Overcoming The ‘Hours’ Dilemma

By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief, Produce Business

Many floral retailers have made a decision to trumpet the full-service capabilities of their departments. The primary dilemma posed is that the operating hours of a supermarket are often longer than can economically justify full staffing of a floral department.

Now, of course, independent floral shops are not open 24 hours either, but consumers know what their hours are and have come to accept their limitations. The problem for the full-service floral department in a supermarket is that during certain hours when the store is open, full service can be offered, but at other hours, the department is strictly self-service.

This can easily lead to confusion among consumers who will never be sure what services are available at that time. It can also lead to angry and disappointed customers who intentionally did not inconvenience themselves to go to a florist during the day but counted on picking up an arrangement at their supermarket’s floral department just before a hot date or a visit to grandma’s house.

There are at least three ways to resolve any problems caused by the “hours” dilemma:

(1) Set staff schedules properly. Too often hours are set just based on staff schedules or a “guesstimate” by management. Do an experiment in which you extend the hours of the full-service department and track carefully the sales results per hour. Don’t just assume that floral staffing won’t be profitable at certain times. To the extent you can extend floral service hours, you can increase sales and reduce the number of disappointed customers.

(2) Make off hours as productive as possible. Even when a full-service department isn’t staffed, it is usually kept open. Make sure that stock has been adequately developed so that most shoppers’ needs can be met even during off hours. Once again, research is important here. You need to have, at least on a test basis, people checking your floral departments during all hours so they can at least tell what you are running out of each night.

Another important point is to make sure that there is a definite person assigned to cover floral during hours when floral staff is not available. In other words, if anyone does ask for help, a night staffer should be able to quickly check that Mike Smith is covering for floral and page him.

Now Mike Smith has to be given at least some basic training. Perhaps he is not a floral pro like the regular staff, but he should be able to consult reference books made available to him and try to answer questions. At the very least, he should be able to advise the customer whom to call in the morning, who would know the answer. Finally, Mike Smith must have a job of checking the floral department on a regular schedule to ensure it is clean, orderly and attractive to customers.

(3) Be consistent in how your department is run. If you have a full-service department that is only full-service during certain hours, make sure your customers and other store employees are aware of that fact. In addition, the full-service hours must be clearly established and adhered to. Prominent signage in the department can indicate that “Our trained staff is available to create custom floral arrangements, consult on your wedding or special event floral needs and accept wire service orders from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM seven days a week. At all other times, the department is open for you to select your own pre-made bouquets, as well as select from our extensive selections of plants and cards.” A similar notice should appear on any advertising or brochures that highlight floral services.

Needless to say, training is yet a fourth component of an effective floral operation. Training has to cover everything from the proper attitude in dealing with customers, to product knowledge.

Even though employees may have important roles in stocking and occasionally in talking to customers, it is only in a few departments (deli, bakery and, of course, floral) where the employees actually serve as salespeople in addition to doing their specific job, be that slicing cheese, putting cookies in a box or preparing bouquets.

But in order for a full-service floral department to fulfill its potential, you need employees who are knowledgeable, articulate and persuasive. It means that when Mrs. Consumer comes in and says that she is angry because the plant she keeps in her sunny bay window died, you have to have a clerk who A) is listening to her, B) knows what won’t die in the sunshine and C) knows how to say it in a persuasive way; i.e., “Have you ever seen this plant here, we just got it in today. It’s so beautiful and it absolutely thrives in direct sunlight”.

Undoubtedly those mass marketers who have chosen to offer all the services possible are going to need people who can offer all the service required. This is simply going to mean a higher investment in training per employee than virtually any other department in the supermarket. To make this payoff, supermarkets will have to develop payment plans that will encourage people to make a career of supermarket floral. In fact, to keep people motivated and selling, some form of commission or profit sharing may have to be considered.

In the end, no amount of services will compensate for a staff that is non-existent, rude or ignorant. There is no excuse for keeping customers in the dark regarding operation hours of for having clerks dispense incorrect advice.