Rising To The Occasion

5 Bad Habits to Ditch for the New Year

By Tim Huckabee, FSC

The number of retail flower shops operating in North America today is a fraction of what it was 10 years ago, while the population, and its buying power, has steadily increased. What gives?

Yes, I’ve heard all the common answers: the Internet, grocery stores, wire services, order gatherers, direct shippers, deceptive advertisers, “in lieu of flowers …” obituaries, the lady on the corner selling from a shopping cart, etc.

None of these is solely responsible for the industry’s demise. Rather, it’s a toxic combination of many challenges and bad attitudes in response. With some fresh thinking, though, we can turn things around.

From my 20 years of visiting flower shops all around the world, I’ve seen certain habits and philosophies over and over, regardless of the store’s size, location, or age. Let’s break some of them down and vow to eliminate them in 2018.

1. ASKING CUSTOMERS HOW MUCH THEY WANT TO SPEND

Can you imagine a waiter or a car salesman opening with, “How much do you want to spend?” Of course not! So why do florists? Take a step back, and think about what’s going on. Your customer just found out that someone in her life just got a promotion/new home/fiancé/baby or some other emotional experience. Rather than connecting with the customer and offering something special, we awkwardly ask for money. This takes the customer’s focus off her special needs and forces her to choose a random price out of thin air. Customers typically sputter back with a response like, “Uh, I don’t know. Is $50 enough?” And then you’re locked into that price. This sets the bar so horribly low.

Instead, suggest an appropriately priced item, based on the customer’s needs, and she will let you know if she wants to spend less (or, sometimes, more). Start by taking the card message. Use this info to answer these questions: 

What is the customer celebrating?

What is the relationship between the sender and recipient?

How many names are listed on the message?

 

Then share your advice: “To celebrate such a big occasion, I recommend one of our beautiful large vase arrangements filled with bright spring flowers and priced from $100 to $125.” The worst that can happen is the customer asks for something less grand. I promise you won’t lose the sale.

2. ACRIMONY WITH GROCERY STORES

Competing with supermarkets on price is a David and Goliath battle not even worth waging. Instead of worrying about something you can’t change, focus on excelling where you can, by offering superior design and service. When customers comment, “I saw these for half this price at Superstore,” say, “I don’t know how they price their items, but we carry only florist quality flowers that we will professionally design and hand deliver for you, happily. Thanks for choosing to call/visit us!”

Don’t apologize for your prices. Doing so only feeds the customer misconception that you’re simply overcharging for the same product that supermarkets offer.

Instead, educate your customers about distinguishing factors other than price, and grab the sale. Remember, you’re a creative source and it’s totally appropriate to let customers pay a premium for your talent. In other words, make your poinsettia or red roses look more special than your competition, and customers will pay for the upgraded option. Remember, they came to you after visiting the grocery store.

3. RESISTING TECHNOLOGY

Have you ordered takeout lately? Every time I do, the restaurant instantly knows it’s me, where I live, and what I want. They’re clearly using technology to make a quicker, easier, and bigger sale.

Do your employees know where to find a customer’s average sale? Ditto for being able to quickly find and duplicate an old order.

Even worse: taking orders on paper and then transferring them into the POS system later. That is as illogical as delivering the flowers in the morning and then sending your driver back with the card in the afternoon.

Customers expect us to use technology — to remind them what they sent before, to confirm a delivery address, to email a copy of the order. If you’re not operating that way, you’re wasting time, increasing chances for mistakes, and underwhelming customers with your 1997 pen-and-paper experience.

Learn your system! It’s that simple. Whether you have a legacy system from a wire service or a new web-based program, you need to understand it. Reach out to your vendor and demand more education, whether it’s over the phone, via a webinar, or in person. You and your team need to know all the tools your technology has beyond the order-entry fundamentals.

