how to sell
Florists from across the country share how they buy, market and merchandise the top giftware categories.
by Kelsey E. Smith
Giftware can be a major source of revenue, offering steady sales to complement your fresh flowers. The market for gifts and home decorative accents reached $65.2 billion in 2007, according to Unity Marketing, a consumer market research firm in Stevens, Pa.
To identify the top categories of giftware, we consulted Michael Russo, president of the Gift Association of America. We then interviewed four retail florists to find out their strategies for making each type of giftware successful in their shops. In the pages that follow, find out how they buy, promote and display their gift merchandise.
candles & home fragrances
Annual U.S. retail sales of candles are estimated at $2 billion, according to the National Candle Association (NCA).
(See “The Candle Craze Blazes On” beginning on Page 63 for the latest trends in this market.)
“We do really well with the large jar candles [burn time approximately 120 hours], particularly the soy candles,” says Mandy Majerik, aifd, owner of Hothouse Design Studio in Birmingham, Ala. “And we’re in a bit of a trendier market, so whatever people see in magazines and whatever the hot fragrances are, those are the ones that we try to keep up with.”
While candles continue to be a staple product in the home fragrance category, air fresheners and reed diffusers have helped grow the overall home fragrance market to reach approximately $5.1 billion in sales in 2007, according to
The U.S. Market for Home Fragrance Products, a new report from Packaged Facts, a consumer-goods market research firm in Rockville, Md.
“It’s all about how you promote it to customers,” says Ms. Majerik, who successfully sells reed diffusers for $55 to $70. “A lot of people are hesitant to light candles in their homes, so the reed diffuser is a way for them to get that fragrance without having to worry about the candle flames. And we really promote the reed diffusers as gifts for men.”
The third-generation florist admits, however, that she was hesitant about carrying the diffusers when she first introduced candles and other giftware into the previously all-floral business two years ago, when she became the owner. At first, to test their salability, she bought the diffusers only in the top three fragrances—Arugula, Red Currant and Rosemary—from her core candle line before expanding the fragrance selection.
Brian Smith, owner of Everts Flowers, Home & Gifts in Ames, Iowa, says he has found that it works best to display reed diffusers throughout his shop rather than all together. “If we split them up, they sell better,” he relates. “This way, each area of the shop has a different fragrance. When we had them all together, it got very overpowering.”
Regardless of what type of home fragrance products you carry, one of the most important things to remember when displaying them is to place them at nose level. Enticing fragrances can help encourage impulse purchases as people walk by.
The home decoratives category of giftware encompasses many types of items, Mr. Russo points out. “Look at home décor as an umbrella, and then under that umbrella come things like wall décor, picture frames, tabletop, decorative vases and planters,” he explains.
Due to the nature of florists’ businesses, the most logical segment of home décor is distinctive containers. Ms. Majerik shares that some of her business’s best-selling containers are single-stem vases and containers that have grids through which stems can be arranged. She says that displaying home décor containers often prompts flower sales as well. “People might say, ‘That goes with the colors in my bedroom. Can you put an arrangement in it?’” she explains. “It also helps turn the inventory, but if the container doesn’t sell by sitting in the front of the showroom, and if the price is right, we might pull one of those nicer home décor containers for a phone order.”
Artwork comprises the largest portion of Hothouse Design Studio’s home décor sales, mostly from local or regional artists. “We attend art shows in the city and pick up cards from artists whose work would complement our style. We invite them to the shop, too, so they can see if their artwork is a good fit. And we do a 60/40 (artist/Hothouse Design Studio) split for commissions.”
Giftable-size artwork sells at Hothouse for $50 to $150 although larger paintings (24 inches by 24 inches or larger) are available for $250 to $1,500. The larger artwork creates captivating backdrops for giftware displays.
Everts Flowers, Home & Gifts offers artwork as well, most of which comes from local artists. “A lot of them do it more as a hobby, and our shop is a great place for them to show their wares,” Mr. Smith relates. “For some, I buy the pieces and mark them up, and for other pieces, I take a 20 percent commission if I sell them. I buy pottery from a gentleman who gives me 40 percent off his retail, and then I can mark up the pieces to whatever I want.”
An important thing to keep in mind when deciding what looks or themes to carry in artwork is that art is subjective. “One person loves it, and the next person hates it,” says Mr. Smith, who tends to stick mostly with art that depicts flowers, greenery and/or fruit—themes that naturally fit into a flower shop and have more universal appeal than abstract art.
