2010 Retail Florist of the Year
This Boston business cultivates relationships while offering five-star
services for affluent residents and exclusive businesses plus affordable
options for all.
by Shelley Urban
“It all boils down to relationships. We pride ourselves
on the quality of our work, but that’s a given. What’s more
important [to our business] is our relationships with our staff,
our clients and our vendors,” shares David Winston, who,
along with his brother Ted Winston, co-owns Winston
Flowers, winner of the 2010 “Retail Florist of the Year”
contest. The contest is co-sponsored by Florists’ Review
and the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA).
This third-generation business, with five flower
shops, one flower shop/garden center, and a massive central
design facility—all in the greater Boston area—was nominated by
Jacobson Floral Supply, also in Boston, with whom the florist
has cultivated a relationship for some 40 to 50 years. “My
father bought from them, and my grandfather bought from them, so
this is a great example of the kinds of relationships that are
important to us and to our business,” David relates.
Over the years, what began as a humble venture
involving a pushcart and flowers on Boston’s famous Newbury Street back
in 1944 has been transformed into one of the city’s premier businesses,
serving some of the region’s most affluent clientele. And the original
store, in the tony shopping district, where the Winston brothers lived
and learned from the generations before them, still stands as evidence
of the enduring value of relationships.
stylish finds on
Founder Robert Winston’s son Maynard is
credited with transitioning the business from pushcart to retail
store that served Boston’s well-heeled. Under his leadership,
Winston Flowers expanded from that single location on Newbury
Street to three full-service shops. Then, in 1988, when Maynard
passed away, two of his four sons, David and Ted, took over and
continued to expand the business, with additional locations and
Today, Winston Flowers is known as one of the city’s finest
florists, serving the most luxurious hotels, chic restaurants,
upscale boutiques and retailers, professional sports teams and,
of course, anyone who loves flowers.
“We do specialize in
catering to high-end clients with customized services on the
level of a five-star hotel, but we also pride ourselves on being
very accessible for shoppers of all income levels,” assures
David, “and we treat every customer with the same care and
service, even if they’re spending only a few dollars,” he adds.
Despite that the shops are located in wealthy communities, chic shopping
districts and Boston’s financial district, David assures that customers
can find small plants for as little as $5; mixed bouquets “styled nicely
for cash and carry” for $15; and arranged flowers, created by on-site
designers, ranging from $20 to $150. Depending on location, however,
other merchandise on display can run as high as $3,000 or possibly more.
new looks daily
The retail shops “wow” walk-in customers with their
modern styling and displays. Because all other transactions go to the
central design facility, the shops handle only walk-in sales, which
account for one-third of the company’s overall revenues. Half of the
walk-in sales are from an array of flowering and green plants and
stylish floral accessories while the other half is fresh flowers, sold
in gorgeous arrangements, bouquets and individual stems. Winston Flowers
does not sell permanent or dried florals.
Each retail outlet has a regular staff of four to six
people, which includes a manager, visual merchandiser, one or two
designers, and one or two flower processors. According to David, it is
on this level that the large company develops those all-important
personal relationships with local customers.
“The managers and staff are in touch and in tune with
their communities, so when a person comes into a location, someone there
usually knows their names and knows their children’s names,” he
explains. “It’s very important to maintain these relationships, so
that’s why we don’t move people around often and why we invest in
[quality] employees.” With more than 150,000 card-carrying preferred
customers, who have signed up for the “Winston Flowers Preferred
Customer” program, connections with clientele at the local level are
The stores and the products on display vary a bit
according to each location and its clientele, but David notes that
consistency across all locations is important to maintaining the brand
image. “Each store has its own personality based on the shop’s footprint
and the community it’s in,” he explains, “but, generally, everything is
presented in a similar way with some creative license allowed at the
Surprisingly, none of the shops has a display cooler.
Instead, David explains, cash-and-carry arrangements and fresh-cut
flowers by the stem are usually displayed in the shops’ showrooms in
chic monochromatic color groups, so walk-in customers can interact with
the stylish selections. “It’s important to us that clients experience
the flowers—that they touch them, smell them and can easily ‘work’ with
them,” he mentions.
