In all my years in this business, I can’t understand how some companies can operate without a primary purpose of creating sales that will deliver well-needed growth results.  Why is it that many retailers tend to mismanage the meaning of “selling”?                                

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, floral departments began to flourish throughout the supermarket industry.  They were looked upon as the new image in adding some sort of a romance to the stores, besides acting as sales builders.  It was a business proposition to gain new trendy shoppers.                    

The early floral shops offered basic items such as three-inch potted foliage plants, six-inch potted mums, some glass dish gardens, and selected 10-inch potted tropical foliage formerly known as “show plants”.  In addition, shoppers were offered potted lilies, poinsettias and orchid corsages in limited amounts during specific holidays.                    

There was no such title as “floral manager” during the initial years of selling plants and flowers in supermarkets.  In fact, most stores had nobody working in this tiny corner of the store.  Primarily, the produce manager ordered and displayed all floral products.  Afterwards, he or she went back into the produce department and forgot about them.  Part-time employees did a little watering on occasion.  This was the only maintenance function in the so-termed “plant department” at that time.                                

Let’s forget about yesterday and focus on today’s floral shops with all the fancy equipment, service counters and endless product variety.  But what items make up that variety?  Some floral shops are beginning to look like general merchandise departments.  We now find glass bowls, clocks, birdhouses, gummy candy, dolls and teddy bears strewn throughout the area.  Somewhere in between are a few drooping bouquets and aged potted plants.                                

What is happening lately with floral operations?  Why are some retailers allowing this part of the store to slip back into the stepchild department it once was years ago?  Many floral shops are just sitting idle with a homemade sign on the counter that says reads “Ring Bell for Service”.  Is this the final direction in which we’re headed?                    

Not every supermarket floral department has reached this critical level yet, but mismanaging a company will certainly get them to that point.  Just consider the fact that stockholders of large food chains today are demanding more return on their investments.  Top executives are being squeezed to deliver the goods, or else cash in their chips.                    

Under these stressful conditions, panicky management has been making alarming decisions by cutting back on labor, advertising and other vital expense lines.  This unfortunate event has pressured store-level personnel to generate much higher pie-in-the-sky gross margins.                          

So, what do we have happening here?  What is it creating?                                

Let’s not beat around the bush.  The real facts are that floral managers are simply toning down their product orders forced by labor cutbacks, cheaper priced product is replacing premium first-class quality to earn more gross profit rate, the elimination of training programs is causing care and handling to get sloppier, and shrink is building up.  The entire picture is way out of whack.                                

The telltale indications of reality have set in on the supermarket floral world.  We’re going from top-quality abundant bouquets and centerpiece arrangements to chintzy, cheap single-stem flowers and puny bud vases.  All this is occurring just to reach much higher gross profit rates and save on labor.            

If the supermarket floral business is to be kept from malfunctioning into oblivion, then we must take measures to stop it in its tracks right now.  Otherwise, there will be no future growth for supermarket retail flora.  Instead, we’ll step back into those old-fashioned pipsqueak operations again.

Reprinted with permission from ‘Floral Marketing’ in The Produce News March 6, 2006. Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a consulting firm for the produce industry. He can be reached by at (775) 853-7056 , [email protected] or see www.power-produce.com