florist of the year - runner-up
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.”
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
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
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
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