At closing time, all fresh products are moved to the
cooler for overnight storage. Flowers by the stem are redisplayed daily,
and, according to David, any arrangements that didn’t sell are refreshed
and redesigned. “Nothing is put out today and then again tomorrow
exactly as it was,” he assures. “We’re constantly changing and creating
interest. The color palettes will likely be the same from day to day,
but they’ll be presented differently, and they may be in a slightly
different location. We want people who come in today to have a different
experience when they come back in two days from now.”
David explains that the palettes, which change six to
eight times per year according to the seasons and holidays, are driven
by products on the market. “We buy to fit the two or three color groups
we’re working with [at a time], and we also follow what’s happening
outside by buying what’s seasonally appropriate at that particular time
of year,” David shares. For example, during late spring, peonies,
lilacs, cherry blossoms and other blooming branches fill the displays,
and during summer, Zinnias, Dahlias, Scabiosas and monkshoods are
The garden center, which is part of the largest
“flagship” store located in Newton, Mass., about five miles from
downtown Boston, employs 12 to 20 people, depending on the season. It’s
open year-round and accounts for half of the sales at this location.
Inside Winston Flowers
& Garden Center, the company's "flagship" location, fresh
flowers are grouped by color. Large-scale creations demand
attention and inspire walk-in shoppers.
Winston Flowers &
Garden Center, in Newton, Mass., is the company's largest retail
facility, at 5,000 square feet. Its two-acre garden center
accounts for half of this location's revenues.
At Christmastime, bold blocks of scarlet florals, mingling with
wintry greens, lure customers, who are encouraged to
"experience" the fresh fare.
Flower types and colors always match the seasons at Winston
Flowers, whose buyers source 90 percent of their fresh products
direct from growers and buy locally whenever possible.
One of the company's talented designers creates a dramatic
seasonal arrangement for in-store display. Internet and call-in
orders are created at Winston Flowers' 70,000-square-foot Design
Studio, which serves as a central design and delivery facility
for the six retail outlets.
All fresh flowers and arrangements are displayed in the
showrooms, which co-owner David Winston says are kept "cool but
comfortable." At night, unsold items are moved to a storage
cooler and redesigned and redisplayed the following day.
Green and blooming plants plus fabulous vases and other
accessories account for half of the retail sales across all
Winston Flowers' locations. Prices start around $5 for small
blooming plants and extend to $3,000 or more for large-scale
Even the greenhouses at Winston Flowers & Garden Center are
styled in an aesthetic similar to that of the flower shops. A
clean, modern presentation invites browsing.
Container gardens are popular choices for the Garden Design
team's primarily urban clientele. See a sampling of the talented
team's work at
Although each shop has its own designers on staff, who
handle custom requests from walk-in customers, the vast majority of the
company’s designs, and revenues—a full two-thirds—are generated by the
work at Winston Flowers’ Design Studio, which is a 70,000-square-foot
warehouse located in an industrial area of Boston. Most orders, both
phone and Internet, are processed at the Design Studio, where 15 staff
members answer phones daily. “The average phone order is around $95,”
“It almost looks like a telethon is going on in there,”
laughs Peter Kilcoyne, Winston Flowers’ sales rep at Jacobson Floral
Supply. “It’s a bank of salespeople with their headphones on busily
taking orders. It’s impressive,” he shares.
The salespeople, who often use the shop’s website as a
tool to guide callers, direct customers to the company’s lineup of menu
items, or “seasonal collections” as they’re called at Winston Flowers,
all of which are created with in-season favorites purchased from around
the world. Developed and arranged by the 30 to 40 designers who work in
the studio every day, and ranging in price from $65 to $350, the
exquisite seasonal collections, like all deliveries, are transported
from the studio. But if customers find items in the stores that they
want delivered, drivers will pick up items from the retail shops and
transport them to requested destinations.
