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Full Service Floral
Often Falls Short

Want to know why full service floral so often fails to realize its potential? How about because it is rarely full service?

The Jr. Pundit, Primo — aka William — turned six this past Friday and we had a shindig with all his friends on Sunday. The party was built around a Karaoke theme and the kids got to perform and receive DVDs of their performance. Mrs. Pundit took care of the extensive preparations that are involved when you invite 60 six-year-olds plus their siblings plus each one brings along at least one and sometimes two parents.

Almost everything was delivered except for a few items that the Pundit got the job of picking up at our hometown favorite grocer. Among these were a bunch of mylar and specialty balloons.

What actually happened was we bought all the balloons at the same supermarket during the week, but the store had no mechanism for holding them and having them blown up with helium and waiting for us to pick up right before the party.

So we were forced to buy the balloons early, then return to the store on Sunday and wait while they blew them up.

The store has a nice floral desk next to the greeting cards. But there was no one working at the desk. We hung around awhile and nobody came. There was no phone or other mechanism on the desk to call a clerk. So we went up to the service desk and explained our need. Next thing you know there was a public address announcement stating that “Help needed in floral. Produce should send someone to floral.”

We wondered in an age of cell phones, blackberries and beepers why the tranquility of the shoppers needed to be disturbed with our request, but thanked the service desk and went to wait in floral. Eventually an assistant produce manager showed up and apologized pointing out that floral was part of produce in this store, though it was the exact opposite corner of the store — floral is in the front right of the store and produce in the back left. He made his opinion that he wished floral had nothing to do with produce quite well known.

The fellow started blowing up balloons, which he had done before, but he got stumped when it came time to blow up some Mickey Mouse specialty balloons. These are life-size Mickey Mouse balloons that have weights on their feet so as to stand erect. They are complicated as one has to blow them up in several places and tape back various parts.

The store has no procedure to train personnel on these things, so our assistant produce manager struggled; he eventually called over the service manager who also had no training and they struggled together.

The three of us guys tried to figure this out and it was explained to me that the women, who typically work in floral, probably would know how to do it.

We sort of got it done — though we are not certain Mickey was really looking as spiffy as he should. It took a lot of time and cost the store more in staff time than they made selling the balloons.

Some questions raised:

  • A full service floral department should either be open or closed. One could put a sign on a department — the way Wal-Mart does on optometry or the way many stores do on pharmacy — with specific hours. But it is bad to pretend to offer a service whenever the store is open that the store is not prepared to actually offer.
  • We were trying to blow up these balloons on Sunday, which is typically one of the top days of the week for sales. Why wouldn’t this full service counter be staffed? It makes us think that the staffing is being driven by something other than consumer convenience. In fact, we would say that one of the great advantages of supermarket floral operations is that they are open on Sundays, evenings, holidays — when many floral shops are closed. These are precisely the opportunities for a supermarket to staff up and seize a competitive advantage.
  • Can’t we manage a telephone or intercom at a floral counter that one can pick up and get help?
  • If we are going to seize the attention of everyone in a store, shouldn’t it be for something more generally applicable than that produce should send someone to floral? Can’t we have our own silent communication network set up between our own staff?
  • If a new product comes in — be it a new exotic tasting mango from India or a new Mickey Mouse balloon — shouldn’t we introduce it to our staff and make sure they know how to do whatever they may be called upon to do with that product, such as answer questions or learn how to blow one up?

Due to the delays, we were running late. But the deli was all ready with our platters of chicken fingers and fresh fruit.

By the way, we actually find the kids prefer the chicken fingers from Whole Foods, but we specifically didn’t go there because we knew we had to pick up the balloons — so full service floral boosted the deli and produce business that day.

Bakery managed to incorrectly spell “Will” and when called on it, tried to fix it by picking the colored writing off the cake without actually refrosting the cake and then rewriting. Only an executive decision by the Pundit to write “WILL” in all capital letters allowed us to cover up the mistake.

Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association, and the Pundit recently had an exchange about floral in the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, and you can read it here.

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