Top Ten (plus one) Reasons People Buy Flowers from ASCFG Members
What qualities are valuable to customers and cultivate loyalty? What motivates people to buy your flowers? When I ask these questions in training sessions, answers include “freshness”, “color”, “quality”, “aesthetics” and “long-lasting”. WFFSA (Wholesale Florists and Floral Suppliers of America) conducted a blind survey to find out what retail florists valued most in the group of flower providers with which they work. Providers included farm direct, importers, wholesalers and wire service programs. Survey results were collated and ranked by provider group. When attributes were ranked in order of importance, data indicated that wholesalers exhibited the most valuable traits. This article uses the WFFSA list format, but examines it from an ASCFG perspective. Paying attention to the attributes floral buyers value is one way to secure a spot at the top of their supplier list.
1. Overall Satisfaction.
Satisfaction is a moving target; a fragile one, too. One slipup is all it takes to destroy carefully developed vendor status. Follow-through is an important attribute to satisfaction as is ongoing, clear communication. People like information, lots of it. Unexpected surprises rarely win customer loyalty and although the phrase may be overused in business jargon, the axiom of under-promising and over-delivering rings true.
2. Reliability. When customers place future orders, offer options in case the weather turns fickle and causes you to resort to Plan B. Free trade and a global flow of products have distorted the awareness of seasonality among generation X and Y. Having grown up with year-round availability of produce and flowers, they expect tulips in July and peonies in December. Offering substitutions provides flexibility against heat waves in March or a cold snap in August without losing your status as a reliable source of supply.
3. Accuracy. In our harried world, who doesn’t value accuracy? Double check, recount, repeat credit card numbers to ensure the sequence is correct, use a calculator or computer when invoicing, and speak slowly when leaving a phone number on message machines. Accuracy saves time and demonstrates professionalism.
4. Responsiveness. Retail florists rank responsiveness high on their list, so make it one of your traits, too. People expect to receive information fast and have questions answered immediately. It’s likely you’re in the field rather than at a desk during the day, so encourage customers to communicate via email to avoid wasting time playing telephone tag. Leave details about weekly features on your phone message. Let customers know two weeks out what’s coming on so they can start pushing it. Tell them in advance when a crop is winding down. Provide color information—especially which colors are scarce—to encourage pre-orders. Ask customers to leave their order rather than promising you’ll call back to get it. Set up—and update—blogs to post product photos and prices. Tell them when you’ll be checking messages so they don’t feel ignored.
5. Expert Knowledge. Who knows more about a given product than the ASCFG grower producing it? Share your expertise! If you don’t like the gushiness involved in selling, hire someone who does. Lean on suppliers for insights and information on everything from postharvest care to market trends. Sign language is important to catch people’s attention. You know the FAQs, all you need to supply are the answers.
6. Cut Flower Quality. Quality encompasses more than just growing a beautiful product. Handling specifics play an important role in maximizing flower longevity, too. Details about variety selection, sustainable production methods, (e.g. the use of compost tea) and postharvest solutions help distinguish your line a notch above others. Share the information down the line by informing retailers and consumers alike about best practices used to maximize vase performance.
7. Relationship. A sharp salesperson appreciates the importance of developing relationships as part of connecting with customers. Whether it’s asking about someone’s new grandchild or sharing a joke, people want to connect. Building strong relationships with customers helps avoid a buyer’s tactic of lumping blooms into commodity categories to drive down price.
8. Easy to Order. This trait takes a little finessing since most ASCFG growers don’t have fulltime salespeople manning phones. Make it easy for your customers to order by establishing grades and standards for every product line. Include consistent stem counts, indicate stem lengths and flower size per price tier on price lists to avoid answering the same questions over and over.
9. Convenience. This attribute is another one that’s tough for ASCFG growers to compete with wholesalers since wholesalers often make two delivery runs a day so customers don’t have to plan ahead or anticipate needs. One downside of just-in-time inventory is that lack of variety is boring and doesn’t spark impulse sales.
10. Selection. Let your van, sales table or camera do the talking in this category. Get your farm name and the flower’s name on sleeves, stickers, invoices and price lists. Print legibly and make up names if the botanical version is too difficult. You want buyers and sellers to be able to pronounce it so they can push it in the sales call and remember it for re-orders.
11. Cost Effective. The prevailing interest in local food spills over to flowers. Prepare your 30-second commercial with features and benefits of your product line, when retailers push back on price. Of course, the Hail Mary of local products is the low carbon footprint due to lack of transport across the country or across continents. Buyers like choices so provide 3-tiered pricing: highest for a single bunch, medium price for 3 or more bunches and lowest price by the bucket of ___ bunches.
There’s nothing new, innovative or outrageous about these traits, in fact they are qualities anyone values when dealing with a supplier. It’s just that we get so involved with day to day busy-ness, we forget to step back to take an objective look at our business practices to identify areas needing improvement. As the season slows down, consider what changes are worth implementing next year to improve your standing among your customer base.