marketing your business

Before competition in the retail floral industry became so broad and intense, many florists considered marketing to be optional. If it ever was, it’s not today, and florists are going to have to be aggressive and creative to survive.
  by Kenneth R. Royer, AAF

The days when a florist could put an ad in the Yellow Pages and wait for the phone to ring are gone. There are so many retailers vying for attention now that florists must become more aggressive and creative with their marketing in order to survive. That becomes especially challenging because the average flower shop has a very limited advertising budget.

price-responsive market
     Marketing 101 teaches that when prices go down, demand goes up, and when prices go up, demand goes down. If you believe that lower prices will not change the number of units sold, you believe, as many florists do, in an inflexible demand.

     I was conducting a seminar some years ago at an FTD Young Owners/Managers meeting, and during a discussion group, I asked the question, “If you were offered a special buy on roses that was 50 percent of your regular cost, what would you do?” No one in that group of 40 or more participants saw it as an opportunity to have a special sale. They all believed in inflexible demand and felt their best option was to obtain a higher profit from their usual small number of sales. Those who, like me, believe in flexible demand would have launched a special low-price sale, expecting to sell many more units with an overall greater profit.

     The potential flower market in the U.S. has not been fully tapped. And for the market to expand, it needs only better industry marketing, more availability and more affordability. It is flexible. Florists who want to grow their businesses must create some excitement, attract some attention and offer flower-lovers deals they can’t refuse.

more than advertising
     Advertising is a part of marketing, but there is another important component. When a consumer sees or hears the name of a business, an image or impression will appear in that person’s mind, if he or she is at all familiar with the business. That image is an important undergirding of any advertising effort.

     Florists who have developed positive brand images in their market areas provide added value to the flowers they sell. It is a dynamic much like Nordstrom has as a department store and like Hallmark has as a greeting-card company. That image has much to do with the effectiveness of any advertising that is undertaken.

creating a brand
     Florists can create positive brand identification in various ways. They can do it by offering artistic, creative arrangements that will appeal to a small, select group of consumers, which is the image many florists desire, or they can offer appealing, well-crafted arrangements at value prices that have longer vase life than those of other florists. In either case, a reputation for quality, dependability and style must be built. Style can apply to the packaging, the store’s appearance and the truck’s and driver’s appearances. Last, but not least, is the attitude and appearance of all the employees.

advertise something
     During my early years in the flower business, florists’ ads extolled the virtues of their businesses and services but rarely showed products or prices. I thought consumers wanted product information, so I began showing specific arrangements with prices. Customers responded, and the company grew.

     Many florists are at a disadvantage because they feel that advertising prices or offering specials will tarnish their image. If either is done by a florist with a good brand image, that will not happen. Some of the highest-priced, upscale jewelry and clothing stores advertise prices, and it does not damage their brand images. On the contrary, their positive images add value to any special sale merchandise they may offer.

web-site marketing
     I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of an Internet presence. At Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, a recent report revealed that Internet sales are now 20 percent of total sales, and they’re growing.

     The Internet has made it easy to present pictures and prices of many arrangements and other products. There is, however, a temptation to provide too many options, and many florist and wire-service Web sites show hundreds of choices. I am not aware of any research that indicates that more choices mean more sales.

ken’s law
     What I am absolutely sure of is that offering a vast number of options means lower profits for florists, in terms of cost of goods and cost of labor. Based on this theorem, a florist would reach maximum profitability if all arrangements were exactly the same and were composed of flowers with the highest possible margin.

     As a principle, it would be stated: “The cost-of-goods percentage for a florist fulfilling requests for arrangements pictured on a Web site will rise in direct proportion to the quantity and diversity of the illustrations and number of flower types shown.”

     A corollary to that principle would be: “Labor costs for arrangement production will rise or fall in direct proportion to the diversity of that production.”

     In other words, if each arrangement is an individual creation, labor costs will be at their highest, and if all arrangements are exactly the same, the labor costs will be at their lowest.

     The goal, then, is to achieve a high volume of orders on a small number of designs. Therefore, it is advantageous for a florist to show a limited group of arrangements that are carefully selected for price, flower composition and styling. In addition, a florist should highlight a few special arrangements on a regular basis that will be especially appealing in terms of price and seasonality, that are likely to gain high customer acceptance and that will be highly profitable.

web-site maintenance
     A Web site should be a living, breathing connection with potential customers, and it needs to be updated regularly. Success will depend on regular florist input to utilize this effective marketing tool.

     Unless a florist is large enough to hire a Web technician, it is probably not possible to manage a Web site effectively in house. Utilizing services provided by wire services, IT companies or local Web designers may be better options for smaller shops.

     Talk to your Web designer about how you can position yourself on search engines to show up first when consumers search for a florist in your community. Techs know a lot of tricks to accomplish this. Someday soon, a florist’s Web address will be more important than the shop telephone number.

     One reason a Web site will gradually become a florist’s most important medium is that webcasts can be sent nearly free of charge to a growing list of customers who have used the Web site. It is easy to send news and pictures regarding special offers to an entire group of former buyers. However, do not alienate them by overdoing it.

conventional media
     Direct mail and cable TV are my traditional media of choice. Both of them allow advertisers to show arrangements with prices and to select distribution areas. For direct mail, advertisers can obtain mailing lists that encompass a few blocks or a few square miles, and they can purchase cable TV to reach for specific areas. Promoting your Web site must be an important message in all of that advertising.

market research
     Every florist should conduct his or her own market research on a continuous basis to learn about consumer preferences for products and services. Do not query consumers about standard wire-service arrangements, and do not depend on the advice of a design-school commentator or even your own beliefs about customer preferences when developing your marketing plan.

     Study consumers’ responses to various price points and arrangements shown on your Web site or in your refrigerator, and keep a record of those responses. For market research to be really helpful, however, you must experiment beyond your own tastes or preconceptions of what consumers will like.

     An average advertising budget for a flower shop is usually 3 percent to 5 percent of sales, but a new business or one wishing to accelerate its growth should invest much more. When Royer’s opened a new store and initial sales were low, the ad budget usually was 10 percent to 15 percent of those sales, which is what we felt was needed to be effective. Gradually, as sales increased and advertising spending stayed the same, the percentage of sales that those advertising expenditures represented shrank, until the percentage reached the desired level.

in a nutshell
     The entire marketing program I’ve just presented can be summed up as follows.
  • Create an image. A positive brand image for your business can add value to your product offerings in consumers’ eyes.
  • Buy it right. Purchase flowers in quantity and at special prices.
  • Produce it right. Create standardized arrangements on which you can reduce labor and cost of goods.
  • Price it right. Create arrangements at price points that will generate a volume of profitable sales. Find those price points first, then find a way to create the arrangements profitably.
  • Sell something. Advertise specific products and their prices.
  • Market it right. Sell what you make; don’t make what you sell. Create it, then sell it.

 To read the four previous articles in this series, click here.

Kenneth R. Royer, AAF, is a lifetime florist who expanded the business started by his mother in 1937 into what is now, arguably, the largest traditional florist business in the United States—U.S. Retail Flowers, Inc.—which is operated today by his three sons.

Throughout his career, Mr. Royer has served the industry in numerous ways—holding positions with the Society of American Florists (SAF), the American Floral Marketing Council (AFMC) and the American Floral Endowment (AFE); conducting seminars; writing articles; and authoring a book, Retailing Flowers Profitably.

Mr. Royer also is the recipient of many awards, including SAF’s Golden Bouquet Award (now named the Paul Ecke Jr. Award) and lifetime achievement awards from FTD and Teleflora.

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