Originally printed in the Fall 2020 issue of Floral Business.
November and December are likely to be a wild ride for Floral, so merchandise for customer convenience.
This holiday season might not involve “over the river and through the woods” unless everyone in the sleigh is donning masks and has tested negative for the coronavirus. For months, retailers have been anticipating how to best provide the right flowers and plants for shoppers to purchase as holiday décor and gifts.
Those holiday shoppers, though, are not likely to be drawn in by the homey fragrance of mulled cider and nostalgic traditional carols pumped overhead through store speakers. Consumers with the spending power are likely to be snug at home waiting for grocery deliveries or lining up in their vehicles reinforcing the established curbside pickup craze.
Uncertainty hangs in the air as floral buyers guestimate consumer spending attitudes in November and December. But there is plenty of optimism. Brian Cox, director of floral at Caito Foods/SpartanNash in Indianapolis, IN, says, “We are planning on the continued increase in consumer demand. As the uncertainty of the pandemic remains – and the seasonal weather change forces customers back into their homes – we believe floral (especially seasonal staples such as hardy mums, Christmas greens, poinsettias, etc.) are vital to creating a sense of normalcy.”
Debbie Loche, floral buyer/merchandiser with Roche Bros. Supermarkets, a 21-store, family-owned company in Mansfield, MA, is looking forward to continued strong sales during fall and the holidays. “I’m planning some foliage promotions with lots of POP materials supporting the benefits of plants in the household. I’ve also increased pre-bookings for holiday plants 25% in anticipation of increased sales.” Discussing hindsight, Loche says had she known in advance about the length of the pandemic, she definitely would have pre-booked more product since so many floral department items sold out quickly.
Gelson’s Markets, a 27-store chain based in Los Angeles, has experienced strong floral department sales during most of the pandemic. Shoppers have enthusiastically purchased chic home décor items, including pillows, throws and large pots, according to Alice Grazziani, floral director. “We are going to have an extraordinary holiday. Customers did not go on long vacations this year so home will be more important. Family and friends are the most important parts in everyone’s lives, and having your home feel good includes flowers and plants.” In-tune with Gelson’s loyal floral customers who assertively shop online and in the stores, Grazziani has an extensive holiday line-up established for all price points.
Suppliers and growers are feeling the optimism as well. “Retail sales, for live goods especially, have experienced a significant spike throughout the pandemic. Our understanding is that retailers are expecting increased demand for live goods to continue throughout the holidays,” says Emaline Shatley, general manager with Carolina Fraser Fir Company in Mouth of Wilson, VA.
In business for 30 years, St. Louis grower Bill Byland, president of Micky’s Minis Flora Express, indicates he has heard concerns about availability of product. “No inventory shortages are expected here, but for buyers we strongly encourage early ordering,” says Byland. The company ships DSD anywhere in the continental United States, and Byland suggests that’s a winning solution for many retailers.
Don’t Skimp On Fall
Thanks to social distancing rules, parking-lot Pumpkin Patches are likely to be drive-thru events this year. Retailers can encourage patch purchases by hosting a pumpkin decorating contest. The idea is to engage store customers beyond the patch visit so they will be inspired to post photos of their decorated pumpkins using the store’s custom hashtags for social media posts. Retailers can keep the contest simple and offer store gift cards as prizes or tap an outside supplier as a partner and co-host.
Consumers are ready for a change of season. Celebrations are likely to be smaller, so offer a range of price points for gatherings of varying sizes.
Inventory seems to be tight across many categories, and several cut greens companies are encouraging orders to happen sooner, not later. Sales manager Corey Layman of Hiawatha Corp. in Shelton, WA, says, “Thanksgiving items are sold out. There is still room for more Christmas orders. We try to have any large orders for centerpieces in from major retailers or wholesalers by August.”
Layman says Hiawatha will often take orders well into September as the in-coming materials allow. “Wreaths, garlands and bulk greens orders come in right up until Thanksgiving and then even a few after that.”
