2008 retail florist of the year

    Flowers and
 Garden Center:


This year's winning florists prove that family ties secure powerful partnerships.

by Shelley Urban

It has been written that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” While the members of the Gainan family, in Billings, Mont., may not have called this quotation to mind as they deliberated the future of their family business, which was established in 1951 by Grant and Betty Gainan and operated by sons Mick and Chuck (aaf) since Grant’s death in 1978, they did find themselves in agreement with the sentiment.
“At one point in the succession-planning process, Mick and Chuck briefly considered splitting and buying another business, so the two Gainan families could work autonomously,” says James M. Gainan, vice president of sales and marketing, of his father (Mick) and uncle (Chuck). “But [eventually we concluded] that the partners could do more together than we could apart,” he recalls. And with that, plans were laid to keep the three-location family business, Gainan’s Flowers and Garden Center, intact through a third generation.

While the young Mr. Gainan, to whom we spoke for this article, says that succession planning was one of the company’s greatest challenges, the resulting business continues to flourish. It now offers residents of Billings, who number about 100,000, and surrounding communities a quality source for flowers, gifts, home accessories and much more, despite increasing competition. And like the residents of Magic City, as Billings is known, who remain as enchanted today as ever by Gainan’s, judges for our Retail Florist of the Year contest were equally charmed, handing out the top prize to this first-time entrant, whose gorgeous storefronts and showrooms, innovative products and promotions, and commitments to retaining customers and employees are captivating. We’ll fill you in on the details of this insightful business, which is described by Bob Hamacher, president and owner of Roses & More, Inc., headquartered in Spokane Valley, Wash., as “cutting edge.” Mr. Hamacher nominated Gainan’s for our contest, which is co-sponsored by the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA).

  Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center at a glance

Owners: the Gainan family
Number of shops: 2 retail flower shops and 1 garden center
Location: Billings, Montana
Opened: 1951
Shop size: 32,000 square feet at the flagship store in downtown Billings
Clientele: mostly middle- to upper-income women ages 29-54
Average sale of all merchandise: $55
Average fresh flower sale: $45
Annual sales sources: 78% flower shops, 22% garden center
Number of employees: 79 (full-time equivalents)
Web site: www.gainans.com


consistent pairings
Whether Grant Gainan was a restless man who tired quickly of his professions or was a visionary with impeccable timing may have been unclear back in 1951 when he opened his flower shop after abruptly changing careers for the second time. But today, there’s no doubt that Grant, along with his wife Betty, had found a niche in the Billings floral business. For 35 years, as their business grew, their building was expanded accordingly, and during these times, they laid the strong foundation upon which this company, now with three locations and annual gross revenues in the millions, was built.

As they were in Grant and Betty’s day, sales of fresh flowers and plants are the bedrock of the bottom line, accounting for 70 percent of total revenues. Mr. Gainan reports that fresh-cut Gerberas, roses and bulb flowers are especially popular in Big Sky country, as are planted European gardens, which sell for $34.99 to $99.99. Price points in the $45 to $60 range are the strongest sellers among all fresh products.

Most of Gainan’s sales—61 percent—are phone and Internet, but 35 percent are walk-in. These shoppers are greeted by an array of fresh selections displayed inside the company’s exceptionally large, custom-designed octagonal coolers, which are signature features of each location.
At the downtown store, the display cooler is designed to allow, even encourage, customers to walk in. Limited space at the other shops prevents the walk-though feature. Each location offers the same menu of cash-and-carry arrangements, all of which are created at the central design facility in the downtown store. The average price for fresh arrangements is $45.

Despite the coolers’ inviting appearances, Mr. Gainan notes that, at the garden center and the small shop that serves the western section of Billings, flowers displayed outside the coolers seem to sell better. “We’ve been a little surprised to learn that our coolers aren’t as effective as we’d hoped. [Customers want to interact with the flowers], but walking into a 35 degree cooler takes away some of the joy,” he suggests.