Typically, deliveries are made within a 25-mile radius
of the studio, but that expands as needed. “In the summertime,” reports
Ted, “many of our customers go to the South Shore, Cape Cod or the
islands, so we’ll deliver to them there; that could be as much as 100
miles.” In fact, Ted says that Winston Flowers will deliver anywhere for
the right size of order; after that, it’s just a matter of how much
customers are willing to pay for the service. “We’ve delivered funeral
items to Pennsylvania,” he adds.
As Ted points out, much more is delivered from the
studio as well. Every afternoon, staff members send availability lists
based on the studio’s fresh inventory to the six store managers, who
place their orders that evening. Orders are processed the next morning,
and trucks are dispatched to every location. “Managers could be ordering
just about anything—fresh flowers, foliages, ‘textures,’ flowering
plants, green plants, containers and supplies,” he says.
five-star service for all
In addition to housing the company’s fresh-cut flowers,
floral supplies, party and event rentals, and design and sales staff,
the studio is also home to teams who handle corporate and residential
services, garden design, and weddings and events. Consultations for all
of these services are scheduled at the Design Studio.
Winston Flowers’ impressive corporate client list,
which you can view at
www.winstonflowers.com/about/testimonals.aspx, accounts for a
sizeable portion of the studio’s workload and includes daily décor in
lobbies or retail spaces as well as meetings, conferences, corporate
gifts, holiday parties and more. According to Ted, success with
corporate customers is also a matter of relationships.
“We’ve worked with some of these companies for years,
and the key is the relationship. If times are difficult and they want to
cut back, we’re flexible, and we work with them to help them [meet their
objectives] whether they want to spend $3,000 or $50,000,” he reports.
“That’s why they stick with us.”
Cultivating these relationships falls into the hands of
the Special Services team members, who handle all the details for each
of their respective clients. “Each team member has a client list, so
when a client calls, they’re directed to that one person, who knows
their needs, their locations and their preferences,” Ted reports. “The
team member might also handle a corporate client’s residential needs as
well,” he notes.
As Ted explains it, hotels, which may require fresh
flowers and/or plants for their interiors and exteriors as well as décor
for their “rooms” divisions, catering departments, and concierge
services, require great attention and time, so they’re split evenly
among the staff. That way, each hotel gets the full attention of a
dedicated team member. “We visit our hotels every day—to change the
water, refresh the flowers and remove pollen. And we completely replace
the arrangements twice a week,” he describes.
Corporate events, which Ted says can range from small
luncheons to huge conferences, can cost as little as $300 to $500 and as
much as $50,000 or $100,000. Most likely, events at the high end are
those for which Winston Flowers manages all the décor, which includes
furniture, lighting, linens and, of course, floral décor.
Likewise, a team in charge of weddings and events
manages all the personal celebrations, which are assigned to dedicated
staff members based on size. “We have people who specialize in big
events and those who specialize in smaller-scale events,” says Ted, who
estimates that Winston Flowers decorates for some 300 weddings and 200
private events annually.
Customized weddings and events, such as birthday
parties, dinner parties, bar mitzvahs and other occasions, he says, have
cost as little as $500 and as much as $200,000. Again, the larger events
typically involve a full-scale décor plan utilizing some of Winston
Flowers’ inventory of amazing props and custom furnishings.
Another team known for its stellar services is the
Garden Design team, which provides residential and corporate design
customized to each client. A look at some of the completed projects on
Winston Flowers’ website reveals an array of striking design work,
ranging from perennial beds to curb-appealing entry décor to lavishly
planted patios and poolsides to rooftop flower and vegetable gardens.
Maintenance—watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning and more—is also
mutual commitment to service
When Winston Flowers, the 2010 Retail Florist of the Year, needs
floral supplies, this third-generation Boston, Mass., chain
turns to Boston’s Jacobson Floral Supply, also in its third
generation and with whom the retailer has done business for 40
to 50 years.
