“Can I get your phone number?”
Attendees representing 19 different states (and the District of Columbia) with anywhere from two to 40-plus years of floral industry experience flocked to Farmington, Connecticut, near Hartford, for SAF’s Retail Growth Solutions.
That question might sound like a pick-up line, but it’s what you should be asking every customer, said Chicago-based retail expert Jim Dion, of Dionco, Inc., the keynote speaker at SAF’s Retail Growth Solutions, June 7-8, in Hartford, Conn.
And that’s because 80 percent of consumers who use the Internet own a smartphone. “Mobile is the way retailers must interact with their customers today and in the future or risk losing them forever” Dion said.
He urged the 87 floral industry professionals gathered for SAF’s 36-hour conference, underwritten by DV Flora and Hortica Insurance and Employee Benefits, to embrace progressive mobile-driven marketing tactics. One such tactic: geofencing, which involves creating a virtual fence around a specific geographic area, so when people physically enter it, they can receive an alert with a coupon (or other information) on their smartphone.
“All this time, I thought I was doing so well getting tons of email addresses,” said first-time attendee Cathy Seeliger, owner of Roses and Rice in East Quogue, New York. “I did not realize that [text] marketing is the direction retail is going. Now I know that cell phone numbers are so extremely important.”
“It makes sense,” said Melissa Mega, owner of Ivy Green in Washington, Pennsylvania, who continually witnesses her kids (ages 19 and 26) and her customers treating their smartphones like an extra appendage. “But putting numbers on this trend makes you pick your head up and say, ‘Now is the time to do it’.”
Dion’s mobile-marketing keynote was just the start of an information-packed day and a half.
Molly Meulenbroek, manager at Studley Flower Gardens in Rochester, New Hampshire, set a summer goal of revamping the shop’s website and signed up for Retail Growth Solutions specifically to hear SAF Chief Information Renato Sogueco’s presentation, E-commerce 2.0 and Beyond.
One of several statistics Sogueco shared that resonated with attendees: “You have eight seconds for someone to visit your website and decide whether or not they want to stay.” He told attendees to ditch the “artsy photos that make a statement and not the sale” and to instead focus on keeping content fresh.
Meulenbroek left the conference with a notebook full of ways to use inbound marketing tools (social media pages, blogs, reviews, etc.) to generate more website traffic, as well as tricks to turn that traffic into sales.
Accounting is not always the sexiest of topics, but Derrick P. Myers, CPA, CFP, PFCI, “made it fun” with his pirate-themed session, Treasure Hunt: Finding Your Hidden Profits, said Kathie Murphy, general manager of Blossom Flower Shops in Yonkers, N.Y. “He gave us useful tools to analyze our payroll and purchasing (categories).”
One common pattern at many shops, according to Myers: Fresh product arrives on Monday; and on Wednesday, there’s excess product in the cooler, so designers over-stuff designs on Thursday and Friday. The buyer sees a near-empty cooler on Friday and re-orders the same amount of product, and it all happens again the next week. It’s a vicious cycle that eats away at the bottom line. “You are much better off having a cooler full of dead flowers on a Friday night, so your buyer knows what to buy,” he said.
SAF CIO Renato Sogueco urged florists to get a Google Adwords Express account. “Find your name and bid on it,” he said. “Florists who do this say that for every dollar they spend to capture their name, they’re getting back three times that amount in revenue.”
Upon returning to her shop, Heaven Scent Design in Laconia, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, first-time attendee Elaine Hinchey immediately put to practice the strategies she picked up during Tim Huckabee’s CSI: Flower Shop — Live!, such as taking the card message first and upping her initial offering to the $75 to $150 range, rather than the $30 to $50 range she would typically suggest.
“I moved my average sale from $50 to $75, just by following Tim’s advice,” she said “That was a 50 percent increase in just one day — amazing!”
Nicki Argo, president of Mary Murray’s Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, appreciated hearing Tim Farrell, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, emphasize the importance of COGS and labor costs, which all too often play second fiddle to design during event work. Too-high labor costs can quickly eat into profits, Farrell said. “We as shop owners have to take charge,” Farrell said.
Some of Farrell’s “take charge” advice elicited some chair-squirming (and the occasional guilt-driven giggle): “No TVs in the design room. And designers cannot design and text at the same time. [They may tell you] it’s ‘just a minute,’ but a minute, 30 times a day, every day of the year? That’s a lot of lost productivity.”
Argo got the message. When a designer of Farrell’s caliber “focuses on the money aspect of the event and doesn’t labor over the AIFD side of the brain, you listen,” she said.
The formal sessions weren’t the only opportunities for attendees to pick up some new pointers. Many, including Sylvia Nichols, AIFD, PFCI, cited networking as a huge benefit of Retail Growth Solutions. “I always make a point of sitting at a different table for each meal or program when attending events like this, and I deliberately avoid visiting with my local florist friends,” said Nichols, a manager of Cheshire Nursery Florist in Cheshire, Connecticut, and volunteer director of the Connecticut Florists Association. “This gives me the chance to meet new people and learn from them.” After the convention, two of her new friends stopped in her shop for a quick tour on their way out of town.
Larry Malone, owner of Colonial Flowers in Millville, New Jersey, was grateful to see Teleflora representatives at the conference, because he had wanted to discuss some issues related to his website. “It was good to see them face-to-face,” he said. “I was probably going to cancel my website but now I plan on keeping it.” While there, he also asked “a ton of other florists” for website advice.
“If you show that you can put out work with creativity and gusto, the work will come to you,” said Tim Farrell, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, in his program, “RSVP to Profitable Parties.”
The conference’s location drew several attendees from New England and Mid-Atlantic region, but some florists traveled hundreds of miles to Hartford for an educational vacation. “It was a nice break from the 100-degree weather down here,” said Lily Chen, owner of Edgewood Flowers in Orlando, Fla. Just in her second year of her business, she hungers for all the advice she can get. “There’s so much we don’t understand, it’s great to hear the dos and don’ts,” from everyone there, she said.
Many attendees reported that they hit the ground running Tuesday, teaching their staff some of the marketing, sales, technology and financial lessons they learned. Mega has devoted this week to writing down her goals, benchmarks to measure them, and a schedule to help her stay on task.
“Following even a few of these tips will bring customers — I know it — but it’s easy to get caught up in the shop’s daily ‘to do list’ that you lose focus on the big picture,” she said. She’s adamant about adhering to her new schedule, she said, as “good intentions don’t make money.”
You are much better off having a cooler full of dead flowers on a Friday night, so your buyer knows they need to adjust next week’s order, than having an empty one because designers stuffed the extra flowers into arrangements,” said Derrick Myers.
“I can say that I want to send flowers to my mother, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize, and most shops are going to still offer me a $39.99 arrangement,” said Tim Huckabee, who mapped out how to navigate a more productive call.
It takes guts to volunteer your shop to receive a mystery shopper call – live, for the entire audience to hear — as attendee Patricia DaSilva of Purple Iris Flower Shop, Point Pleasant, N.J, can attest to.
A Supplier Showcase gave attendees the chance to connect with their suppliers, such as DV Flora, which was also an underwriter of SAF’s Retail Growth Solutions, and meet new ones.
Adam Manjuck of Flowers & Flowers Designs by Adam, in Darien, Connecticut, enjoyed the opportunity to soak in business strategies.
Anne Siu, of Abigail’s Flowers, traveled across the country, from San Francisco, to attend the conference.
Terri Krisavage of TK & Brown’s Flowers in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, shares her strategies for efficiently and effectively winning over potential bridal clients