Another effective fresh flower sales strategy is what Gainan’s calls the “take and make.” These are “inspiration stations” that show completed arrangements along with a menu of all the items included. Ingredients are displayed nearby, so do-it-yourself customers gather everything at once, take the materials home and create the items themselves. Prices for the “take and make” arrangements range from $12.95 to $29.95.

planted partners
Clearly, flowers and plants belong together, so when the Gainans acquired the former McLaughlin Gardens in 1983, the partnership seemed a natural fit with the two retail flower shops already in place. Over the years, as a testament to its success, Gainan’s garden center has expanded from two greenhouses to 12 and includes four cold frames, all on three acres.

The garden center now contributes 22 percent of total annual revenues and offers typical gardeny wares, such as annual and perennial bedding plants, tools and supplies for potting and landscaping, outdoor furnishings and much more. Like the floral stores, fresh flowers and plants also are displayed and sold here. Mr. Gainan reports that the garden center’s best-sellers include outdoor container gardens and hanging baskets; geraniums of all types are especially popular.

But with the influx of “big box” competitors such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s, Mr. Gainan says that products aren’t necessarily what keep customers coming back. “We have knowledgeable employees who can answer any questions,” he assures, “and we offer design consultations, annual planting services and delivery.”

in-home companions
Another powerful partnership was forged, almost serendipitously, when, in the 1980s, a high-end department store in Billings closed its doors. Fortunately, this happened just as the Gainan family was constructing its two-story, 32,000-square-foot downtown store, with room to accommodate new lines of merchandise. “There were no Wal-Mart stores here in those days,” recalls Mr. Gainan. “So we started with value-priced glassware and other merchandise.”

While the three stores still stock some budget-friendly seasonal selections, today’s wares are mostly high-end, and entering the home sections, especially of the spacious downtown shop, feels a bit like entering an upscale department store along the lines of Nordstrom. Best-sellers include the full line of Waterford crystal, especially stemware, along with vases, frames, clocks and paperweights. Gainan’s also offers cutlery, flatware, table linens, high-end espresso and coffee makers, top-of-the-line Chantal cookware and bakeware plus a whole lot more. Prices range from $40 to $3,200, the top-most end being an espresso maker from Capresso, which is also carried by upscale retailer Williams-Sonoma. Gainans sells, on average, six of these each year.

In addition, Thymes, a line of all-natural bath, body and home fragrance products, is also immensely popular. “We sell lots of the Thymes,” assures Mr. Gainan. “Their products appeal to casual shoppers, who, once they use the testers, buy on impulse.” Hip Vera Bradley handbags and accessories as well as the company’s seasonal beach bags, summer footwear, etc., are another fast-moving category with a loyal customer base.

Appealing to Montana’s masculine side, the stores also carry the Jack Black line of grooming products, which have a devoted following of men who visit Gainan’s Flowers just for the department store quality (as in Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue) shaving gels and other skincare products.

Flowers, plants, frying pans, coffee pots and shaving cream may seem an unusual combination, but these products, like the family members, prove to work well together. According to Mr. Gainan, the luxury goods have seen a slow build over the 25 or so years since the products were added, and these nonfloral selections now account for about 30 percent of annual revenues.

more than weddings
A natural extension of the company’s fabulous array of products for gift and home is wedding registry. When couples visit the shop for wedding consultations, they’re offered the registry service and, as an incentive, will receive 10 percent of total sales for their registries in Gainan’s Flowers gift cards. But any couple can register.

“We have about 24 registries each year, and they average about $2,500 each in retail sales, and not all of them book their flowers with us,” says Mr. Gainan. Currently, registries are still managed on paper forms, but a high-tech system to integrate with the shops’ POS is a goal for the future.

Wedding designers create florals for an estimated 60 events per year, accounting for about 1.4 percent of annual revenues.

virtual locations
In addition to fresh flowers, many of the home and gift items are marketed on Gainan’s Flowers’ Web site (www.gainans.com), which Mr. Gainan calls the company’s fourth location. Fresh flowers, he notes, are the mainstay of the company’s Internet orders, and one bonus for online buyers is that Montana charges no sales tax. Other products sell well, too. “Outdoor furniture and prelit Christmas trees, which we have shipped all over the United States, are areas of growth online,” Mr. Gainan reports.