With six retail outlets and a huge corporate and event
business, Winston Flowers’ supply needs are never small, but
Jacobson Sales Rep Peter Kilcoyne, who nominated the retailer
for the contest, works hard to keep his company’s hard goods in
stock for the busy florists. “Winston Flowers buys all kinds of
products from us—from ribbons to baskets to everything in
between,” Mr. Kilcoyne reports.
But his greatest challenge, he says, is trying to find
new, cutting-edge products that Winston Flowers can use. “From
the ownership down, they are really ahead of the curve—in their
containers, their designs and their choices of flowers. So, as a
salesperson, trying to stay ahead of them and trying to find new
things that might be useful to them can be formidable,” Mr.
While Winston Flowers’ trendsetting ways keep Mr.
Kilcoyne on his toes, it’s also the primary reason he nominated
the shop for the “Retail Florist of the Year” contest. “When I
heard about the contest, it was a ‘no-brainer’ for me to think
of nominating them,” he confirms.
Located next to The Boston Flower Exchange and very
near to Winston Flowers Design Studio, Jacobson Floral Supply
provides quick and convenient service, says David Winston, who
co-owns Winston Flowers with his brother, Ted Winston. “This
relationship is really important to us,” he confirms. “We don’t
have to warehouse lots of product, and when we need something,
we call, and they send it right over. And we’ve done business
with them for many years, so we have a very fair pricing setup.”
Jacobson Floral Supply was founded in 1943 by Edward
Jacobson and is now under the leadership of Bill Jacobson,
president. The company’s mission is to supply top-quality hard
goods to retailers throughout New England with service that
exceeds expectations. For more information about Jacobson Floral
Supply, call (800) 262-0500, or visit
To learn more about the “Retail Florist of the Year” contest,
visit www.floristsreview.com, or contact us at (800) 367-4708.
Visit the website of our co-sponsor, WF&FSA, at
or call (888) 289-3372.
the freshest picks of
Judging from comments on Winston Flowers’ Facebook
page, it’s hard to say what customers appreciate most—the service or the
selection. Like its commitment to unparalleled service, the company is
committed to finding the finest fresh materials that epitomize the
season. “We mirror this concept after great restaurants, who make their
menus based on seasonality and offer the very best of what’s in season.
And with our fresh flowers,” David assures, “that’s the key to demand.”
He also notes that even year-round favorites, such as
roses, are purchased to reflect the seasons. “We have roses all year
long, but we choose specific varieties by color to coordinate with the
palettes we’re working in. For Mother’s Day, for example, we have pinks
and lavenders, but in summer and fall, the colors will change,” David
Despite that some products are year-round staples at
Winston Flowers, David says that the company’s buyers, who purchase 90
percent of fresh flowers directly from growers (10 percent is purchased
from vendors at The Boston Flower Exchange), excel at finding intriguing
perishable fare. “We are always looking for something new that no one
else has and that will be exciting to our customers,” he confirms. “Our
work never gets stale, and it never gets boring.”
While buyers work hard to find unusual and interesting
products, David points out that they’re also trying to focus their
purchases on merchandise that seems appropriate for New England. “We’re
primarily looking for new varieties or products from new vendors that
we’ve never carried before or haven’t carried for a while; we’re not
necessarily looking for exotic products that have to come from someplace
far away,” he admonishes.
Therefore, as much as possible, buyers source their cut
supplies from local growers. “Customers appreciate that we buy our
products locally, but they also understand that not everything can be
grown in New England,” David explains, “so whenever we can, we buy
local, and whenever we can, we buy domestic.”
Regardless of locale, fresh success also depends on
relationships, some of which, says David, are longstanding. “Several of
the farms that I’m dealing with—my father bought [flowers] from their
fathers. And we visit the farms regularly and know their staff and their
families. So we’re not just looking for whoever has the cheapest
prices,” he relates. “We’re looking for people who have high-quality
flowers, high standards and a similar work ethic to ours.”
