retail florist of the year - runner-up

the heart
of the

These “Retail Florist of the Year” runners-up look beyond what they see and hear to understand and fulfill customers’ wishes.

by Shelley Urban

As the wedding consultant for Grassi’s Flowers & Gifts, a two-shop business that also includes Grassi’s Garden Café, in Tacoma, Wash., Kim Grassi, who co-owns the business with her husband, Ken, has met with thousands of brides in her 26 years in the floral industry. Today, when she talks about the shop’s many bridal customers, as well as all the other customers with whom she interacts daily, Mrs. Grassi often says she “listened to their hearts.”
Her expression may seem unusual, and perhaps it is because what she means is that she attunes not just to her customers’ words but to their desires, their hopes and their dreams. And then Mrs. Grassi, along with the shops’ exemplary staff of designers and caterers, make the hopes and dreams reality, which has helped Grassi’s build a strong wedding business, on track to supply 15 percent of revenues this year (compared to 5 percent last year) as well as repeat business from former bridal customers.
The Grassis’ ability to listen to customers’ hearts has had an impact on product offerings as well, especially at the downtown location, which has a strong tourist clientele. “We ask customers what they’re looking for,” Mrs. Grassi explains, “and we try to stay on top of what inspires them.”
As a result of what they’ve learned, the downtown shop, where the café is located, has transitioned away from home décor items and now offers women’s apparel, shoes and accessories such as belts, purses and jewelry. These new categories now account for more than 50 percent of the downtown shop’s revenues.
Understanding customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations is something the Grassis have been doing since the early days of their small plant business, which Mr. Grassi started in 1976. Today, the company comprises two full-service flower shops and a garden café that provides catering as well as hosts rehearsal dinners and small weddings.
While customers have responded to this company’s exceptional care and customer service, they aren’t the only ones taking note. In 2004, Grassi’s Flowers & Gifts was selected as the third runner-up in the Retail Florist of the Year competition, which is co-sponsored by Florists’ Review and the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA). This year, the business, once again, has been selected as a finalist.
In this conclusion to our coverage of 2005 Retail Florist of the Year honorees, learn how the leaders of this special business have grown a simple flower and plant business into a full-service company earning nearly $2 million annually in a community of only about 200,000 residents.

Making Lasting Impressions
The greatest portion of Grassi’s Flowers & Gifts’ revenues are made at the main flower shop, which contributes 60 percent of the company’s annual total. While gifts, glassware and décor are big sellers, about 55 percent of sales is fresh flowers, including ready-made seasonal bouquets at everyday low prices. “We apply a lower markup on these items, so they can be a ‘draw’ that anyone can afford,” Mrs. Grassi reports.
Bouquets range from gorgeous Dendrobium sprays for $14.95 to large-scale mixed flower bunches for $26.99. And roses, offered in several price points, are always promoted and in demand.
Despite the lower markup, Grassi’s goals remain the same: to get consumers into their shops and to turn them into loyal customers. “We want consumers to give us a chance,” says Mrs. Grassi, “and then we try to make a lasting impression, so they’ll come back.”
Part of making a lasting impression is the quality service each customer receives, regardless of the amount spent. “For example,” cites Mrs. Grassi, “[one of our wedding couples] from several years ago recently hired us to do a 100th birthday party for a family member. They probably spent more on this party than their wedding. You just never know what potential every order holds,” she assures. “That’s why we treat each sale as an investment in our future.”

Being There for Brides
Like the aforementioned wedding/birthday party customers, many bridal customers become repeat buyers because of the experiences they have with Grassi’s. In both the planning and execution stages, Mrs. Grassi and her exemplary staff go out of their way to earn the business.
During wedding consultations, which initially involve two or three meetings, Mrs. Grassi creates bouquet prototypes and shoots video of future brides with their suggested bouquets. The videos include each bride’s reaction—both likes and dislikes. Mrs. Grassi also takes snapshots for the files. Prior to each wedding, she reviews the videotape and photos, so the couple’s wishes are fresh in her mind.
At all events, which average $2,500 to $3,000, designers are on hand to pin on personal flowers, create additional pieces, if necessary, and replace flowers as needed. While this level of service is what differentiates Grassi’s, it only partly explains the growth in wedding business. “A quick response is critical, so we’re being very aggressive with our callbacks,” Mrs. Grassi points out. “We don’t want to miss that ‘golden hour’ of opportunity.”

Fresh Collections
Another area of growth has been at the downtown shop, which supplied 20 percent of annual revenues in 2004, compared to 15 percent in 2003 (the upstairs café supplied the remaining 20 percent of the company total). The new apparel offerings, which include designer belts and collector handbags and range from $40 to $200 and more, have undoubtedly contributed to the increases.
While the pairing of flowers and women’s clothing might seem to be a mismatch, Mrs. Grassi says it’s proven to be a surprisingly effective ensemble. “Because our selection is artful and displayed in the colors of the season, it’s easy to integrate with floral products,” she explains.
She adds that, despite her husband’s duties as mayor of University Place, a Tacoma suburb that was incorporated as an independent community 10 years ago, Mr. Grassi still finds time to oversee the company and design all the displays. “He’s really made the clothing feel like it belongs,” Mrs. Grassi assures.
He also, along with the couple’s daughter, Melanie, travels to various apparel shows to buy merchandise. Together, the two select items for clientele of various ages, and, according to Mr. Grassi, they sell about 100 pieces of jewelry each month and some 30 to 50 handbags.
“Tourists and local customers alike have reacted positively to the change,” Mrs. Grassi notes. But tourists were, perhaps, the driving force for the transition from décor to clothing at the downtown shop, which was the first business to locate in what is now the heart of a wonderful revitalized area complete with museums and other attractions. By listening to their customer base, the Grassis learned that tourists weren’t interested in taking décor products home; however, a stylish accessory is considered a creative vacation memento.
The new apparel products excite local customers as well. Unlike their need for home décor products, consumers’ clothing needs change with the seasons, which keeps area residents coming back regularly. And since products move quickly, residents are continually intrigued by the dynamic displays.
Nevertheless, making such a dramatic change, from a traditional selection to a surprisingly unexpected flower shop offering, was a risk. But the “leap of faith” was backed by insights the couple learned from tuning in to customers’ needs as well as by an impressive level of service for which Grassi’s Flowers & Gifts is known. Without both of these together, customers’ heartfelt desires might have gone unfulfilled.

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