)
In its own right, Palmer Flowers is a destination venue, offering
one-stop shopping for a variety of decorating and gift-giving needs. Yet
years ago, the Palmers envisioned a more complete line-up of home and
lifestyle services to attract clientele from Fort Collins and
neighboring communities, including those in nearby Wyoming and Nebraska.
To accomplish this goal, Mr. Palmer established yet another business,
the Palmer Design Center, in a strip shopping center he owns just north
of the Palmer Flowers & Decorating Gallery location. The
20,000-square-foot Design Center is occupied by six independent
businesses whose products and services, such as custom-built cabinetry,
high-end flooring and window and door replacements, attract the same
types of clientele as Palmer Flowers.
Therefore, the Design Center’s location and core businesses, which were
individually selected by Mr. Palmer, help draw steady streams of
consumers to the area. And the affiliation has other benefits as well.
“Because we serve many of the same clientele,” mentions Mr. Palmer,
“we’re able to share customer information and plan joint advertising and
MARKETING IS THE KEY
But enticing nearly 20,000 guests annually into Palmer Flowers requires
more than just a high-traffic location. Consistent marketing and
promotions remind customers of all Palmer Flowers has to offer, and
incentives attract new clients as well as encourage loyalty among
long-time customers. In fact, Marie Kirkpatrick, who handles marketing,
estimates that 80 percent of the company’s business is from satisfied
An all-important aspect of Palmer Flowers’ marketing program is
traditional advertising, the budget for which, in 2004, totaled
$195,000. This represents 6.5 percent of Palmer Flowers’ $3 million
According to Ms. Kirkpatrick, the largest portion of the budget, some
$85,000, was allocated for newspaper advertising, including as many as
six full-page color ads and about 300 smaller ads. An additional $55,000
went toward what she calls “fixed advertising”—Yellow Pages, the company
Web site, wire-order expenses and so forth. In other traditional
advertising, about $15,000 was spent on the company’s 250 or so radio
spots for the year, most of which are concentrated into 48 ads per week
during several selected weeks throughout the year.
The remaining $40,000 of the advertising budget went to producing and
sending a wealth of direct-mail pieces, to both existing customers and
new prospects. Regular mailings, highlighting various promotions, new
products and special events, ensure top-of-mind awareness for Fort
Collins residents, who compose 70 percent of the company’s customer
Among the most important special events are the shop’s two open houses,
one celebrating spring and the other celebrating the holiday season. For
the 2005 spring open house, which was held in early April, Ms.
Kirkpatrick says that a custom-printed postcard mailer was sent to 6,000
clients and prospects. The postcard described the event and offered a
discount to anyone who presented it during the open house.
The mailers, paired with a two-week print ad campaign, draw considerable
walk-in traffic. “We’ve been doing the spring open house for five years,
and we consistently see about 2,000 walk-ins each year,” Mr. Palmer
Michele Adams, Palmer Flowers’ general manager/buyer, says that, among
regular customers, the open house is the must-attend event of the
season. “It’s something that everyone really looks forward to. We show
all the season’s new products and colors, we give roses to the ladies
and, of course, serve refreshments,” she mentions.
And those who attend aren’t just browsing, they’re buying. “The spring
open house is profitable,” confides Mr. Palmer, “but that isn’t why we
do it,” he adds. “The main purpose is to get customers into the store.”
This strategy of getting customers in is one that many retailers, in all
types of industries, rely on for strong sales, and the Palmers know it
works for floral shops, too. But even if guests don’t make purchases on
the first visit, or the second for that matter, it’s clear, to the folks
at Palmer Flowers at least, that shopping equals sales.
In addition to the open-house events, Palmer Flowers relies on various
incentives to maintain its brisk walk-in sales. A frequent-buyer card is
one such incentive. The card is stamped for every $10 spent on fresh
flowers and arrangements. After 10 stamps, or $100 spent, customers can
redeem the card for $15 worth of fresh flowers.
