2007 retail florist of the year
 

a little Texas tornado

A confident businesswoman takes the floral industry by storm in Temple, Texas, and with the help of her staff, wins the title “2007 Retail Florist of the Year.”

by Shelley Urban

No experience? Not a problem! That’s what Seleese Thompson must have told herself in 2003 when, in what could be described as a bit of a whirlwind, she purchased a successful 22-year-old flower and gift shop in the central Texas town of Temple called Precious Memories.

Never mind that it was not for sale and that Ms. Thompson had no floral industry experience. She persuaded the owner to sell the shop anyway and counted on longtime floral artist and design-room manager Norman Northen, tmf, to handle the florals while she focused on expanding her new shop’s services and sales.

Today, just four years after purchasing Precious Memories, Ms. Thompson demonstrates floral knowledge that belies her brief tenure. And the shop’s continued success—grossing $1.2 million in 2006 and voted Temple’s best florist for five consecutive years, starting one year prior to its sale to Ms. Thompson—caught the attention of the judges for the “Retail Florist of the Year” competition, who selected it as this year’s champion.

Precious Memories was nominated for our contest, which is co-sponsored by the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA), by wholesaler Bill Doran Company, in Austin. Sales representative Becky Swem-Diaz says she is confident that Ms. Thompson, an impressive businesswoman with a head for technology and a heart for serving customers, will continue to entice Texans with her unique brand of flowers, gifts and floral services.

  Precious Memories at a glance

 
 
Owner: Seleese Thompson
Number of shops: 1
Location: Temple, Texas
Year established: 1981; purchased by Ms. Thompson in 2003
Type of clientele served: all income levels
Annual revenues: $1.2 million
Average price for fresh arrangements: $50 to $75
Average price for permanent arrangements: $75 to $100
Price range of weddings: $300 to $2,500
Shop size: 5,300 square feet — (3,800 square feet is combined showroom and design and sales areas)
Number of employees: 5 full-time, 11 part-time
Web site: www.preciousmemoriesflorist.coms
 


 

winds of change
Although Ms. Thompson knew much more about running a successful business than assembling a beautiful bouquet, or perhaps because of that, she quickly enhanced the already successful shop’s bottom line. “Since 2003, retail sales have increased 31 percent,” she shares. Daily deliveries throughout this town of 50,000 (its daytime population swells to 100,000 with residents of surrounding communities who work in Temple) and to outlying areas have doubled.

Those increases can, at least in part, be credited to improvements that Ms. Thompson has made, including a Web site, wireless phone headsets with Bluetooth technology that enables connectivity between all wireless devices in the shop, and a relocation to a larger facility.

Established in January 2004 after Ms. Thompson acquired the shop, the Web site is maintained by Teleflora and currently features wire-service specials. A customized site, with Precious Memories’ signature pieces, is in the works. The address, www.preciousmemoriesflorist.com, is promoted on all shop materials, and monthly and seasonal e-mail reminders encourage traffic on the site.

While Ms. Thompson is able to track the number of orders generated at the Web site as well as its dollar volume, she will confide only that sales continually increase 30 percent to 50 percent each month compared to the same month the previous year.

Most likely due to her years in sales and management for Texas Instruments, Ms. Thompson is not intimidated by technology. Instead, she embraces it and all that it can offer her business—which is why, when she relocated to a new and larger facility last year, she chose to invest in the wireless headset and related software package. “It was definitely a costly investment,” she confirms, “but the [system] will allow us to grow exponentially.”

Ms. Thompson says that the headsets, worn by all staff members, “make the entire shop available to customers on the phone. We can walk around the shop and find items and make recommendations to customers while we’re talking to them.”

In addition, the software allows this tech-savvy leader to track in-bound phone calls, so she can determine the number of calls received per day. This, she says, “will help determine when business will begin to ‘ramp up’ for each holiday,” so she can be well prepared, with increased staff, assembled designs, etc.

