Never-ending Focus
 

Dandelions Flowers & Gifts employs consistent interactive marketing to ensure top-of-mind awareness in current and future customers.

  by Kelsey E. Smith

     After 36 years in business, Shirley Lyons, AAF, knows more than a few things about enticing customers to Dandelions Flowers & Gifts, LLC in Eugene, Ore. Her assertive marketing to corporate clients, brides, sympathy customers, the media and the next generation of flower buyers has helped Dandelions become Eugene’s “readers’ choice” favorite florist, awarded by local newspaper The Register-Guard. Mrs. Lyons’ savvy strategies, detailed on the following pages, prompted the judges of our 2010 “Retail Florist of the Year” contest to take note as well. They earned the shop the award for “Outstanding Marketing and Promotions” in the contest, which is co-sponsored by the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA).

optimizing web presence

     Technology is one of Mrs. Lyons’ focuses in keeping her business up to date. At press time, Dandelions’ main website, www.dandelionsflowers.com, claimed the top position in a Google search for “florist in Eugene.” Mrs. Lyons and one of her daughters—a stay-at-home mom in Minnesota—have worked diligently on search engine optimization (SEO), constantly experimenting with key words to keep this prime status.
     Dedicated websites for weddings and sympathy business, www.eugeneweddingflowers.com  and www.eugenefuneralflowers.com, feature designs pertaining to those occasions and serve as helpful tools for brides and grieving families. And their success can be found in the numbers.

 


Shirley Lyons, AAF, owner of Dandelions Flowers & Gifts, receives the honor for “Outstanding Marketing and Promotions” in the “Retail Florist of the Year” contest, co-sponsored by Florists’ Review and the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA), from the wholesaler who nominated her shop, Dave Slonecker, of The Flower Market in Eugene, Ore.

The wedding website was launched in mid-2008, and the number of weddings Dandelions booked later that year grew by 17 percent. And the number of weddings in 2009 increased 29 percent over 2008, with the website being the only new bridal marketing tool, Mrs. Lyons says.
     The shop also owns more than 60 other domain names, ranging from those that include “Eugene” and surrounding towns, such as www.flowerseugene.com and www.springfieldoregonflorist.com, to those with various misspellings of the shop’s name. Each links directly to www.dandelionsflowers.com, hosted by GoDaddy.

     "It’s $10 a year or less to own each of those names,” Mrs. Lyons says. “I think any shop would do well to investigate the different kinds of things people might type in because if you don’t buy them, you lose them.”

In addition to its main website, Dandelions Flowers & Gifts has launched websites targeted to wedding and sympathy clientele: www.eugeneweddingflowers.com  and www.eugenefuneralflowers.com

attention to e-mail

     Dandelions sends e-mail blasts two or three times per month—more during peak holiday times—to capture customers’ attention. Many have compelling offers such as “Free delivery if ordered by ... ” or “Save $5 on your order” with applied discount codes. E-mail also is used to market regular specials such as Half-Off Friday Flowers—which applies to all loose flower stems—as well as contests and giveaways.

     Each of these efforts has helped sales increase exponentially. Mrs. Lyons shares that the shop’s web sales grew 172 percent from 2006 to 2009, and coupon redemption promotions grew a whopping 491 percent. Continued exposure often leads to residual sales as well, regardless of the content of each e-mail promotion.

     “Every time we bring someone over the threshold of our shop, we have an opportunity to win that customer,” Mrs. Lyons says. “Today, they might be looking for half-price flowers, but tomorrow, they might need funeral flowers or a get-well bouquet.”

corporate courtship

     Face-to-face marketing also is a key strategy, particularly for Dandelions’ corporate segment, which accounts for approximately one-fourth of annual sales. Having an employee whose primary focus is marketing is one of the most effective ways to promote the business, says Mrs. Lyons, who refers to the shop’s part-time outside salesperson, Sharon Foster, as its “marketing secret weapon.”

     Mrs. Lyons explains that she looks at Ms. Foster’s salary not as payroll but as part of Dandelions’ advertising and marketing budget, which is 5 percent to 6 percent of annual sales. “She is our walking advertisement,” she says.

     When Ms. Foster visits a potential corporate client, she takes a vase of flowers, featuring Dandelions’ signature bear grass and beads, as well as an introductory letter citing ways flowers can improve the business and touting a few of Dandelions’ offerings as well as its satisfaction guarantee. She also visits current clients. They, too, receive flowers, along with a letter thanking them for choosing Dandelions and reiterating that “we are committed to providing you the very best in quality and service.”

     One way Dandelions achieves loyalty from corporate clients is by developing custom “menus” of their favorite designs, which can include the companies’ logo items, if desired. Clients keep the menus on hand along with the florist’s customized fax order form, which features check boxes for them to quickly and easily mark their preferences. Dandelions keeps a large alphabetized book containing each business client’s design preferences, with recipes and color photos, for designers to reference when they receive orders. This ensures a consistent look to reflect each business’s image, regardless of who the designers are that day.

     As an additional incentive for corporate clients, Dandelions offers an annual rebate based on the companies reaching preset benchmark purchase volumes. Though the program has some variables based on criteria such as standing-order programs that may already include special pricing, its basic structure follows.
 
  • Level One, $1,000 annual sales, yields a 10 percent rebate

  • Level Two, $2,500 annual sales, yields a 12 percent rebate

  • Level Three, $5,000 annual sales, yields a 15 percent rebate

     Mrs. Lyons relates that the rebate program helps ensure that larger clients, who may have multiple locations, keep all their employees on the same page instead of losing each department or branch to another florist. Rebates are credited to clients’ house accounts in the first quarter of the following year.

