feature story

holiday menus

By Shelly Urban

Strategically planned in-shop specials for Valentine's Day and other hectic holidays ease the workload, boost profits and save your sanity.

Every February, florists have the opportunity to start the new year strong by turning big bucks at Valentine’s Day. Yet for many, this holiday can fall flat, making good money but failing to yield the promised profits.

  In most cases, some planning ahead can have a tremendous impact on revenues, costs of goods, labor and much more. So for 2008, to make the most of this money-making opportunity, consider creating a menu of in-shop specials that are preplanned to ensure good pricing from suppliers and are mass produced to lower labor costs, ultimately easing some of the frantic feelings typically associated with this annual celebration of love.
harnessing the holidays
  Obviously, many florists offer the holiday designs promoted by wire services, for both local and nationwide delivery. In addition, though, many consumers will seek floral expressions that reflect the unique style of their favorite florists. This, alone, is one great reason to create your own lineup of arrangements.
  “Wire service specials are not always typical of the design style that a store works year-round to promote,” points out Tim Huckabee, aifse, president of FloralStrategies, a company based in New York, N.Y., offering training for retail florists. In addition to expressing your own style and appealing to your customers’ preferences, in-shop specials offer countless other benefits as well. “Designs can be mass produced, which equals less labor and more profits,” notes Mr. Huckabee.
  Mike Fiannaca, vice president of Sparks Florist, which has retail locations in Sparks and Reno, Nev., concurs. “Doing everything custom will kill productivity,” he assures.
   Brian McCarthy, president of Florida Retail Flowers and The McCarthy Group of Florists, based in Tampa, Fla., which together total 13 stores in six states, supports these assertions. “On average, our custom designs take 20 minutes each to complete, but our [mass-produced] in-house specials take only eight minutes each.”
  The added labor can be a huge drain on profits, but inefficiencies and diminished productivity will affect your bottom line in other ways as well. “Too many custom orders will severely hamper your ability to take all possible orders,” says Mr. Fiannaca.
   “Florists are reactive when it comes to design, making it impossible to manage the workload,” says Tina Stoecker, aifd, pfci, president of Designs of the Times Florist, in Melbourne, Fla. “By being proactive, offering a menu of items and consolidating production, florists can eliminate overtime.”
  Therefore, with a menu of specials, you can take more orders and make more money on each sale. You also can make the ordering process easier for your customers.
“Many customers don’t know what they want,” reports Mr. Fiannaca, “so a menu of specials offers choices.”
  Kathy Dudley, owner of The Bloomery, in Butler, Pa., agrees, “A menu of specifically defined items in the sales area really helps—for phone, in person and online sales.” Mr. McCarthy notes, “Fifty to 60 percent of our customers take what’s offered.”
planning what to sell
  Customized menus are exactly as they sound—tailored to each shop—so there are no strict guidelines appropriate to everyone. Instead, there are several considerations, such as availability, salability, flower longevity, simplicity of construction and profitability, to keep in mind.
  Availability. Among the most important of these considerations is availability because it affects pricing and certainty of supplies. “One mistake florists make is using flowers that are featured in wire service specials,” says Mr. Fiannaca, of the process of designing holiday specials. “Suppliers may have a hard time providing enough of these items or, if you can get them, they’re likely to cost an arm and a leg.”
  Salability. According to Ms. Stoecker, florists should incorporate flowers that their customers love. “Track what you sell, and create recipes that include popular flowers. For example,” she reports, “Gerberas and Hydrangeas have been especially interesting to our clients, so this year, our recipes will feature them.”
  Longevity. Longevity is important because vase life affects value perceptions. “Recipients are not always familiar with typical lifespans of various flowers,” Ms. Dudley points out. “And they’re more likely to be unsatisfied with a gift if it lasts only a few days.”
  Simplicity of construction. Regardless of the products you choose, remember that, for menu designs, ease of construction will affect your profitability. As Mr. McCarthy notes, mass-produced specials can be created in almost one-third the time of custom designs. But if your mass-produced arrangements are complicated to create, your time and labor savings will diminish.