“It was a ‘no-brainer,’ despite the costs,” Ms. Thompson reports. “If calls are coming in, there’s potential for business.”
Managing those calls, and their related orders, is made easy using the Daisy point-of-sale system from Teleflora. Although the software was in place when she purchased the shop, Ms. Thompson says that it was accessible by only four points of entry. Today, that’s expanded to 11, so orders can be entered by just about anyone in the shop.

Accommodating additional staff as well as assembled designs is much easier in Precious Memories’ new 5,300-square-foot location. The current building, which is 2,300 square feet larger than the previous one, is just one block from the former location, but the freestanding structure seems to capture more attention. “Walk-in traffic has increased 45 to 50 percent,” Ms. Thompson shares.

The shop’s showroom and design and sales areas, which are integrated and total 3,800 square feet, have expanded as well, as has display and storage cooler space, which totals nearly 350 square feet. “We have 65 percent more cooler space than before, and design space has increased 18 percent,” Ms. Thompson shares. She says the extra retail space accommodates more fixtures and large rental items for weddings and events, to better showcase the pieces’ applications. Staff members also are able to create attention-grabbing product vignettes, which keep customers browsing and encourage add-on sales.

mother nature’s bounty
In the newly expanded showroom, customers entering either of the two doorways will view both display coolers, one of which features cash-and-carry arrangements priced from $12.95 to $100. The average price of all fresh arrangements sold is between $50 and $75.

The second display cooler is devoted entirely to roses, which Ms. Thompson says make a huge impact when presented en masse. “Products sell much more slowly when just a few are there,” she points out, which explains her rationale for the roses-only cooler.

No particular color, not even the famed yellow rose, stands out as a favorite in Temple and the surrounding area, but Ms. Thompson reports that intermediate-size roses, priced at $39.95 for a dozen arranged, are favorites in the Lone Star State.

And while these quality roses offer long vase life and are a great value, Ms. Thompson also invests in what she considers the “best of the best,” the high-end hydroponically grown roses. “[Precious Memories has] a standing order for hydroponics, which demonstrates their commitment to quality products,” comments Bill Doran Company’s Ms. Swem-Diaz.

Among the most popular fresh flower offerings at Precious Memories are tropicals, which Ms. Thompson says she keeps on hand year-round. “We have lots of calls for tropicals among both traditional and commercial clients, mostly due to their longevity,” she notes.

In a sunny corner of the shop, foliage and blooming plants thrive among stone statuary, wire plant stands, arbors, trellises, and an assortment of gardeny vessels and other patio décor. Ms. Thompson says that approximately 70 percent of her plant sales is foliage plants while 30 percent is blooming plants.

inspired giftware
Throughout the shop, permanent florals and trees mingle among the nonfloral wares. They’re also used to decorate rental items, such as iron arbors, on display in the showroom. Precious Memories’ permanent arrangements range from $75 to $250, but Ms. Thompson says that the average sale is between $75 and $100.

Nonfloral items, including home accents, gourmet foods, out-of-the-ordinary giftware and more, are arranged in themed vignettes. “Candles and inspirational products are our best-sellers,” Ms. Thompson shares. “But our sales philosophy is that everything here can be delivered, placed in a basket or have flowers attached.”

Inspirational merchandise, ranging from wind chimes to crosses in several sizes and price points, sells for $7.95 to $165. Large-scale iron crosses, which are crafted by an artisan in nearby Austin, enhance this merchandise with gardeny charm.

These crosses also serve another purpose—in place of easels for sympathy set pieces. “We integrate the crosses into designs to provide families with keepsakes or items that can be displayed at grave sites until headstones are placed,” explains Ms. Thompson. Pieces run from $100 to $250, depending on the size.

Everything needed to assemble a gift basket, for just about any theme or occasion, is also on display at Precious Memories. Premier Harry London chocolates and other candies pair delightfully with fine-quality coffees, cocoas and other drink mixes. And while these items attract gift-givers, the shop’s outstanding selection of World Art Foods tasty sauces, dressings and spreads, distributed through Texas’ upscale Central Market food stores, attract shoppers who need to replace their pantry stock on a regular basis.

