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Helping floral sales grow: as supermarkets place more emphasis on floral departments, the need for specialized merchandising equipment has caused case manufacturers to think beyond standard-sized mixed bouquets.

Floral sales are growing like wildflowers in supermarkets. But unlike wildflowers, operators are very particular as to just where flowers and plants are displayed and what they are displayed in. The old coleslaw tub filled with water that stood on an upended milk crate in the corner of the produce section is no longer an adequate or desirable manner in which to merchandise these high-margin products.




As floral departments grow, retailers are growing much more sophisticated in the way they approach the merchandising within the section. Two developments in the last three years have greatly influenced the way refrigerated floral display cases are being designed. As floral departments in supermarkets began to expand and consumers became accustomed to purchasing fresh flowers in the supermarket, retailers became more adventurous in the way they stocked the department.

"There has been a significant change in the variety of products being displayed," says Mike Wetzel, president of North Syracuse, N.Y.-based Floratech. "Back in the mid-1990s, it was pretty much all the same thing--mixed bouquets and small roses--pretty standard stuff. The majority of the bouquets were coming in ready-made. Now I see more variety and higher-quality products with higher price points in the supermarkets and much more exotic, taller, shorter, fatter products. It's had a significant impact on the equipment because historically, the cases were designed around merchandising standard products. That's no longer true in floral. This means that we have to come up with merchandising solutions for an array of products that we've never seen in the supermarket before. That's a real challenge."

The other trend that's affected the design of merchandisers is the movement of the floral departments toward the front of the supermarket. Traditionally, floral had been an offshoot of the produce department and was relegated to a case or two in a corner of that section. Today, retailers are making floral a separate department and often moving it up to the front of the store to take advantage of the product's visual impact on impulse sales.


"Most of the supermarkets are going to the bigger cases or a variety of cases," says Jim Huebner, marketing director of North Prairie. Wis.-based Zero Zone Inc. "Retailers are developing a full department within the store that's dedicated to floral. There's big profits in floral, so some of the wholesalers are really trying to push their retailers to expand their floral offerings. Because the profits are so significant in this area, wholesalers are urging retailers to take full advantage of the department."

Huebner sees the need for floral cases growing in two separate directions at the same time. While the increase in the size of the floral department has made retailers look for bigger cases capable of merchandising a wide variety of flowers, other operators are requesting smaller cases. Zero Zone has developed a new one-door floral cooler for retailers that are just getting into the floral category. "Some customers are looking for the bigger cases, but recently we've been selling more of the one-door floral merchandisers. Wal-Mart has been looking for these cases, and they have been more single-door units," says Huebner.

Mcanwhile, some smaller retailers that have never set up floral sections due to the limited availability of space in their stores have begun to order small floral merchandisers as a way to get their foot in the floral door. "We're seeing a growing number of smaller stores that are served by wholesalers getting into floral for the first time, and they are using very small merchandisers to get started," says Bill Carlson, vice president of marketing for Des Moines, Iowa-based Borgen Systems. "Once the floral department has been established, we're finding most of these stores will expand it. It's definitely being used as an attraction piece into the store."

Borgen Systems has introduced Floral Express, which is a mobile merchandiser that has both refrigerated and non-refrigerated sections. Floral Express can be moved on wheels throughout the store and draws power from any 110-volt outlet. The company has also released a very small hexagonal open island case, as well as a small, mobile back-to-back case. These new models from Borgen take advantage of the need for smaller cases but also accommodate the operator's desire to be able to bring floral products to shoppers in various locations around the store. This is especially true of the checkout area, where small cases can greatly enhance impulse sales.

"We've seen operators move [floral] right in front of the checkout so it becomes visible as the customer walks in, but at the same time it's one of the last things the shopper passes on her way to the checkout," says Carlson.

Many other case manufacturers are bringing out smaller floral merchandisers as well. For example, Columbus, Ga-based Kysor-Warren has two models of single-door cases available. The D6S1 and the D6S3 are both self-sufficient refrigerated cases that move easily around the store. They provide an ideal refrigerated air velocity to keep even the most delicate flowers perfectly. According to Wetzel, Floratech introduced a unit about a year and a half ago that was specifically designed for use in the checkout so patrons could reach for fresh flowers at the last moment before their shopping trip was finished.

Zero Zone has recently introduced a line of open-front floral merchandisers--the OMC, which is available in 3-, 4- and 6-foot lengths. The OMC includes fully adaptable shelving and floral buckets for a wide variety of products and display options. A lighted sign canopy aims to stimulate impulse sales. Another important case feature is commercial-grade casters, which allow for display mobility and easy cleaning in this cost-competitive line of merchandisers. "One of the biggest improvements to floral merchandising is in the lighting," says Huebner. "Lighting is what makes the flowers look as vibrant and inviting as possible."

Adaptable shelves and bucket arrays are becoming much more important in floral merchandising as the range of products and product size increases. The one-size-fits-all merchandising solutions no longer work in supermarket floral sections. Floratech has retooled its Wall of Color Cooler, which encompasses a full vertical wall. "The racking system that we've developed in there has four levels of adjustability," says Wetzel. "You can move the whole racking system up or down, tip the system from flat to a 30-degree angle, you can adjust for the number of buckets per row by sliding the racks side to side, and you can stagger the rows to allow for better product visibility."


While no one merchandising solution is right for all flower types, it also seems that no one type of case is correct to fill out a whole floral department. The trend seems to have retailers employing different merchandising solutions in a large floral department to accommodate the different types of products and make an impressive display. This type of setup includes merchandisers of different heights, sometimes creating a cascading effect, and the use of both door and open cases.

Keosauqua, Iowa-based Barker Company has developed a floral merchandising system with several different styles of cases that can be combined to create a uniquely designed floral section. The NFT Series door cases can be used to form a back drop wall, which can then be complimented by the company's FT Series island merchandiser, which is an open case. For retailers that want the wall of flowers look but don't want to use door merchandisers, the company offers the F Series multi-tier open cases.


"We're also seeing more people taking an interest in how their floral departments interact with the rest of the store," says Carlson. "In the past, a lot of people just left the floral department over in the corner, and it didn't fit into the overall design flow of the store. That's changing. People are taking a look at how they can use the floral department to impact the overall shopping experience once the shopper comes in the door. All manufacturers offer customized case colors and looks, but one change is that the retailers are asking us to become involved with their design process much earlier in the planning stages. That's a nice change because we can save people a considerable amount of money when they think about remodeling."

One product innovation that Borgen has developed is a simpler fresh-water exchange unit. While the company had been making a water exchange unit for several years, the new model is easier to operate and more reliable so that the water can be exchanged on a daily basis if the operator desires.
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Author:Litwak, David
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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