To avoid these issues, Ms. Stoecker includes only arrangements that can be produced in assembly-line fashion, and she calculates the construction time down to the last detail. “I multiply the number of insertions in each arrangement by the number of units to be produced, then multiply that by five seconds per insertion,” she explains. “That tells me how many hours of production time will be required.”
Another way Ms. Stoecker maximizes dollars is to plan recipes to use flowers in quantities of two or five. “Most specialty flowers come in bunches of 10. So if you use two or five, you will use entire bunches and avoid leftovers.”
selecting price points
  For many florists, it all starts with gauging appropriate price points. “It’s easiest to first determine your price points, then work around them,” Mr. Huckabee suggests. “Often, price will drive design.”
  Your past sales figures will show you which price points sell best. In addition, Mr. Fiannaca recommends keeping it simple. He says, “Have one or two items at the lower end, two or three in the middle, and one or two at the higher end.” He also suggests making the price points noticeably different. “It’s hard to discern a difference between the items if $5 increments are used,” he explains.
  Across Mr. McCarthy’s various locations, 65 percent of sales fall into the $35, $50 and $65 price points. But he recommends that florists avoid limiting themselves to just these items: “They don’t have to be part of the menu, but florists should definitely offer a few high-end selections.”
  In the past, his shops have featured one or two “knock-out” arrangements in their showrooms. “Last year, in one of our smaller stores, we had a $415 rose arrangement that sold after just 15 minutes on display,” he recalls. “But they won’t sell if we don’t offer them.”
selling what you make
  Planning is critical to holiday success, but all your efforts will be for naught if you don’t pair your plans with effective marketing strategies. “A multimedia attack is best,” suggests Mr. Huckabee. “I recommend in-store and exterior signage, e-mail campaigns, statement stuffers, direct mail and samples that are visible to customers.”
  If you have a Web site, Ms. Dudley recommends utilizing it as well. “It’s our best sales tool,” she assures, noting that customers can see the designs online as they talk on the phone with salespeople. “We often refer callers to it so they can choose what they want—rather than trying to imagine from a verbal description.”
  While preholiday marketing is necessary, Mr. McCarthy is quick to point out that sales staff members hold the keys to holiday success. “They control our destiny,” he states. “What they do determines when designers go home, so salespeople are the most critical piece of the puzzle.”
  Mr. McCarthy says he used to believe that sales staff could be
educated to sell what was made. “However,” he states candidly, “I now know that you can only bribe them.”
  This means, he says, that sales incentives are necessary to keep the right products moving out the door. “Salespeople sell what they like and what they can afford themselves,” Mr. McCarthy explains. “But that doesn’t give customers what they want, and it doesn’t help us, either.”
  Therefore, Mr. McCarthy relies on financial incentives—usually $1 or $2 per sale—to encourage sales staff to move specific products. And while it sounds like a huge cut out of an already tight margin, he says that you choose the products on which incentives are paid. So pick items that are the most profitable, the most abundant and/or  the most quickly produced.
  In addition, incentives can change as the holiday progresses. On Feb. 14, for example, Mr. McCarthy monitors sales throughout the day and adds and removes incentives as needed.
  Although cash incentives are far and away the most effective, Mr. McCarthy often rewards top-sellers with pairs of round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States. By charging all of his shop’s purchases to a corporate credit card that earns airline miles, Mr. McCarthy receives the tickets at no cost, but they’re powerful rewards for jobs well done.
when to get started
  Developing a menu requires planning, and many florists recommend starting at least three months in advance. But even in December, it’s not too late, so check those Valentine’s Day 2007 sales records, and get started now, before the winter holiday rush begins.
  The bottom line, according to Mr. Fiannaca, is that menus work. “If you take an integrated approach, with respect to planning, production and marketing, in-house holiday specials work very well,” he reports.
Contact Contributing Editor Shelley Urban at surban@embarqmail.com.


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