Five florists share their winning
strategies to boost tribute sales.
by AMY BAUER
The reasons for pursuing added sympathy sales are many: the chance to
make a difference for a grieving family; to show your skills in direct
relation to the competition’s work sitting across the room; to add a
steady source of orders and profit. But today, mourning rituals are
changing, and florists face the challenge of keeping flowers at the
forefront. Fewer visitations and an increased number of cremations have
meant a reduction in fresh flower orders in some parts of the country.
For others, the value of keepsake arrangements is growing.
While the average shop attributes about 18 percent of its sales volume
to sympathy work, according to a recent Society of American Florists (SAF)
online poll, we spoke with florists who are pushing that percentage.
Many say they are in areas where flowers remain valued as sympathy
expressions. But the role these entrepreneurs play in actively pursuing
sympathy sales and striving to provide exceptional service no doubt can
be credited as well.
setting up shop
Some simple adjustments may be all it takes to make your shop more
attuned to attracting sympathy sales. Allen Addison, LMF, owner of
Leesville Florist in Leesville, La., is in a unique position, having
expertise not only from decades in the floral business but also from
having spent 12 of those years as a funeral director himself.
His shop has a consultation room away from the bustle of the main sales
area. “It needs to be a time the family can feel a little more
confidential, a little more private,” he says. In addition to the
traditional sympathy books, he has set up a computer that scrolls images
of designs his shop has created.
Fioravanti Florist Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., also has a dedicated
consultation area. If any sympathy pieces are in the shop being arranged
at the time, “we’ll show them the real McCoy; they don’t just have to
look at a picture in a book,” owner Wayne Perlo explains.
At Leesville Florist, four staff members, including Mr. Addison, have
attended grief training to help them work with sympathy clients. While
any staff member can take a family’s order, the schedule is arranged so
one of these four is on duty at all times.
catching online sales
At McAdams Floral in Victoria, Texas, owner Clay Atchison III recently
expanded the sympathy portion of his Web site, creating an independent
section accessible both from his home page,
www.mcadamsfuneralflorist.com. “Sympathy has its own
complexity,” Mr. Atchison explains. His site breaks into sections the
different floral tributes—such as casket sprays, easel sprays, sympathy
baskets, urn wreaths—to make it simpler for customers to find what they
need rather than clicking through pages of photos.
To keep his site ranking higher on search engines—and appearing when
people search for area funeral homes—Mr. Atchison is adding a section
with pages for each home, including a picture, contact information, a
link to map the location and a brief description of tribute products
McAdams Floral provides. “By just listing the name Rosewood Funeral Home
on the delivery page of our main Web site, we come up on the first page
of a Google search” for Rosewood Funeral Home, Mr. Atchison relates.
Major work on the site has been done by a tech-savvy friend, which has
helped lower the development costs. Mr. Atchison estimates he has spent
$1,500 creating the sympathy site, about half what he would have paid on
the open market. For every order Mr. Atchison receives online, he has
three to four call-in or walk-in orders from people who browsed the
site. “So I would say the Web site is helping us sell as much as 9
percent or 10 percent,” he says. McAdams Floral grosses about $1 million
annually, about 24 percent from sympathy sales. The shop receives some
orders directly from funeral homes, and on those involving a
funeral-home package deal, a percentage commission is given.
Parie Villyard, owner of Secret Garden Fine Flowers in Amarillo, Texas,
also is harnessing the reach of the Internet. She has partnered with the
Amarillo Globe News to be featured exclusively on the obituary portion
of its Web site, www.amarillo.com.
Accompanying each obituary is a flower icon and link reading “Send a
Sympathy Floral Arrangement” that takes people to
www.secretgardenfineflowers.com’s sympathy design page. Villyard
pays $30 a month and a percentage—about 20 percent—on each order.
She says record-keeping has been the biggest challenge, tracking which
sales are generated by the site. Ms. Villyard estimates she’s received
an average of 20 orders a month from the newspaper Web site link.
Sympathy work is a growing portion of her roughly $500,000 in annual
customer service is key
Once the orders have been placed, Fioravanti’s Mr. Perlo says attention
to detail cements relationships with funeral homes. “You have to be on
time. Your pieces can’t be leaking water, and the cards have to be
visible,” he describes. “But being on time is the No. 1 way to treat a
funeral-home director.” For Mr. Perlo’s staff, that means arriving two
hours before the service or calling hours, at a minimum.
The Funeral Rule
The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule,
established in 1984, doesn’t prohibit funeral homes from
receiving compensation for taking flower orders. “Cash advance”
items are those a funeral home obtains from a third party, such
as a florist, and pays for on the consumer’s behalf.
The Funeral Rule says funeral homes must disclose if they are
charging more for such purchases or receiving a discount, rebate
or commission, though the exact amount isn’t required to be
disclosed. The following statement is required on the bill if an
item is listed as a cash advance: “We charge you for our
services in obtaining: (specify cash advance items).”
The full text of the rule is online at
www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/funeral.htm. A handful
of states do prohibit mark-ups on cash advance items. Check with
your state board of mortuary arts. Commissions for referrals
aren’t governed under the Funeral Rule.
While some funeral homes simply refer customers, others take orders
directly and pass them on to Fioravanti. No commissions are involved.