4. LETTING SALES DRIVE DESIGN

I have seen this odd dynamic at play in nearly every flower shop I have visited since 1997. The intention is noble. We want to help customers choose their special design — but the approach is upside-down. We ask customers, “What’s her favourite flower?” There are huge problems in that approach, starting with the fact that most customers don’t know a chrysanthemum from a calla and stumble through their responses. For the record, when I’m doing a test call and get asked that question, I respond, “She loves lily-of-the-valley!” Of course, the inevitable answer is, “We can’t get those flowers.” So why ask customers a question they probably cannot answer? Worse still, why ask a question that is likely to be countered with, “Don’t have that. Can’t get those. They’re out of season.” Why set yourself up to have to let down your customers?

Or, let’s say you’re determined not to disappoint the customer, so you special-order one bunch of lily of the valley, pay the delivery fee, hold up your driver as the pack is opened so your designer can add three stems to the arrangement, and then watch the remaining stems die a slow death in the back of the cooler!

The smarter strategy is to sell what you have, letting design drive sales.

Here is the foundation of the FloralStrategies methodology: Sell by colour schemes and speak in a language that customers understand. For example, ask your next customer, “What’s your wife’s favorite colour?” And he may say yellow. Chances are that you have some yellow flowers in your cooler. You may be able to move out some extra product that way. Another take on that concept is to tell customers what you have. Try, “We are featuring flowers in a deep autumn palette now.” Customers know what those colours are and selling this way enables your designers to use what’s in your cooler. Your store will instantly become more efficient and profitable.

5. COMPLAINING ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Customers can be a challenge, but we’re professionals and can handle the bride who wants a cascading bouquet of garden roses, anemones, and ranunculus tomorrow for $100, right? She might set you over the edge, but please think before ranting about her on social media. Of course, you are entitled to vent and share your experiences, but hear me out.

I have been taking flower orders since 1993, so I know the kind of absurd questions, comments, and requests you get. But when you start ridiculing customers on social media, you do damage to the industry. You never know who is reading your posts. It could even be customers themselves. How does that make us look?

I am also concerned about someone who’s considering entering the industry landing in a Facebook group where they read countless condemnations of “idiot customers” and shoppers who are “out of their minds.” I’m sure the last thing you want to do is to discourage “new blood” from entering the industry because their perception has been tainted by what they read online. Furthermore, I have never seen mechanics or plumbers belittling their customers online or moaning about not making any money on an order or transaction. Florists seem to be particularly vocal about spewing venom online.

You are creative, experienced, and competent enough to deal with any drama that may accompany ordering flowers, so why not share how you handle those customers instead of complaining about them?

Let’s compare:

“A Kate Middleton wannabe came in yesterday and asked for a lily-of-the-valley bouquet for this wedding this weekend…for $150!!! Are you kidding me?!”

“I had a bride come in yesterday who wanted a $150 all-lily-of-the-valley bouquet for her wedding this weekend! Frustrating, yes, but I just took a deep breath and complimented her on her great taste in flowers. Then I talked about the obstacles of pricing and availability of working with lily-of-the-valley. Luckily, I had some white freesia and cream alstroemeria to show her as an alternative, and I suggested a satin handle wrap with pins for luxury look. She loved it and promised to rave about us on Facebook.”

Please think before you post and use social media to inspire our industry, not tear it down!

But wait—there’s more! Stay tuned for the January/February issue for more tips on breaking bad habits.

 

Tim Huckabee on Facebook
Tim Huckabee
Tim Huckabee AIFSE was born, raised and educated in Connecticut and moved to New York City in 1993 to start working at a high-end flower shop called Surroundings, where he learned every aspect of the flower business such as handling telephone sales and customer service issues and dealing with walk-in customers. In his frequent conversations with florists, he realized there was a dire lack of sales and service education in the industry. That motivated him, in 1997, to launch FloralStrategies, a company that trains florists in sales, customer service, and how to get the most out of their POS system. He visits 250 shops annually, hosts a monthly webinar series, speaks at floral conventions, and writes a monthly column for the Society of American Florists.
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