 
E-mail blasts and fliers delivered to elementary schools and child-care centers promote Dandelions’ annual “Make It for Mom” event, which garners television news coverage each year.



  
A direct-mail postcard for Administrative Professionals Week is addressed “To: The Boss” and features best-selling packages in a variety of price points.

Dandelions offers employee discount cards to selected large corporate clients for their employee incentive packages. The cards are customized with both business's logos.


Visiting corporate prospects is among the responsibilities of part-time employee Sharon Foster, the shop’s “marketing secret weapon.”

     Dandelions promotes corporate “holidays” as well. Although Mrs. Lyons shares that direct mail has declined in recent years due to the increase of Internet promotions, postcards have been particularly effective for Administrative Professionals Week and National Boss Day. Mrs. Lyons notes that she orders the postcards with black type on color cardstock for cost savings. In addition, she points out that a bold color, such as lime-green, is not likely to get lost in the shuffle of office mail.

     Last year, Dandelions sponsored its first contest to find the “Top Boss” in Eugene, receiving about 20 entries in which “people wrote in such compelling things about their bosses,” Mrs. Lyons says. “We took a framed certificate, a bouquet of flowers, balloons and chocolates, and we surprised the winner at his office.”

selling sympathy

     Sympathy is another strong push, accounting for 18 percent of Dandelions’ annual sales. In addition to its sympathy website and advertisements on the obituary page of the local newspaper, Mrs. Lyons and her staff work with funeral directors in a variety of ways. They provide books of sympathy designs for the funeral homes and deliver flowers for their reception areas each week.

     “While we’re seeing sympathy trends change to more memorials and cremations than traditional services—and certainly on the West Coast—there’s still a wonderful place for flowers, so working on that relationship is critical,” Mrs. Lyons explains. “We work with our funeral directors very closely, and we get a lot of referrals. We also attend an annual staff meeting at one of the mortuaries. We take flower arrangements and talk about the value of flowers and how they can talk with the families.”
 
dandelions flowers & gifts, LLC
 

Owner: Shirley Lyons, AAF
Location: Eugene, Ore.
Established: 1974
Shop size: 3,000 square feet in two buildings (main building is 2,000 square feet and includes 1,200 square feet for sales area with remainder design and office space)
Clientele: middle-income consumers ages 25 to 55 years old as well as corporate
Average sale: $48
Number of employees: 20 (10 full time; 10 part time)
Websites: www.dandelionsflowers.com www.eugeneweddingflowers.com  and www.eugenefuneralflowers.com, plus more than 60 additional domain names linked to the core website

focus on the future

     Marketing to children is important to the future of not only Dandelions, Mrs. Lyons says, but also the traditional retail floral industry. “If we don’t stay in front of young people, they won’t know what a florist is,” she explains. “We have to think about how to keep kids knowing what we do.”

     One way Dandelions achieves this is its annual “Make It for Mom” event, in which children can stop by to make a floral arrangement the day before Mother’s Day. Adults who bring children receive a $5 coupon to use in the shop while they wait.

     Dandelions caters to high-school students in several ways as well. Among the most notable is providing a college scholarship, each year since 1996, to one senior at the school located near the shop. The scholarship opportunity is posted in the community room of the school, and each student submits an essay about role models along with his or her transcript and application form. Mrs. Lyons works with the school’s guidance counselor to select the winner. She also presents the $250 scholarship, along with a large flower bouquet, to its recipient during the school’s year-end awards ceremony, in front of a captive audience of students, teachers and approximately 500 parents, many of whom may be thinking of ordering flowers for graduation parties the following week. “You don’t get better advertising than that,” Mrs. Lyons says.

alert the press

     Though she works hard to achieve it, Mrs. Lyons credits much of her business’s success to free publicity. She sends press releases to local media for everything the shop does that is noteworthy, including “Make It for Mom,” “Top Boss Award” and other events and contests. She also takes pictures of new designer hires and sends them, along with a press release, to the local newspaper for use in its business section.

     “Always be ready to tell a story,” Mrs. Lyons advises. “Media coverage extends your marketing reach big time. Our goal is to be on the news for every holiday with at least one station and hopefully more. It doesn’t matter how busy we are; we will be there.”

This positive attitude is what keeps
the media—and customers—coming back for more.
 

best marketing practices

 
  • Outside salesperson who visits potential and current corporate clients as well as schools

  • Targeted wedding and sympathy websites (www.eugeneweddingflowers.com and www.eugenefuneralflowers.com)

  • “Make It for Mom” free flower arranging event for children during Mother’s Day weekend

  • Corporate brochure, featuring a 15 percent off coupon, marketed to prospects via direct mail, in chamber of commerce marketing packets and via direct contact at business events, etc.

  • Annual corporate rebates for businesses that reach established benchmark purchase volumes

  • Custom design menus for corporate clients

  • Employee discount cards—offering 10 percent off all purchases except outgoing wire orders—for selected large corporate clients to use in their employee incentive packages

  • Direct-mail postcards for Administrative Professionals Week and National Boss Day featuring a variety of priced packages

  • Free rose coupons included in statements and used at events

  • E-mail campaigns two or three times each month, featuring compelling offers such as “Free delivery if ordered by ... ” or “Save $5 on your order” with applied discount codes

  • “Half-Off Fridays,” featuring 50 percent off all loose flower stems

  • Giveaways and promotions such as free arrangements, gift certificates, “Top Boss Award” and more

  • Birthday and anniversary reminder service

  • Frequent flower buyer cards

  • Partnerships with schools via scholarships, field trips, flowers donated for projects, job fair presentations, etc.

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