The next normal is said to be around the corner, and strategic retailers will provide joyful items in Floral to help consumers transition from deprivation to celebration.
Social distancing most likely will continue for a while as communities continue efforts to flatten the curve during the pandemic. As Stay-Home directives are cautiously lifted, retailers are trying to formulate business strategies for the next stage of normal. Early discussions have focused on reducing SKUs. Plenty of scenarios anticipating shopping patterns and consumer spending have been anxiously contemplated.
With all of the uncertainty in today’s environment, one element retailers are counting on is that after being unprecedently locked down for more than a month, people are ready to celebrate all types of occasions.
As consumers shift to summer, still saluting first responders and feeling hopeful for opportunities of human connection, varying bits of inspiration will be needed to feed the attitude of gratitude. That’s where Floral steps up and provides what it has traditionally offered, but can now be called the “new necessary” — essential items for gift-giving, health and wellness, selfcare, and celebrations.
Consumers might go wild with spending as they emerge from deprivation mode. For some, the lock-down was a time of reflection and, for many, the time was plain dreary. With the unsteady financial environment, retailers will want to offer varying price points on floral gifts and bouquets. Enable shoppers to conveniently purchase from Floral, which amounts to offering grab-and-go items suitable for quick in-store trips and buying missions performed by shopping crews.
Merchandising still plays a role as consumers deserve to be visually pleased. Display efforts will work toward granting shoppers permission to enjoy the beautiful. For consumers who missed experiencing spring blossoms and are wanting to surround themselves with the outdoors, give them permission to enjoy what they missed.
PROMOTE WELLNESS MESSAGE
The message about the health and wellness benefits flowers and plants provide is seen by more than 90 million homes on Public Television and Create TV through the show J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom, which is presented and distributed by American Public Television. After experiencing a committed welcome the first year, the show, now in its second season, is focusing on health and wellness. J Schwanke, creator and host, is jubilant the show has been so well received by viewers of all ages.
“I’m thrilled to have created this platform — Life In Bloom — to really engage the general public about flowers and all of the good they can do, and to encourage them to experience and enjoy flowers,” explains Schwanke.
“We do have signs in the stores now pointing out the benefits of having flowers and plants in the home,” says Debbie Loche, floral buyer / merchandiser with Roche Bros., a 17-store operation based in Wellesley, MA. During the beginning of the pandemic, store hours were reduced but flowers were sold through Passover and Easter. Loche is optimistic about sales increasing, especially as customers turn to the floral department to brighten up their spirits.
FLOAT BALLOONS IN-STORE AND ONLINE
Balloon sales are reported to typically range between 7-10% of floral department sales. During March and April when in-store purchases were mostly related to necessary food items and paper goods, balloon purchases drastically declined. Many in the industry agree the only good news with that drop is retailers are not likely to face helium shortages this summer. Low demand during the spring is expected to equal no helium shortage in the coming months.
Elissa Mast, chief executive officer of E & R Sales Inc., Midlothian, VA, says communication has been especially vital during the pandemic as various industry segments have discussed ways to keep balloon sales going. “COVID-19 brought challenges we’ve never faced before. Spending time on phone calls and Zoom meetings connecting with colleagues and customers provided calmness and clarity on how to keep our balloon industry moving forward,” explains Mast. She says the good news from her conversations with key accounts is those that are able to float balloons are selling them.
“One of our larger supermarket clients recently shared that although Easter floral sales were down almost 50%, Easter balloon sales were only down 17%. And, since we had been hearing several weeks ago that balloon sales were down 40 to 50% each week, learning this retailer was only down 17% — well, that feedback was fabulous,” says Mast. She adds, “And, in the weeks since Easter, balloon sales are rebounding to higher sales than this same period last year.”
As store traffic evens out, Mast reminds retailers it is important to resume the basics. Mast encourages retailers to inflate balloons, present at least a small display and merchandise them ready-to-go. “If balloons are floating in your supermarket, consumers will grab them. We have seen nice incremental business with our Stronger Together balloon offering.”
As social distancing efforts continue, strategic-minded retailers are evaluating best practices to fuel digital sales. Floral should not be forgotten in this effort especially since consumers are eager to celebrate. “Make sure to also offer balloons online so your customers can add them to their order or at least know you have them for later celebrations during the summer,” encourages Mast. “These celebrations are going to happen, and retailers that have prepared to provide a bit of joy through balloons will be satisfied they were forward thinkers.” She says her company offers digital photos of products so retailers can easily post the images on the store website.
Jennifer Manzella, marketing director of Balloons Are Everywhere Inc., Fairhope, AL, also encourages retailers to prepare for balloon sales. “We’re urging retailers to make sure they are offering already inflated balloons and items that can be filled with air at home. Everyone is trying to limit exposure, so it is important to offer as many self-serve items as possible.”
As stay-at-home orders are lifted, Manzella says retailers should definitely be ready for a boom in make-up birthday parties and even late graduation ceremonies. “We’ve heard of many schools tentatively rescheduling their graduations for later in the summer. Parents who weren’t able to throw birthday parties for their children or graduation parties for their seniors are looking for ways to make these events extra special at home.”
For retailers managing shifting labor teams and possibly concerned about employees untrained with helium, Manzella indicates the company has a solution. “Many balloons are now being manufactured with built-in hang tabs so they are easy to hang from a wall or ceiling without the need for helium.”
Social media posts showing homemade Thank You signs in recognition of community heroes have been popular. Manzella says, “People are definitely looking for ways to encourage first responders and medical staff and to thank them for making such a sacrifice. We’ve seen much higher sales for National Nurse’s Day this year.”