Ms. Majerik says the key to selling multiple items in the home décor category is to display the items as a collection, in which all of the pieces appear to belong together.
“Whenever we do a display, we set it like it would be in someone’s home, and people are more likely to go for the whole package than they are to choose just one element,” she explains. “For example, if we set up a display on an antique table or buffet with a piece of artwork, a centerpiece and two lamps, someone might buy the two lamps and the piece of artwork.”
Ms. Majerik adds that although her background in interior design has helped Hothouse Design Studio become known for its attractive selection of home décor and other gifts, florists can use their floral design knowledge to create captivating displays as well.
“My best suggestion to florists who are not very knowledgeable about visual merchandising is to think about the basic elements and principles of floral design because they go hand in hand,” Ms. Majerik says. “You always look at balance, colors, repetition, rhythm and harmony.”
Raed Kakish, owner of Indulge & Bloom, says he has found color-themed displays to be most effective for showcasing home décor in his business’s two downtown Minneapolis locations. The monochromatic displays, which always include flowers, not only are captivating but they also make it easy for staff to know where everything should go. “I can’t be there to merchandise the stores all the time, and when our new pieces arrive, they can put them in the red section or the green section or the silver section,” Mr. Kakish relates.
a guide to buying giftware
1 Attend gift shows. The summer shows are just around the corner, so consider attending one or two to help you identify the trends and what fits your customers’ tastes. Raed Kakish, owner of Indulge & Bloom in Minneapolis, attends three or four national gift shows every six months. He recommends examining the merchandise and buying it on the spot because catalog images often do not do justice to the actual product. He also advises florists to order Christmas merchandise in January, when business from the previous holiday is still fresh in their minds.
2 Read what your customers are reading. Become familiar with the magazines whose target markets match your business’s. When people read that soy candles are hot or that green is the “in” color, they will want to buy items that reflect these and other trends. Mandy Majerik, aifd, owner of Hothouse Design Studio in Birmingham, Ala., says she sometimes pulls pages out of magazines such as InStyle and displays them next to items in her shop that have a similar flair to show that the business follows the trends.
3 Look to trend forecasts to stay on top of the latest colors and looks. Ms. Majerik says she refers to
The American Floral Trends Forecast™, the biennial forecast sponsored by the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC), as she plans the looks for Hothouse Design Studio. (See Florists’ Review’s
January 2008 issue, Page 39, for The American Floral Trends Forecast™ 2008-2009.)
4 Limit product lines. Consumers can become overwhelmed when given too many choices, Ms. Majerik points out, so selecting two or three lines in each gift category can simplify the shopping experience as well as set your shop apart from larger chain retailers. Consider carrying several products from the same line—or the full line—to give your customers options from within a particular look or scent.
5 Become familiar with the brands and products your competitors offer. Before deciding to carry product lines, ask the suppliers if they sell to anyone else in your area, advises Brian Smith of Everts Flowers, Home & Gifts in Ames, Iowa. This need not rule out a particular company, but it may be wise to focus on different products from within that line that your competitors do not offer.
personal care products
Body lotions, hand lotions and shower gels are the top gifts in the personal care category, according to Mr. Russo. He notes that today’s bath and body products are not only for women, as they have been in the past. “There’s a whole different mindset now, both for men and for women,” he says. “And the packaging has a gift approach to it.”
Men account for approximately 25 percent of sales from Hothouse Design Studio’s line of spa products. And while some of these purchases are gifts for women, Ms. Majerik says it is safe to assume that items such as shaving cream are for the buyer himself.
The business offers a full line of spa products in two gender-neutral scents: Milk and Mint. Ms. Majerik says she chose to limit the scents for a couple of reasons. “Sometimes people have too many choices and get overwhelmed,” she explains. “It also helps us control our inventory.”
Ms. Majerik says the staff at Hothouse Design Studio incorporate the spa products into custom gift baskets as well. Because the spa products are from the same company as its popular soy candles, gifts from different categories easily come together in gift baskets.
Mr. Kakish says one of his best strategies for selling personal care products, in addition to having testers available, is to hand out samples. Many suppliers offer sample packets of lotions and shower gels for little or no charge, and they can help florists boost sales. “We put samples in customers’ bags, and they tend to buy the scents we sample,” he relates.
Despite the popularity of e-mail and electronic greeting cards, the market for printed cards and other stationery products remains viable.