Along with its primary Web site, Gainan’s has recently developed a creative new site—www.sendmeflowerstoday.com—to put some fun into flower buying. This site allows users to send anonymous e-mails to family members and/or friends requesting flowers for themselves or someone else. E-mail recipients who choose to act on their anonymous encouragement will be directed to the order page at www.gainans.com. “We’re trying this because our name could become stodgy and old, but once users realize it’s us,” Mr. Gainan explains, “they’ll recognize that it’s a new, innovative service from an old friend.”

One goal of this new campaign is to attract a younger, tech-savvy clientele. Marketing to these youthful consumers, which is expected to begin before the end of the year, will involve billboards, Internet ads, postcard mailers and a stylish delivery van with the “sendmeflowerstoday” logo emblazoned upon it.
The company’s budget for advertising and marketing, according to Mr. Gainan, runs around $260,000 annually. In addition to the Web sites, promotions include magazine, newspaper, TV, radio, billboard, electronic reader board and direct mail. An advertising agency prepares Gainan’s attractive marketing materials, the style of which reflect the upscale nature of the shops while still being friendly and inviting to everyday consumers.

ties that bind
With Mick and Chuck at the helm in the 1980s, business was thriving, and it was under their leadership that the second flower shop location, as well as the garden center, were added. In 2001, after earning bachelor’s degrees and seeking employment outside the family flower shop, Chuck’s two children, Todd and Kara, and Mick’s two children, Kristi and James, were officially added to the ownership structure. Today, Todd serves as president. Kara is vice president of buying, Kristi is vice president of production and James is vice president of sales and marketing. Chuck, who is the CEO, and Mick, CEO-Elect and manager of the garden center, continue to work and oversee the operations.

Despite their roles today, James Gainan says the organization is structured to allow the family members to stay with the business or leave it at any time. “We didn’t hog-tie anyone into staying [to ensure that the family business continue], nor did we create so much opportunity that it would be impossible to imagine leaving,” he explains.

In addition, the third-generation family members were encouraged to seek employment outside Gainan’s Flowers. “This reduces the ‘spoiled-kid’ syndrome. And,” Mr. Gainan points out, “it’s easy to appreciate your life working for your ‘evil’ relatives after you’ve worked in the trenches in the real world. If ownership can be independent of employment, you end up with people who are there because they really want to be.”

Since 2001, coinciding with the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, when the Gainan partnership was expanded to include the four cousins, this third generation of owners have all proven that, together, at Gainan’s Flowers, is where they want to be.

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

  nomination courtesy of Roses & More, Inc.

Bob Hamacher, president and owner of Roses & More, Inc. in Spokane Valley, Wash., who nominated Gainan’s Flowers and Garden Center for this year’s contest, says he is continually impressed with the Gainan family and its management of the multigeneration business. “They have the best organizational functionality,” he says. “Their business is run professionally, and they’re on the cutting edge,” which, he adds, could be a challenge in a state like Montana, which lacks a significant metropolitan city.

Mr. Hamacher attributes Gainan’s Flowers’ cutting-edge quality, in part, to its focus on the community. “The staff at Gainan’s pays attention to everything, especially [what’s happening around them]. Billings is growing, and they’re growing with it,” he explains.

Like the Gainan family, Roses & More has a lengthy history in the region as well. Established in 1939 and adopting the Roses & More moniker in 2003, the company serves floral retailers on what must be one of the nation’s most expansive delivery routes throughout Washington, parts of Oregon, Idaho and Montana with their own temperature-controlled vehicles. And, with help from freight services, Roses & More also supplies products to florists in Wyoming, Alaska and Canada. For more information about Roses & More, Inc., call (800) 541-5621, or visit www.rosesandmoreinc.com.

To learn more about the “Retail Florist of the Year” contest, visit our Web site, www.floristsreview.com; see the ad on Page 130; or contact us at (800) 367-4708. Visit the Web site of our co-sponsor, WF&FSA, at www.wffsa.org, or call (888) 289-3372.


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