This incentive is among the most important of the loyalty programs that
Palmer Flowers offers. “For every sales transaction, customers are asked
if they have frequent-buyer cards,” says Ms. Adams, “and buyers who
don’t have cards are offered them.”
She also reports that, as a service to customers, frequent-buyer cards
are kept on file in the shop, so customers don’t lose or forget about
them. “On average,” adds Ms. Kirkpatrick, “four or five cards are
redeemed per week.”
Another promotion that attracts throngs of walk-in customers is “Fresh
Flower Happy Hour.” This program, offering half-price flowers on all
fresh stems except roses, which are offered in bunches at promotional
prices, is more than just a Friday afternoon or weekend special.
Instead, Palmer Flowers offers half-price cut flowers, including a
wealth of tropical blossoms, from Thursday through Sunday; however, the
program runs only during summer and fall. “This way, we’re able to
attract customers at times that might be a little slower than others,”
explains Ms. Adams.
Discounts and sale pricing, sometimes as much as 40 percent or more on
regular merchandise (rather than seasonal closeouts, for example), also
attract customers throughout the year. “Of course, discounts come out of
the bottom line,” Mr. Palmer notes, “but they’ve proven to work really
well. We use them to attract new customers, and our regular clientele
appreciate the opportunities to purchase products at reduced prices,
Once customers are tempted inside the store, they soon realize that this
is a retail domain quite unlike most others. First, upon entering the
massive facility, which is done through one well-marked, highly visible
set of central doors, customers walk into a sunlight-filled atrium where
a wealth of lavish green plants and seasonal merchandise, which is
changed regularly to keep displays interesting for returning customers,
hint at the treasures to be found within.
To the left is the decorating gallery, where exquisite permanent plants
and floral arrangements are merchandised among collections of fine art,
stylish home furnishings, decorative accessories and much more. Prices
in these sections, which are arranged according to color or style
themes, range from $10 to $1,700, but the average gallery sale is $95.
the right of the atrium is the flower shop, where some 1,400 square feet
of walk-in cooler space is filled with gorgeous cut flowers and striking
fresh arrangements. This space also includes about 400 square feet
devoted just to the 25 or so varieties of tropical cut flowers in a
special moderate-temperature cooler. Basic containers and some green and
blooming plants can be found here, as well.
Prices, even for arrangements, start at $9.99. Although the average
ticket for this department is $45, fresh arrangements sell for as high
The majority of the company’s fresh flowers are grown domestically. In
fact, Mr. Palmer reports that about 50 percent of his cut flower
purchases are grown in California and about 20 percent are tropicals
grown, predominantly, in Hawaii. The remaining 30 percent are imported
from South America.
Palmer explains his company’s relatively unusual reliance on American
sources this way: “We want to support domestic growers,” he says, “and
we also find that we get great results with California products because
they are [kept consistently cold when they are] transported to us on
refrigerated trucks.” He also points out that Palmer Flowers has a
29-year relationship with some cut-flower growers, so he knows he can
count on them to supply large quantities of product—as many as 200 boxes
or more at the holidays—when he needs it.
Directly across the store from the atrium, Palmer Flowers’
1,800-square-foot greenhouse beckons customers. Here, pristine
collections of blooming plants and other in-season items are on display
in enticing gardenlike settings that, like all the shop’s displays,
encourage browsing. There’s also a “lucky-bamboo bar,” from which
customers select items, such as containers, stones and stems, to create
their own lucky-bamboo arrangements.
every department, especially the decorating gallery, much of the
merchandise would be hard to find elsewhere. For example, few other
florists in the region carry the variety of fresh flowers that Palmer
Flowers does, especially roses (10 to 15 varieties on hand daily) and
tropicals, which account for 20 percent of the shop’s fresh flower sales
and are especially popular for Mother’s Day and other holidays.
