On my last tour through the UK, I had a free afternoon and, upon seeing a big sign outside Marks and Spencer’s advertising afternoon tea with scones and triangle-cut sandwiches, I decided to treat myself. After standing in line for what seemed like forever to get my indulgence, I was informed that they do not in fact offer this service. I promptly had a fit, and went for the manager (Poor bugger!). By the time I was done removing the FOUR posters advertising this blatant LIE, he apologized and off I went, sadly with no tea or triangle sandwiches.

Who among us hasn’t gone into a store to get that little number in the window, only to find out that it’s either “display only” or “sold out”? Well, when this happens, we get a sour taste that cannot be washed away!  I was in an upscale mall looking for a smart frock for my David, when a lovely ensemble caught my eye in the window of a store that rhymes with “yuck.” In I trotted, only to be told (by a far too thin, over-processed, and clearly entitled young lady) that it was only for display AND that it would never begin to fit my body anyway. Well, all I can say is that she will not soon forget me.

 Both of these real-life experiences could have and should have been avoided. But we in the floral industry are just as guilty, so don’t sit there all smug and sure of yourself just yet! Be honest: Do you have an old Christmas cactus, African violet, or nearly dead orchid plant in your windowsill, hoping it will miraculously re-bloom and be a money-maker? Look, I know it happens. I have been in shops and yanked old plants from their displays, and won’t apologize for it. You get one chance at a first impression, so unless you run some sort of hospice for terminal plants, put unsellable product out of sight! Gosh, that annoys me.

 There are several different types of merchandising, but let’s talk about these specifically: functional, impact, impulse, social, and personal.

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Functional displays are those used daily, like how we display flowers in our fridges, and plants in the store. These displays must always look great, as this is generally where a lot of your income comes from. Cleanliness, filled buckets, and re-stocked shelves (even if it’s with decorative vases) are key to the success of functional displays. I HATE to hear, “I’m sorry for how it looks…blah blah blah…” because a) it shouldn’t ever look bare or sloppy (They never are without a full pot of coffee at Tim’s, so why leave an empty bucket in the fridge with crap all about?) and b) thanks for impressing the negative image in my mind. Real smart. Take the 14 seconds (time how long 14 seconds is) to pick up a leaf or run off with a bucket. It won’t kill you, honest, it won’t.

Impact merchandising stops you in your tracks and makes you want to venture in the store! (Like that smart jumper I wanted so badly at that friggin’ store…) Use displays to draw the eye to the spot where the action is! You know what is a great thing to have in your store to slow people? A mirror! Yup, we are a vain bunch and most all will stop and have a look in a mirror. Also, people tend to turn left, so “guide” your customers to a quieter area with displays and pathways.

Impulse merchandising is what we do at our counters, with cards and other small nifty things. People tend to buy a little more when offered add-ons at the end of their purchasing (like the chocolate bars and packs of gum at the grocery shops). This is a great way to sell all sorts of goodies that otherwise may be missed, so make room!

Make your social media arsenal a strong one, and you’ll see a lot of return with little effort! I’m forever posting photos of our store, our work, or special events we are involved in. (Did you see what I did for AIDS Nova Scotia?) I am often overwhelmed and thrilled at the response we get from this sort of merchandising.

One last thing I want to talk about. This can be a bit touchy, but it’s important. You know, you only get one chance at a first impression, so don’t mess it up. If you look like you should have a dabber in hand, waiting for the caller to shout “B-7,” then go to the bingo, and not to work. Wash your hair (if you’ve got it!) and wear something presentable so people will know you actually work at the store. Also, think about how you sound on the telephone, for goodness sake! I have called places and hear gum smacking, people with that “who cares?” attitude, and all sorts of atrocities. We are the best (and worst!) forms of merchandising out there, and often how we look or sound personally will determine the outcome before it even starts.


Neville MacKay
Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, WFC is the owner of My Mother's Bloomers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a design director with Smithers-Oasis North America. He designed flowers for the 1988 Winter Olympics, as well as a long list of celebrities including Glen Close, Sir Elton John, and members of the British Royal Family. MacKay appears regularly on Canadian TV and travels internationally giving presentations about the impact of flowers.

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