“Greeting cards have come on stronger despite postage concerns, and we’ve seen the musical greeting cards to be extremely strong, so much so that the post office has come out with a 62-cent stamp just for those square-shaped cards,” Mr. Russo says.
Although greeting cards and boxed note cards are the “bread and butter” of the stationery market, sales of journals continue to be strong as well. Mr. Kakish says he offers an assortment of journals in masculine, feminine and neutral styles. Most are blank although he carries some travel journals as well. He displays the journals among other merchandise, including fine writing utensils that can be sold as add-
The most important thing Mr. Kakish considers when selecting and buying stationery products for Indulge & Bloom is how eye-catching they are. When working with new greeting card suppliers, he advises florists to request samples because items do not always look the same in tangible form as they do in a catalog. “You may not know that it’s glittered or that it’s embossed by looking at a picture in a catalog,” he points out. “Look at the imagery, look at the greeting, and make sure it catches your eye. I go through samples and create ‘yea,’ ‘nay’ and ‘maybe’ piles.”
When it comes to displaying greeting cards, Mr. Kakish says he has changed his ways to be more customer friendly. “I used to group my stationery by designer, but now I group it by occasion because my customers would rather see all birthday and all get-well together,” he relates.
Ms. Majerik, who carries two lines of greeting cards, finds that blank cards are more convenient for her customers. “They don’t have to read the inside of every card,” she explains. “Some of our cards are birthday or love themed, and some are for everyday occasions, but they’re all blank on the inside, and they come sleeved in plastic with matching envelopes.”
Ms. Majerik says she chose her greeting card lines based on other merchandise the suppliers offer. For example, one company offers art panels in the same designs as its greeting cards. This allows Ms. Majerik to display the greeting cards and other stationery items with coordinating products in a more artistic manner than using card racks or spinners in a separate section of the shop. “We’re selling not only the greeting card but the whole package,” Ms. Majerik explains. “A card is not necessarily just an add-on purchase to a floral arrangement.”
other potential categories
In addition to the “staple” giftware categories already mentioned, Mr. Russo recommends that florists consider adding the following categories to their offerings.
Jewelry/Fashion accessories. Consider adding floral-themed pendants, fabric handbags or other personal fashions to your giftware mix. Hothouse Design Studio carries jewelry created by Ms. Majerik—mainly necklaces—as well as pieces from other artists, at price points from $30 to $100.
Motivational/Inspirational. Small gift books and giftware such as vases and wall plaques with inspiring words and sayings on them are popular among consumers.
Regional interest. Not every shop is in a destination area, but if yours is, be sure to incorporate a bit of local flavor into your offerings. For example, if your shop is in Philadelphia, consider including a few colonial-themed gifts.
a word about collectibles
Collectible gifts such as figurines have dwindled in popularity as people seek ways to declutter and simplify their décor. “My customers don’t want knickknacks,” says Vicki McFall, owner of Blooms and Things, which has three locations in Arnold, Angels Camp and San Andrea, Calif. She relates that she no longer carries collectibles because of the range of product required. Mr. Smith, who carries a limited amount of collectibles at Everts, including Willow Tree angels, says he chooses items that can be incorporated into floral arrangements.
five tips for displaying
1 Keep displays well stocked. This may seem like a no-brainer, but people don’t buy what they can’t see. And according to Raed Kakish of Indulge & Bloom, many customers will not buy a product if it appears to be the last one. Mandy Majerik, aifd, of Hothouse Design Studio, says she displays all inventory. This not only is impactful in displays but also allows staff to remain on the sales floor because they never have to “check in the back” to see if the shop has more of a particular item.
2 Use antique furniture and other distinctive pieces to showcase your merchandise. Vicki McFall, owner of Blooms and Things, which has three locations in California, uses antique furniture as well as other used furniture in good condition for all of her displays at her Arnold, Calif., location. She sells it on consignment, keeping about 20 percent of the selling price.
3 Use smaller tables to highlight items from a larger display.
For example, Hothouse Design Studio showcases its candles on shelves and features a particular scent with coordinating accents on a small round table in front of the shelving.
4 Keep things moving. Ms. Majerik advises switching merchandise around at least once every month and a half. If something isn’t selling in your shop, change its location and see if sales increase. As Brian Smith, owner of Everts Flowers, Home & Gifts, points out, moving merchandise around the shop can give the illusion that you have all new products.
5 Keep your core product in mind. Ultimately, flowers should be the main focus of a flower shop, so be sure to incorporate floral themed gifts and permanent floral arrangements into displays when appropriate.
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