retail florist of the year - runner-up


Discover what earned this Boise, Idaho business runner-up status in our 2005 Retail Florist of the Year contest.

by Morgan Chilson

For 75 years, Edwards Greenhouse has built a reputation for selection, quality and a high level of customer service in the Boise, Idaho area. It was only natural that the addition of The Carpenters’ Custom Florist, opened in 1990, would expand and build on that reputation.
In fact, being attached to a greenhouse provides the floral designers with extraordinary materials with which to work, says Garnette Edwards Monnie, owner of this third-generation family business. “The plant material that’s available to us is totally unlike what anybody else has,” agrees Stephanie Smith, floral designer. “We use perennials and herbs and a large variety of other types of flowers.”
They call it “Carpenters’ Flare”—a unique look to their arrangements that carries through not only in the flowers and greenery but in the glassware as well. “The glassware we buy is different than the standard glassware in most flower shops,” Ms. Monnie says. “All our containers are unusual.”
This uniqueness is just one of the factors that caught the eyes of the judges of our Retail Florist of the Year Contest, which is co-sponsored by the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA), earning this impressive business the second runner-up title for 2005.

marketing magic
Quality, selection and customer service are the standards of a profitable business. But the Edwards/Carpenters’ staff bring a sense of fun to the business, too.
Their quirky humor translates into marketing efforts like the “Crazy Dayz Sale,” where the staff dress in wacky outfits and customers are rewarded with discounts if they don fun apparel themselves.
A ceramic garden gnome, hidden among the plants, makes an appearance in the fall (along with wanted posters advertising “Sambuscus Elderberry—Wanted for Mischiefmaking”). Customers and their children search for the gnome, and, if they find him, they can take one of the coupons placed nearby to receive a discount on their purchases.
But since marketing at Edwards/Carpenters’ primarily involves giving good customer service to create that important word-of-mouth advertising, it’s not just about fun. It is about showing genuine care toward customers.
For example, Ms. Monnie says she regularly peruses the newspaper and sends flowers to long-time customers who become new parents or have deaths in their families. For births, she often sends rose bushes as gifts instead of floral arrangements.
“One customer came in with her daughter a couple of years ago because I had sent her a rose bush, and she introduced me to her daughter as the lady who gave the rose bush that [the daughter] picks the flowers off of every spring,” Ms. Monnie recalls. “It’s one of those things that help to create traditions that are lacking today.”
Ms. Monnie spends about 10 percent of the company’s annual sales of slightly more than $2 million on marketing. The money is spread among various media, including sponsorship of a garden show on the ABC television network affiliate in Boise and the underwriting of The Victory Garden on PBS. Edwards Greenhouse also publishes a newsletter titled “Green Side Up,” which is mailed to more than 3,000 customers and also is available at checkout areas.
One marketing area that has been a challenge is the Internet. Ms. Monnie says store employees have attempted to handle the company’s Web site themselves, but it is overwhelming. They now have hired an outside firm to design the site, and it should be up and running in the next few months.
No matter what the area is, Ms. Monnie stresses that marketing is really about customer service. That is what makes Edwards/Carpenters’ stand out against their biggest competitors, the box stores.
“For instance, I ask all employees to never sell anything that they think won’t grow in what a customer has explained his or her area to be,” she says. “That’s our hedge against the box stores. Essentially, all flower shops buy the same things, and what makes one unique is what it is able to do with [the merchandise] and how it is able to offer it to consumers.”

greenhouse/flower shop synergy
And we’re back to another essential ingredient of success: being unique. Ms. Monnie says that HGTV and home-improvement shows have made people want more from their gardens and the flowers they use to decorate their homes.
“In the past four or five years, more and more people have come to enjoy staying at home,” she explains, “so they’re creating ‘experiences’ at home, including taking indoor living outdoors. A lot of people have turned their patios into another ‘room.’”
This phenomenon affects both segments of her business, from selling more lawn art to encouraging customers to use fresh flowers on patio tables. And although offering both greenhouse and florist services has its advantages, there are some challenges to having both businesses in the same location.
“Since we are an open greenhouse with gravel floors, it’s a never-ending challenge to keep the glassware and giftware dusted and clean,” explains Cathy Gibson, an office administrator. For that reason, the giftware comprises primarily gardening items.
On the other hand, the greenhouse enhances the flower shop’s atmosphere. “Gravel paths and cement walkways with mosaics lead customers through lush, creative displays of the many plant materials we offer,” says Ms. Smith. “Benches throughout encourage customers to sit and enjoy.”
The Carpenters’ Custom Florist area occupies about 1,800 square feet, and the floral design stations are open to the public. The greenhouses occupy 88,000 square feet on 10 acres, which includes a retail area of about 3,600 square feet.

celebrating the company’s history
That’s plenty of space in which to create an experience, something Ms. Monnie plans to highlight. For the business’s 75th anniversary this year, the staff have created a 1.5-acre demonstration garden featuring unusual plants and a children’s garden. And this fall, Ms. Monnie also will see the fruition of a dream: opening a gardening history museum.
“When we were tearing down the old part, a few things slipped through my fingers—things I realize I can never find again,” Ms. Monnie says. “Since then, I began saving old things. And when a couple of florist shops in the area closed, the owners asked me to take their old stuff.”
Using Florists’ Review’s book, A Centennial History of the American Florist, which details the history of the floral industry in the United States, as a guide, Ms. Monnie has been collecting ever since. Now, all of her collected items are coming together in a building that she is having moved from her grandparents’ property to be restored as a museum. She expects it to be completed in 2006.

excelling in the flower shop
While Edwards/Carpenters’ marketing efforts pull in customers to the greenhouse area, more than 95 percent of the flower shop’s business is done via telephone. Carpenters’ handles about 17,000 deliveries per year, with five delivery vehicles, and the average arrangement price is around $50.
Plant baskets are one of the big sellers for Carpenters’, accounting for about 50 percent of the flower shop’s annual sales. “Our seasonal plant baskets are our big edge, because we create really different things,” Ms. Monnie assures.
In addition, the flower shop does a good wedding business (about 65 per year) and uses its entire staff to offer full services. “For example, our head of maintenance is a master craftsman, and he recently built a huppah for a Jewish wedding,” explains Ms. Monnie. The synagogue was so happy with it, they bought it for future celebrations.
Although they enjoy weddings, Edwards/Carpenters’ has made a name providing flowers for area parties. “We do a lot of parties through some local caterers,” shares Ms. Gibson. “The contacts we have with many of the area party facilities also bring in much of the business, and our community involvement keeps our name in front of the right clientele,” she adds.

a family affair
The Edwards/Carpenters’ name means something in the Boise community. Started by Ms. Monnie’s grandparents, the company has been passed down through her family. But when she took it over in 1982, her father’s health had been declining, and the business was falling apart.
It took quite some time to re-establish the business, rebuilding greenhouses and then adding the floral shop when Ms. Monnie’s cousin, John Carpenter, came on board in 1990. Today she expresses concern over the effect rising gas prices will have on the floral industry. Luckily, the company’s greenhouses are geothermal heated, but fuel price increases will still have an impact on this business.
Despite dismal earnings reports for West Coast garden centers, Ms. Monnie has managed to increase sales on the greenhouse side while holding her own on the floral shop side. But the bottom line for Ms. Monnie isn’t just about the bottom line. It’s about her customers and her employees as well as her contributions to a long family history.
“This is not just a business,” she says. “This is my life. And I don’t know what I’d do without these people.”

Morgan Chilson, formerly a business reporter and editor in the newspaper industry, is now a freelance writer living in Topeka, Kan.

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