Following Your (Flower) Bliss

Hello 2010! A new year, a new decade—abundant potential, new prospects, unexplored opportunities—so many possibilities for businesses to flourish. According to the media, slow and subtle signs of recovery are in motion. As the economy slowly shifts from doom, gloom and fear to guarded optimism, retail trend watchers assure us that the new normal—customers’ focus on value—is here to stay. Good news for our industry! Why? Floral products fit very well with lifestyle trends and staycation motifs, and there are few products that generate as much enjoyment for both the giver and the recipient as a gift of flowers. Great!

The downside to this über feel-good is that consumers like flowers, but have limited product confidence, which cramps their impulse purchase vibe. No doubt, product interest is there, as is the appreciation of product aesthetics, but without knowing how to pick the “best” one or how long it will last, demand suffers.

Before we discuss ways to build demand, it’s important to define product value from the consumer’s perspective. By knowing what consumers consider as the “value equation” for flowers, it’s possible to focus efforts on creating a demand. When polled, consumers often characterize flower value with words like “freshness”, “consistent quality”, “long lasting” and “aesthetic appeal”. Of course, the price has to match the perception of intrinsic value, but generally, price is the third or fourth consideration mentioned. In other products, price is the driving factor. Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” wine is a good example. People buy caseloads of the stuff, but anyone who has tasted it readily admits that the sale was solely price-driven. Of course, the catchy name helps lock in consumer interest, too.

Discovering what entices people to buy is as easy as asking them. Think about what triggers your own impulse purchases. Ask friends and family what motivates them to buy something not on their lists. For most of us, purchasing non-essential items is triggered by a suggestion (either from salesperson or friend’s recommendation), product information, clearly defined product expectations, an eye-popping display, or catchy signage.

The potted and bedding plant industries are ahead of floral in providing information on what specific conditions are needed for consumer success: shade-loving, likes acid soils, can take heavy traffic, etc. Why not use the same methods to increase flower demand? Provide days of vase life expectation, tell why flower food is important to use at home, give bloom characteristics such as “slow-opening” or “fragrant”. Develop a 30-second story about different products you grow, or how you choose specific color lines. Everyone wants to be an expert. Give them something to talk about.

When hypericum became a trendy filler in the 90s, customers were fascinated to learn it was from the same family as St. John’s wort, which was being touted as a stress-reducing herb supplement.

Signage is a great vehicle to create a sense of urgency in displays. Words like LIMITED or NEW set the hook because they entice customers to ask for additional details. Another sales tactic is multiple pricing: $5.00 each, 3 or more for $12.99. Many customers will buy two (at $5.00 each, rather than three for $12.99. Finessing a sale may be as easy as asking about the occasion. When asked to “pick out the best one”, inquire about the occasion. If the flowers are for a dinner party that night, recommend buying open blooms. Yes, tight buds will last longer, but won’t provide the desired immediate WOW impression. Considering consumers know very little about most floral products, it is critical to include sales skills as part of the “value” definition. What builds customer rapport faster than details about care, flower origin and general information? Utilizing smart sales tactics differentiates you from the competition.

Informational selling is not limited to the general public or retail clients. Wholesalers also need details and facts to resell your blooms. Make sure the sales staff (not just the buyer) knows the name of the different flowers as well as their varieties (especially important for uncommon, unique items). Who knows your products better than you? It never hurts to supply a cheat sheet with product features and benefits. Why let your success lie solely in the hands of the buyer? Keep in mind that 90% of sales happening in wholesale houses are generated over the phone rather than walk-in trade. Salespeople won’t offer what they don’t know or can’t name during phone calls to retailers. Supplying product ID and handling suggestions notches up the experience (and the sales ticket!) There is a huge difference between order filling and selling!

Bunch size is another important aspect to closing the sale. Latin American producers follow set grades and standards that include stem counts per bunch, length parameters and cut-point specifics. Local product can be rejected over imports because the customer doesn’t have ample information to compare local with imported like product. What about postharvest treatments used? Solutions and treatments play a big part in the value equation. For example, if the blooms are sensitive to ethylene, do you treat with STS? If so, make sure buyers and sales staff know, because your dianthus will outlast non-treated product by two weeks.

Finally, as you’ve heard at every marketing session at ASCFG conferences for the past twenty years, get your farm name on every bunch for recognition and reorder purposes. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the sleeve, the rubber band or a hang tag, make sure there is farm recognition to prompt repeat sales. Customers notice details that help them make the best choice and have success with products. They appreciate flowers that exceed their expectations. A long vase life develops confidence in the value of any flower product. Information builds trust. Trust is a key to “growing” loyal customers. Value wins repeat flower sales!