The third installment in my new series of articles in which I examine and analyze the inner workings – good and bad – of three real flower shops.
“I thought I could just buy the store and let the existing staff run it,” shares Gloria Becerra, owner of Linda’s Flowers & Balloons in Chicago, Ill. She was in for a big surprise and quickly realized that she needed to step in and learn the basics fast! That was back in the summer of 2001, and she’s come a long way during the past 17 years.
Gloria and her team are the spotlight shop for this third and final installment of “SOS: Flower Shop,” a behind-the-scenes exposé on how a “regular” flower shop operates and the easy changes that can be implemented to increase its efficiency and profitability. I encourage you to visit floristsreview.com to read more about this project as well as the stories of the previous two shops I visited (featured in the July and August issues). Linda’s Flowers was launched when Gloria bought an existing shop and renamed it after her sister. The store is in a prime spot: next to a subway stop in a booming neighborhood (Logan Square/Bucktown) undergoing gentrification. That dramatic change poses problems (see photos of the construction going on all around them) and great potential (so much new housing to attract affluent customers to the shop). The big challenge is to make the shop and its designs enticing to all customers: the existing traditional price-conscious shoppers as well as the growing influx of consumers who have different desires and are willing to spend more.
Linda’s Flowers generates less than $500,000 per year spread over local deliveries and heavy walk-in traffic. The shop’s two websites, lindasflowersandballoons.com and chicagoilflorist.com (from Flower Shop Network, a sponsor of this project), generate steady business, too. Gloria chose to go wire-service-free recently and is working her way through a healthy inventory of codified containers. The store offers many add-on options for its arrangements and plants, and the cooler is well stocked with flowers ranging from traditional carnations to premium peonies. Keeping an eye over all the shop activity is the famed artist Frida Kahlo (see photo below). “I found this painting in the basement when we moved in,” Gloria recalled. “Since we’re of Mexican heritage, too, I thought it was a sign of good luck, so I hung it in the store. And customers always ask if they can buy it!”
Roughly 10 years ago, the storefront next to Linda’s became available, so Gloria approached the owner and made an offer. Then the owner decided to start a new business himself – a flower shop! Yes, there is literally a competitor next door – and that impacts the collective mentality of the staff, conditioning them to fear offering bigger prices as a way of avoiding customers saying, “I’m going to take a look next door.” It happens anyway and will continue to happen. Like too many florists I visit, Gloria has simply not kept up raising her prices in relation to her costs so that she can earn a healthy profit. “I don’t want to drive customers away or next door,” she shared. Gloria knows, however, that she has created that monster and that it’s high time to begin charging more across the board. “We’ve just always done it all on paper,” was Gloria’s response when she saw me scrutinizing her 20th century order pad. Luckily, there are several computers in the store, and all the staff is comfortable with technology. A final issue, and a common one in smaller shops, is balancing the schedules for ample coverage. Gloria ends up begrudgingly covering all the gaps herself.
As with the two other shops in this “SOS Flower Shop” program, I started my visit to Linda’s by teaching Gloria and her team my three-hour workshop to introduce new ways of thinking, selling and serving. A fundamental shift in their habits is to stop underselling. We discussed how by not automatically telling every customer, “Our arrangements start at … ,” Gloria’s staff can easily raise their average sale from the current $45 to more than $60 or better.
We reviewed their prices for funeral work and raised them to realistic 2018 prices. “We never sell $350 easel sprays,” said Gloria. “Yeah, because you never offered them before,” I responded. I helped the staff to understand that you can still offer lower price points, but you must expand your options on the higher end. Customers want to spend more, but they can only buy what’s offered to them.
Roses are a popular item at Linda’s, but they’re priced very low – $65 for dozen in a vase, with accent flowers and greens. I introduced the concept of always offering a premium version of the same design with added branches or flowers for $20 more. And the staff have already begun upgrading many orders. Again, customers will spend more when you let them.
When we broached the topic of using a POS system, Gloria expressed that she does not feel the need for one because she and her staff have always been able to “get it all done on paper.” That conversation had some weight 20 years, when the technology options for florists were limited and costly. But not anymore. I explained that beyond the obvious timesaving benefits of ditching paper order forms, there is a hidden value: the opportunity to use the computer to give customers better service – better than what they experienced at her shop before and better than they’d ever get at the flower shop next door! We expect to get Linda’s off paper by the time you are reading this article.
Gloria’s struggle with schedules is, in part, her own creation because most scheduling has been done on a rolling verbal basis. I proposed buying a calendar at a dollar store and adding everyone’s hours for the next month. That approach will make it easier to see where coverage is needed, swap days and hours between staff, and reduce her need to be perpetually “on call.” Finally, Linda’s is enrolled in my TOTALtraining program (tt.floralstrategies.com) for ongoing sales support including mystery shopper calls and other tools to keep the team motivated and expanding their new sales skills.
I asked Gloria what her plans are for the store as the neighborhood goes through its metamorphosis. “I know we need to update the store; it’s long overdue.” That’s going to mean more than a coat of paint, and she’s going to start keeping a wider variety of price points and design styles in the cooler. Additionally, she is going to get proactive about getting all those new neighbors into her store. “I am going to talk to the manager of the new residential building going up next door about giving a free plant to every new tenant who signs a lease,” Linda said. “ It’s really just an advertising cost, but it will make the new residents realize that we are the caring florist, right next door.”
Finally, about the change over to technology, Linda said, “I never thought about how much time and money we could save by with a POS system. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I can see how using a computer is going to help move us to the next level.”
THE FINAL WORD
In our closing conversation, I reminded Gloria that the only thing standing between her and more money in the bank every week is what the staff offer customers! She’s ready to overhaul her prices to let her customers spend money.
By Tim Huckabee, FSC
Tim Huckabee is the founder and president of FloralStrategies, which offers individualized, personalized floral sales and customer care education. Contact Tim by email at email@example.com or by phone at (800) 983-6184.
“SOS flower Shop” SPONSORS
This series of “SOS Flower Shop” articles is sponsored by the companies below. Find the first and second articles in this series in our July and August issues as well as on our website, floristsreview.com.