“Products from World Art Foods are made here in Temple, but we don’t have a Central Market, so when World Art closed the small storefront they had here,” Ms. Thompson explains, “locals had to drive to Austin to find their favorites.”

So when representatives from World Art Foods asked her about carrying a few of their products, Ms. Thompson says she jumped at the chance. “This line has tremendous potential,” she assures.

Gift baskets, whether filled with delectable chocolates, spicy sauces or fragrant candles, have a noticeable impact on the bottom line, accounting for 15 percent of the shop’s annual total.

harnessing the power of the wind
Now four years into the job, Ms. Thompson says she’s just starting to get a feel for what kind of budget might be appropriate for all the donation requests she receives each year. For now, though, she responds to as many school and community events as possible.

To get the most bang for her buck, Ms. Thompson tries to offer gift certificates. But she doesn’t just offer a slip of paper in an ordinary envelope. Instead, she makes a highly promotional gift of each donation.

“We include branded mugs and pens and other logo items in a basket along with our business cards, which make the item appear more like a gift,” Ms. Thompson describes. She says the impressive presentation usually helps the organizations get larger bids than they might for a basic envelope.

Of course, the buyers have to return to Precious Memories to redeem the gift certificates. And because certificates expire 30 days from the date of their issue, buyers have a limited amount of time to do so. “I’m guessing that only about 75 percent of the gift certificates are redeemed,” Ms. Thompson estimates.

Another type of donation is one that Precious Memories offers gratuitously, with no expectations about getting anything in return. “When orders are placed for funeral services that will have flag-draped caskets, which indicates military service, we provide complimentary boutonnieres for pallbearers,” shares Ms. Thompson, whose shop is just 22 miles east of Fort Hood.

While donations are a fairly cost-effective method of advertising that also generates tremendous goodwill for the shop, Ms. Thompson is not afraid to rely heavily on print and broadcast advertising as well. Without divulging any dollar amounts for annual promotional projects and media purchases, she confirms that her investment, in significant radio and television time plus local newspaper, magazine and Yellow Pages ads, is sizable. “I want to emphasize our brand, and I’m working hard to ensure name and location recognition,” she says of her consistent campaigns.

clear skies ahead
Both Ms. Thompson and Mr. Northen are active in their community and in the floral industry, especially the Temple Chamber of Commerce and the Texas State Florists’ Association. But, despite all she’s learned about flowers and flower arranging, Ms. Thompson says she has to focus on being a businessperson first.

“A florist doesn’t exist without the business aspect being a success, so I can’t falter there,” she assures. If the past is any indication of the future, it’s a sure bet that she’ll continue to blow away the skeptics and the competition as she achieves what, historically, has been difficult for new small-business owners: to help an already successful shop expand and prosper.

Contact contributing editor Shelley Urban at surban@floristsreview.com or (800) 367-4708.

     
  Bill Doran Company: nominating a winner

Becky Swem-Diaz, a sales representative for Bill Doran Company in Austin, Texas, who nominated Precious Memories Florist & Gift Shop for the “Retail Florist of the Year,” says owner Seleese Thompson, design-room manager Norman Northen, tmf, and the staff are the kinds of customers every wholesaler wants. “It’s a thrill to have customers like them, who are always interested in the latest trends and constantly seeking new niches,” Ms. Swem-Diaz reports.

She says she’s most impressed that Ms. Thompson and the Precious Memories team “utilize wire services, but they also work hard to find and advertise signature items and create promotions that tie in with current trends and themes. They’re very innovative.”

And when Ms. Swem-Diaz does her part and finds great products that work well, she says, “They’re quick to thank us and give us the kinds of pats on the back that we don’t get from most customers.”

All of these factors convinced the staff at Bill Doran Company, a 17-location wholesaler in business since 1945, that Precious Memories deserved the nomination. For more information about Bill Doran Company, headquartered in Rockford, Ill., call (800) 856-2000 or visit
www.billdoran.com.
 
     

To learn more about the “Retail Florist of the Year” contest contact us at (800) 367-4708. You also can visit our co-sponsor WF&FSA’s Web site, www.wffsa.org, or call (888) 289-3372.
 


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