2007 retail florist of the year
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Contact contributing editor Shelley Urban at
email@example.com or (800)
Bill Doran Company: nominating a winner
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
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
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
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