It’s not unusual for a florist to hold a floral design
demonstration in a retail space, which Winston Flowers often
does. But what’s a little out of the ordinary is scheduling it
on contract for VIP clients. And perhaps what’s even more
unexpected is to rent a retail business out for private
gatherings, complete with catered services.
For a cost of $1,500 to $2,500, clients can contract
with Winston Flowers to conduct design demonstrations for their
select groups of eight to 15 people. Workshops can be held
during the workday or after hours and include a couple of staff
members plus the design materials. It’s a fun way for garden
clubs and ladies’ groups to learn from the shop’s experts and
socialize at the same time.
In addition, if customers want to rent one of the
retail shops for a private function, like a birthday party or
bridal shower, staff will transform the space to suit and reset
it before the next workday. Food and alcohol must be provided by
a professional caterer chosen from a list of preferred
suppliers, and if candles are involved, a fire marshall has to
be in attendance.
The cost for party rental varies by location but starts
at $3,000 for the small shops and goes to $7,000 for the
5,000-square-foot floral and garden center. According to Winston
Flowers co-owner David Winston, this shop always has a wealth of
beautiful merchandise on display, so it’s wonderful for
after-hours private events.
Winston Flowers typically hosts 10 private design demonstrations
and 10 to 12 private parties every year, but they’ve recently
begun promoting these services even more. “We’ve put signage in
the stores, and our sales team is aware of it [and can suggest
it as an option],” David reports. No doubt, getting groups, both
large and small, into the retail shops has to be a win-win
situation for this enterprising florist.
only those with “people
skills” need apply
Because relationships—between the company and its
employees and between the employees and their clients—are so important
to business, staffing is done carefully and strategically. “Not everyone
needs to be a ‘designer,’ but everyone [who works here] needs to be able
to build relationships with people, whether they’re on the phone, in our
Special Services department or working in a store. That’s the No. 1
thing we look for,” shares Ted. “We’re looking for people with ‘people
skills,’ and, to find that, we look beyond the floral industry when we
hire. We pull people from the hospitality industry and other types of
service industries, and we teach them the flower business,” he confirms.
Despite their required relational skills, new hires
must complete orientation and training before they can begin working
with customers. After that, opportunities to learn the floral side of
the job abound at Winston Flowers, where paid training in both sales and
design happens at the stores and the Design Studio on a regular basis.
“That’s one reason we’re able to retain our employees,
too,” confides Ted. “People like working in a company where they’re
constantly learning, they’re being challenged and they’re growing.”
Indeed, many employees have been on the job for more than 10 years, and
some have been on staff for more than 20 years.
connecting with customers
Even those gifted with customer service skills can
appreciate the power of information at their fingertips, to give callers
and walk-in customers the impression of truly personalized service. And
that’s where the Winston Flowers Preferred Customer program comes in.
At every location, when the customer card is swiped,
staff members access a wealth of information about the client, including
address, purchase history, payment information and more. Transactions
are quick, easy and personal, and the program enables staff to easily
make connections with customers.
With 150,000 cards in circulation, the program also
provides a huge database for direct marketing, almost all of which is
done by e-mail because, as Ted explains it, “E-mail is easy, inexpensive
The card, which ensures regular upgrades and discounts
for preferred customers, has benefits for the florist as well. “It’s
nice that they have us in their wallets and they’re carrying us around,
and there’s a connection with us, too,” Ted reports. So when they need
something, Winston Flowers is the obvious choice. Again, it all comes
down to relationships.
Winston Flowers at a glance
Winston and Ted Winston
Number of shops: 6 retail locations, one of which
includes a garden center
Location: Boston metropolitan area
Shop size: most locations average 1,200 square feet;
flagship location is 5,000 square feet with a two-acre garden
center; central design studio is 70,000 square feet
Clientele: specializes in catering to affluent customers
but serves all income levels
Number of delivery vehicles: 45
Minimum for delivery: $60
Average fresh flower sale: $95
Number of employees: 200, most of whom are full time
Contact Shelley Urban at
email@example.com or (800) 367-4708.
to purchase the current issue of Florists' Review.