Buyers also work hard to find furnishings and accessories that aren’t
available at other outlets. According to Mr. Palmer, that’s part of his
company’s appeal with consumers. “One of the main reasons customers come
here,” he shares, “is because we provide products that are unique to us.
We watch what our competitors sell, and we avoid those same products.
It’s part of our strategy to make the buying experience enjoyable and to
keep customers coming back.”
And since customers do come back again and again, regular display
changes and fixture updates are a necessity. “Every year, we upgrade our
fixtures and create new looks,” points out Mr. Palmer. “We also rotate
lots of different merchandise through our displays, including those
inside the cooler, to change them regularly—more than seasonally,” Ms.
FOR CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS
Oftentimes, before guests entering the building can decide which
direction they should turn, they’re greeted warmly by sales staff, who,
when they’re not helping customers in the showrooms, are stationed at
one of two sales counters just inside the door. Depending on the season,
relates Ms. Adams, as many as three or four sales staff are on duty in
the flower shop at all times while two or three staff help customers in
the gallery. And, she adds, “sales staff are cross-trained to work in
both areas, so if the need arises, the departments easily can assist
But friendly greetings and helpful guidance are just part of the
excellent customer service that makes local residents and folks from
surrounding communities keep coming back to Palmer Flowers & Decorating
Gallery. What’s perhaps more important is that all staff follow the
“golden rule” of customer service.
“We treat each of our guests the way we would want to be treated if we
were the customers,” assures Mr. Palmer. He says that every staff member
strives to make customers feel special and to recognize that customers’
needs are important, not trivial.
Another aspect of top-notch service is demonstrated with high-quality
flowers that offer the maximum possible vase life and are delivered
within just an hour or two of order placement. “Ninety minutes to three
hours is the typical delivery wait time, and we’ll guarantee even faster
deliveries for an added cost,” Mr. Palmer informs.
In addition, utilizing the latest post-harvest technology in a
climate-controlled space devoted to flower processing is the first step
to ensuring that cut flowers receive the best possible care. And that,
along with proper rotation and flower use, provides consumers with
optimum vase life.
Keeping product rotated requires that both arrangements and loose stems
are date-coded, so nothing stays in the cooler too long. “We move
everything within three or four days,” Ms. Adams points out.
She also mentions that sales staff walk through the coolers two or three
times daily, so they’re aware of what items need to be sold that day,
and designers utilize loose stems from the display coolers, rather than
just their workroom storage cooler, as needed to help minimize waste.
WITH GREAT EMPLOYEES
The foundation of excellent customer service, though, is outstanding
employees. “We recruit ‘stars,’” says Mr. Palmer, “which is part of the
reason we started the design school.”
However, excellent employees won’t stay if there’s a better place to go.
As a result, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer strive to make their business among the
best places for employees to work and grow, and, in February, they were
recognized for their efforts
when Palmer Flowers was named the “best place to work” by the Fort
The benefits package, which includes paid vacations, a 401(k) plan,
health and life insurance, sales goal incentives and discounts on
merchandise and floral design school tuition, is as generous as any in
the retail industry. And employees are treated as valuable members of
the Palmer Flowers family who are given opportunities to achieve their
“We value our employees and ask for their input,” Mr. Palmer explains.
“We also encourage them to achieve more by letting them know that we’re
confident they can develop new skills and perform in new roles with new
responsibilities, if they want to,” he continues.
a result, the average tenure for the shop’s 45 to 50 employees is about
5 years, and some staff have been with the shop for much longer. Ms.
Adams, for example, has been with the company for 27 of the 29 years
it’s been in business.
Great benefits and a great working environment make for happy employees,
and happy employees are critical components of outstanding service,
which is required for building a base of satisfied customers. And when
these elements are joined with consistent advertising, enticing
promotions and a wealth of fabulous products in an always-inviting
atmosphere, it’s truly a winning combination on which a successful
business, like Palmer Flowers & Decorating Gallery—the 2005 Retail
Florist of the Year—can be built.
• To read about the Runners Up in this years competition,
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