Flower Sales - Do You Know What Drives Your Consumer to Buy?

Very few people I asked gave glowing reports about Valentine sales. Historically, Saturday Valentine Days are not great for retail florists and this year was no exception. Inclement weather on the East Coast and in the Midwest affected sales, and the three-day holiday (President’s Day) weekend didn’t help either. Most wholesalers reported weak sales, down 5% to 8% compared to 2003. Even the big box retailers didn’t make their holiday sales projections. Apparently, weekend sales started strong Friday, but fizzled by late morning Saturday.
In supermarkets, Saturdays rank in the top four selling days of the week. They love it when Valentine’s falls on Saturday, but this year was different. Most reported energetic sales on Friday, but flat on Saturday. No one complained about quality. Availability was tighter than last year so the market was not flooded, but wimpy sales resulted in leftover products.
Have we lost the momentum of flower sales carefully developed over the past decade? Consumer research tells us that people love flowers and plants; they improve everything from workplace attitude to seniors’ health. If so, why have sales been flat to declining?  
“How America Shops 2004: Pushing Back” by Wendy Liebmann and Candace Corlett, was a February guest commentary on Chain Store Age.com. It got me thinking about where flowers fit into the American shopping experience.
According to this article, significant changes in shopping parameters have occurred in the last 4 years. The authors say that a combination of twenty years of discount retailing and the result of post-9/11 and post-recession has caused shoppers to redefine “value”. According to Leibmann and Corlett, we now combine cautious spending with a desire to enhance and simplify our lives. Throw in an emotional connection and you have a pretty good idea of what motivates today’s consumer to buy.
They define it like this: “prudent spending + simplification + emotional connection = the New (shopping) Normal.”
Gone are the carefree spending sprees of the 1990’s. More than 50% of consumers polled said today they stop and ask themselves if this is a smart use of their money before making a purchase. Smart vendors, recognizing this “New Normal” mentality, help consumers make economically cautious buying decisions, show them how their products will simplify their lives and explain how the goods provide an emotional connection. I experienced just that kind of service last week while trying to purchase virus protection. My sales guy did all the right stuff: he used computer vocabulary I could comprehend, spoke at an understandable rate, he told me how to get smart quick with a $29.99 tutorial CD and reminded me to mail in for the rebate.
Leibmann and Corlett remind us that “…the integration of the functional with the emotional” is key to creating satisfaction.  
What are you doing to please your customers? What do you do to build loyalty? Do you fill orders as promised? Are your invoices legible? Do you provide I.D. on unusual flower types so wholesalers can call your product by name in their sales spiel? It’s hard to get jazzed about a product when you can’t remember its name, not to mention trying to reorder it! Do you apply postharvest solutions according to flower needs or are you just scooping powder? Are your bunch sizes consistent? Are you asking wholesale and retail customers for feedback and commitments when planning future production? Do you provide (or sell) flower food with farmers’ market bouquets?
We know American consumers already expect the best price, and gravitate to stores that offer efficiencies. But according to these authors, consumers are pushing back by expecting “… shopping to provide emotional connection, excitement and thrill in their everyday lives.”  
By now you are probably thinking “Geez, all I want to do is sell a bouquet of flowers and now I have to thrill and excite and provide emotion, too!” But really, is that such a tall order with flowers? Customers want bouquets that look like they came from their garden (emotional connection) which perfectly describes specialty cuts. They crave color vibrancy and/or fragrance (excitement). And are thrilled when the vase life exceeds their expectations (7 days+)! 
Remind people why they should buy your flowers—shamelessly push features and benefits of the varieties you grow. It is as important to give them feel-good information as it is to have your name on the sleeve and flower food attached. After all, flowers are the most beautiful language in the world! Let your product speak for itself.