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Brandi Cowen Selling Convenience

Be easy to do business with

Written by Brandi Cowen
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In a perfect world, every customer who bustled through your door would be eager to stop and smell the roses, as well as all the other fragrant flowers brightening your shop. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. Consumers are pressed for time and many take a “get-in and get-out” approach to shopping. Convenience is king and businesses that can deliver reign supreme.

At La Belle Fleur Floral Boutique in Surrey, B.C., the shop layout leaves lots of room for wheelchairs and baby carriages to manoeuvre.

This principle may be most obvious in the big chain grocery stores, where a shopper can pop in to pick up dinner, a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers and a new outfit on their way home from work. These retailers have built themselves up to be one-stop shopping destinations, and frazzled consumers have flocked through their doors.

 But chain stores don’t have a monopoly on convenience. Any business that takes the time to learn about its customers has the power to adapt in order to be easier to do business with. Convenience may mean aligning your hours of operation with when your customers want to shop, or opening your doors seven days a week.

At La Belle Fleur Floral Boutique in Surrey, B.C., a variety of ready-made cash-and-carry bouquets are always available for time-crunched customers to pick up on the go. Of course, staff are also always on hand to create while-you-wait custom designs. In order to encourage browsing, owner Tracy Bell says the store layout leaves plenty of room for wheelchairs and baby carriages to manoeuvre.

For staff at Props Floral Design in Halifax, convenience means making sure customers don’t forget important floral occasions. The shop offers a free service – targeted at men but available to women too – that reminds them about upcoming holidays such as Valentine’s Day, as well as personal milestones like anniversaries and birthdays.
Customers can sign up on Props’ website and customize their reminders, choosing the dates they’d like to send flowers for, and how far in advance they’d like to be notified about an upcoming occasion. The reminder may be delivered as either e-mail or a phone call.

“Once you sign up, we get the e-mails here. We print everything off and keep it in our orders drawer so we’re well aware of the orders,” says Ashley MacNeill, a partner at the shop. The requested reminder is kept on file for staff to follow up on as  per the customer’s’ instructions. The service is relatively new, but so far customer feedback has been positive. “They’ve been really excited about the feature because some men do forget about their wedding date or anniversary date.”

“I find a lot of people forget about little holidays. For Administrative Professionals day, we sent out a little e-mail blast to all of our customers as the date was coming up. A lot of people have called and thanked us because it’s one of those little holidays that slips by really easily.”

For Props, the reminder service offers convenience that works both ways. Customers appreciate the heads up that a special day is just around the corner, while staff appreciate the pre-orders the service tends to generate. The more Valentine’s Day orders they can book ahead of time, the better prepared they are to meet customer needs on the big day.

MacNeill says the shop also uses Facebook and Twitter to push reminders out to fans and followers who may not have signed up for the more personalized service yet.

Convenience through creativity
Back on the west coast, David and Kim Barritt deliver convenience by taking a flexible and creative approach to doing business. The owners of Salmon Arm Florist in Salmon Arm, B.C., serve a community boasting a year-round population of around 17,400. This figure spikes in the summer, when beaches, camping, and the longest wooden wharf in North America draw people to the area. The flower shop is a popular tourist stop, especially when the mercury soars. A European-inspired open concept design does away with coolers – the whole store is temperature controlled and kept at a cool 16 C. Flowers are distributed throughout the shop’s 800 square feet, encouraging customers to walk through and surround themselves with beautiful blooms.

 “Quite often we’ll get looky-lous and shoppers who have opened up the cabin for the weekend or are out visiting friends or family or are on a houseboat tour. They get pretty excited about our store, so they come in, they spend a few minutes and everybody’s oohing and aahing and they’ll buy something,” David says. “Through conversation and talking with our customers, we realize that they’re still on a bit of a walkabout. We’ll offer to keep the flowers here so they’re still cool and still hydrated. When [customers] are ready to head back to their residence, they can stop in and pick up their flowers.”

Floral purchases destined to spend a while on the road leave the store in a bucket. Flowers are well hydrated for the drive, and customers are advised to give each stem a good snip once they arrive at their destination.

Though seasonal walk-in traffic accounts for much of Salmon Arm Florist’s business, the Barritts also enjoy strong relationships with a pool of regular customers who drop by and phone or e-mail in orders throughout the year. For a select group of these regulars, the Barritts are beta-testing a text messaging order service.

The idea was inspired by a tech-savvy friend who texted in one day to say he would be in the neighbourhood that afternoon and would like to pick up a bouquet. “He’s very much a ‘I come in, I grab it, I leave,’ kind of person. He doesn’t linger for a long time,” says David. “We thought we’d peek into it because it’s kind of curious and it’s obviously the way the world is going with everybody texting.”

The Barritts switched their friend over to their work phone and told him to carry on texting when he needed something. They’ve slowly opened up the texting option to a small pool of close friends and regular clients.

“It’s a good thing because it’s a fairly immediate response from both of us, but we are finding certainly one or two little hiccups, the obvious one being how do you turn it off at five o’clock when you go home?” says David.

It’s a familiar challenge to most shop owners: there’s a delicate balance between what’s convenient for your customers and what’s unreasonably inconvenient for you as someone who’s trying to juggle running a business and making time for a personal life. To help keep their work-life balance in check, the Barritts make it clear that Salmon Arm Florist only accepts text orders during regular business hours.

“We don’t want somebody texting us at eight o’clock at night because they happen to think of it then,” Kim says. “We want it to be convenient to our customers, but convenient within certain parameters. Somebody else’s lack of planning is not our emergency.”

“We have a nine to five job, not a 24/7 job,” David adds.

There’s no denying that we live in a busy world. At the end of the day, most people agree that there simply aren’t enough hours to tackle all the items piling up on their to-do lists. If you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and identify ways to make doing business with your shop more convenient, you can be sure that “buy flowers from my local florist” will be one item that gets checked off every time.
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June-July 2012

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