Mr. Perlo attributes the relationships to his shop’s 86-year history and
track record. “We try to make them look good,” he says of the funeral
directors. “Like Vidal Sassoon tries to make people look good, we try to
make our customers look good if they’re referring somebody else to us.”
While Mr. Perlo declined to share his shop’s annual sales, he says the
shop averages 100 funerals a month, with sympathy work accounting for
about 50 percent of annual sales. The average mixed casket spray sold is
$125, and the average family funeral bill is $200 to $350, he says.
Mr. Perlo’s advice to younger florists looking to increase their
funeral-home referrals is to focus on quality. “Just do the best you
can, and if it’s pleasing to the funeral director, more than likely,
he’ll call you back,” he states.
Ms. Villyard knows firsthand the challenge of being the new florist on
the block. She says it has taken her shop 12 of its 14 years to
establish strong relationships with area funeral homes. “It took me just
showing them time and time again I was going to do what I said I was
going to do,” she says.
She has eschewed any commissions to funeral homes though she has been
approached in the past. She gets referrals from locally owned funeral
homes, and she says she thinks a lot of directors don’t want to get into
flower ordering if they don’t have to. “It’s one more step for them,”
Ms. Villyard also devotes time to one-on-one marketing, such as dropping
off coffee for the funeral directors or sending a desktop arrangement
for the receptionists. Like the other florists interviewed, Ms. Villyard
ensures funeral directors have a way to reach her at all hours. On
holidays and long weekends, she calls to remind them. “I want to let
them know that they can call me, and not to feel bad to call me,” she
Mr. Addison provides complimentary sprays in white daisies or carnations
as a service to families who can’t afford to pay, and his staff provides
silk sprays to the funeral homes for display in the casket rooms or in a
pinch for services. His shop also does all of the decorating inside the
funeral homes, such as in estate rooms and hallways, and is allowed to
place business cards nearby. He, too, does not provide commissions to
the funeral homes, but his strategies have made sympathy sales 58
percent of his approximately $400,000 in annual sales.
Bonnie McGoron, owner of Weber’s Florist & Gifts in Ironton, Ohio, says
sympathy work accounts for about 50 percent of her nearly $1 million
annual sales volume, but she notes that the types of orders are
changing. Fresh flower orders are declining and keepsakes are growing in
Her 103-year-old shop provides casket sprays for the three Ironton
funeral homes, giving them a 20 percent commission for taking those
orders from the families. Any other funeral work may be billed through
the funeral homes, but no commission is involved. Families can choose
another florist, and they can also visit Ms. McGoron’s shop directly.
With two greenhouses, Weber’s does a large volume of blooming plant
baskets—which like the average fresh sympathy tribute average about $40
apiece. Also, Ms. McGoron says permanent florals surrounding Cake
Candles™ or small silicone-bulbed lamps, ranging from $35 to $50, have
transitioned from gift items into popular sympathy orders.
Mr. Atchison also takes advantage of specialty items popular in his
market. Themed tributes are in demand, so he carries forms of all sorts.
And he was pleased to find that a gift item he began stocking—a
butterfly by Holbrook and Co. that uses electrical current to slowly
open and close its wings—is being requested for casket sprays and
sympathy arrangements. Not only is it a $19.95 addition to a sale, it
makes the designs stand out at services.
Mr. Atchison also is working with a manufacturer to develop a decorative
scrolled wire easel to set his shop’s presentations apart. It would be
offered with his higher-end sprays—$120 and above.
10 tips to spark sales
1 Be on time. Fioravanti Florist Inc. in
Rochester, N.Y., makes it a policy to have flowers at their
destination at least two hours before calling hours or the
2 Clean up designs. Ensure your designs have the proper
mechanics to catch any drips. Also, check carefully for
protruding wires or picks that could catch on clothing or skin.
3 Offer assistance. Some florists send staff members to
mist flowers and refresh designs that must last an extended
period. Some also offer vans and drivers to help funeral homes
transport arrangements for large services.
4 Keep in touch. Deliver funeral flowers yourself
occasionally, and take time to chat with funeral directors. Make
a point to ask what you can do to make their work easier, then
5 Show appreciation. Small tokens of goodwill to funeral
homes’ staff ensure your shop is more likely to be top of mind
6 Be empathetic. Consider setting up a dedicated
consultation area away from the busy counter. Enroll some of
your staff in grief counseling training, or bring in a
specialist for a short seminar.
7 Display your best work. Don’t send out anything that
wouldn’t meet the standards you would apply if it were your own
8 Watch the wording. Bonnie McGoron, owner of Weber’s
Florist & Gifts in Ironton, Ohio, follows up with funeral homes
and newspapers if “in lieu of flowers” appears in obituaries.
Suggest neutral wording: “Memorial contributions may be made to
9 Focus online. McAdams Floral in Victoria, Texas, added
more pages to its Web site’s sympathy section so different types
of floral tributes are easier to find.
10 Know your market. Adapt your best-sellers to a
one-of-a-kind sympathy application. McAdams Floral is developing
a decorative easel; Ms. McGoron has adapted her candle and lamp
arrangements as sympathy keepsakes.
You can contact Amy Bauer at
email@example.com or by phone at (800) 367-4708.
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