Plan For Christmas Month
Retailers recognize, full-on Christmas decorating for many consumers starts immediately after Thanksgiving. The crystal ball tossed back and forth this year shows two scenarios that retailers have been contemplating: consumers holding back on holiday spending because of financial concerns, or families decorating and celebrating elaborately with money not spent for holiday vacations. The deprivation factor experienced during the lockdown days of the pandemic is predicted by experts to play a psychological role in consumer spending. Many retailers are banking on strong holiday sales.
In 2019, 26.2 million real Christmas trees were purchased in the United States. That figure includes the 6% of trees purchased online. Sales figures distributed by the National Christmas Tree Association in Littleton, CO, show 17% of the trees were sold from retail lots. This indeed might be the year of the real Christmas tree. Be prepared for consumers seeking comfort and joy during quick in-store trips in the forms of trees, greens, garlands, wreaths, and evergreen holiday bouquets. Work with vendors and request high-quality photos for customers ordering online and requesting curbside pickup.
Trees And Stands
Knowing your demographics will again prove helpful when ordering Christmas trees. Are customers living in apartments, condos and high-rise buildings? Are the nearby neighborhoods filled with homes that typically have front entrances decorated for the holidays? T.Jay Roland, regional manager of The Kirk Company in Wautoma, WI, suggests retailers consider adding to the Christmas tree display by offering smaller trees for families and individuals who want to celebrate in a more manageable way. Roland says the Kirk Elf Tree is ideal since the approximately 3-foot Christmas tree arrives ready to be sold as a grab-and-go item. Conveniently, the stand is attached to the miniature tree, and Roland indicates curbside pickups should go smoothly.
Whether online or in-store, another promotable feature with the mini version of the living room tree is that families can enter the code from the tree tag onto a special Kirk Company website where they will learn about the elf who grew their tree. Roland encourages retailers play up this engagement opportunity with colorful elf signage reminding consumers every tree has a story.
Christmas tree stands manufactured in America by Cinco Plastics in Houston remain popular with consumers because the stands are durable, convenient to store and easy to use. For retailers, the Made-in-the-U.S.A. factor can always be promoted for online orders and within store displays. The tree stands are shipped from Texas, which is especially attractive to retailers anticipating possible delays and shortages of holiday goods being shipped from China.
Wreaths And Greens
Since 2006, Pacific Tradeworks, a cut foliage and evergreen shipper based in Bremerton, WA, has supplied wholesalers with a wide variety of western floral greens and Christmas greens. The company ships ocean containers to Europe and Asia filled with floral greens sourced from the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.
“I love this industry and selling to people. We want to work with buyers who want to create something meaningful for their customers,” says owner, Mike Figliola.
Pre-orders are necessary for the wreaths, door swags and garlands. Figliola indicates the “Pacific Elegance” mixed wreath with cones is a consumer favorite and top seller. He anticipates consumers will want to bring the outdoors in this year and says the company has several ready-to-go items such as deluxe centerpieces and assorted natural cones from the forests.
Comforting home fragrances for relaxation have been strong sellers as well decorative candles and pillows.
Roland of The Kirk Company suggests retailers offer scented holiday pine cones in a net bag featuring about 10 cones. For simplified merchandising, he says the company’s shipper box has a useful perforated punch-out section, which makes it easy for customers to reach in and grab a net bag filled with scented pinecones. Roland indicates retailers appreciate the ease of creating a prominent display with the stackable boxes while keeping the scented pinecones contained and easily accessible.
Train The Curbside Teams
Handling flowers, plants, and gifts at curbside will require direction for store teams. Is the floral department stocked with carry-out gift bags for holiday plants and flowers? Now is the time for training and preparing easy-to-follow tip sheets on how to handle floral items during pickup.
“We sell a wide assortment of consumer bunches that are great grab-and-go items,” says Sara Keefer, marketing manager with Continental Floral Greens in Belfair, WA. Consumers can enhance these bunches with fresh flowers or enjoy as is.
“We have so many items that fit the ready-to-go niche that are good sellers,” says Layman of Hiawatha. The company’s Grab ’N Go Table Toppers are 3.5-inch pots filled with Noble fir, Cedar and dried naturals. Easy transport home is expected since these holiday arrangements are only about eight inches tall.