Put a fence around your customers

How to keep customers coming back, spending more money and spending more often.
By Rick Rivers

     Today’s florists have to add one more thing to the already long lists of items that they must do: They must protect their “exhausted” customer base. Customers of today’s florists have so many more choices than ever before. Everywhere they turn, they are being “redirected” and “re-educated” and pulled away from local florists. Customers are becoming increasingly confused in today’s economy, and local florists need to step up and protect and redirect the customer for good.

     We are not in a recession but an ever-changing economy, and I believe local retail florists will be the benefactors. In this changing economy, one thing that is emerging is that the “personal relationship” marketing strategies of the ’70s and ’80s are coming back and emerging even stronger. Consumers of all ages want that “personal” attachment when buying their products. Even the smallest of shops need to put a fence around their customer base to keep big-box retailers from “fishing in their pond.” It amazes me how no one I talk to makes an effort to protect his/her market share, allowing anyone to throw a pole into his/her pond.

     We put a fence around our pond about three years ago and have seen some results on direct-mail pieces as high as 29.6 percent, and the norm of direct mail is 1 percent to 3 percent. I still think the best way to keep and get new customers is the first class stamp. We write 15 to 20 campaigns per year for various events and then “target market” to our lists.

     To start building that fence is very easy. You must have a system in place that allows you to segment your customer base (with buying habits) and the buying patterns of the customers. It takes 26 “touches” a year to keep a person solidly in your camp or in your pond.

     While I was teaching at the Tennessee State Florist Association convention in August, one florist came up to me and said, “There’s no way I can reach all of my customers that many times.” As we began to talk about the issue, she was already at the 12 to 14 touches per year mark, so she’s more than half way there. She left understanding how the touches must come, the frequency of the touches and the accuracy of them. Knowledge is power for any retail business. All of our businesses are alike; some just sell different products and go about the manufacturing of those products a little differently.

     Florists have had 10 rough years, but times are about to change or can change with proper systems in place for marketing. Everything you do should have a marketing result. An employee of Bradley Florist, in Cleveland, Tenn., won the “Designer of the Year” award at Tennessee State, and they wasted no time in plastering it on Facebook and Twitter, sending a press release to the local newspaper and so on. They talked about it on Facebook every day for a week, so I know that everyone knew, and some of my customers called and asked me about it. When you’re viral, you’re everywhere, and your customers see it. This is all part of the touches that must happen to our base.

     Next, by having a list in our hands that is segmented by buying pattern, amount and frequency, it allows us to make the decisions that we need to and properly spend the dollars. All point-of-sale systems should be able to do this for you. If yours can’t, then put it in a box, set it outside and call the vendor to come and get his/her piece of junk. Then search for a new vendor that can help you market your business by giving you the information you need.

     The third element of the fence is the follow-up. All florists should follow up with a percentage of their customers and simply ask how the flowers were, the delivery, etc. This provides valuable feedback on your products, services, employees and pricing. I even go so far as to ask the customer for the address or e-mail address of the sender so we can plug him/her into our marketing funnel. I walk away with a “lead” about 20 percent of the time. If it’s a florist-to-florist order, I do not do that, but any others are fair game.

     The last thing for building your fence is to know the event you are selling. In my travels, I hear so many florists complain about sales and this holiday is no good anymore, etc. I always ask, “How much did you market for that holiday?” The vast majority say, “not much” or “none.” I’ll give you one example of this.

     Two years ago, while watching Dancing with the Stars (my wife makes me watch), I thought about how poorly I’ve marketed to dance studios in my area. The next day, I did some research and found out that in my delivery area alone, there were more than 30 recitals in the late part of May and June. So my campaign read like this: “While watching Dancing with the Stars the other night, I realized that we have some great dancers of our very own in this area.” I took a picture of me in a tutu (many are still in therapy) and then sent the dance studios my offer of a discount on the second bouquet and allowed it to be a “a family” discount. That ensured I would get more business than just the mom or dad.

     That postcard generated more than $2,000 in sales for a cost of $225. That means it cost me about 11 cents for every dollar of product sold, so my return on investment was there. Last year, I did not send out that photo again, but one of a real cute dancer instead, and I got even more sales.

     It always amazes me how florists are so focused on incoming wire-service orders that cost them 30 cents of every dollar or more, when local sales bring better cash flow. When you do all of these things, you can put a fence around your pond and a sign in the middle of your pond that says “Keep out.”

Rick Rivers has owned A Floral Boutique Florist in Ormond Beach, Fla., with his wife Susan for 26 years. He is the author of the new book No Fishing in My Pond, which inspired this article. He also is the author of Blooming at the Top: 12 Strategies to Double Your Sales. Mr. Rivers is the founder and lead instructor of Florist Bootcamp seminars, the next one of which will take place Oct. 16-17 in Boston, Mass. Learn more at

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