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Outlook 2014: Supermarket floral departments look to the future

In early 2013, Jon Strom, then vice president at Price Chopper Supermarkets in Schenectady, NY, predicted that we may be facing a “floral cliff.”

He said that the combination of the rising cost of labor, transportation and supplies in Colombia and the increased value of the peso had caused many small farms to go out of business, which reduced overall supply. Strom said to create a win-win situation for yourself by forming partnerships with suppliers in order to avoid the fiscal cliff.

He was spot on. Building long-term relationships with your growers is a necessity these days. If you did not reach out to your most reliable sources to secure quality product and stabilize the rising cost of goods, then you missed the mark. The economy today, while better than a year ago, is still sluggish and government approval ratings are at an all-time low. We will continue to face these factors and many others that are beyond our control, such as a dysfunctional government, the health care reform act, jobs and the economy.

As I write this, the House has passed a bipartisan budget bill to prevent further government shutdowns and it looks like the Senate has enough votes to do the same. If this happens it may change consumer confidence, but not overnight.

What does this mean for the supermarket floral business since flowers will likely still not have a place on the grocery list? It means our departments should be about the experience, great customer service, quality products and reasonable prices. We need to have many different price points to appeal to every person who walks into the store. Let the customer decide what their budget will allow and communicate the value of our products and our services.

My prediction for 2014 is that marketing will increase in importance for floral as we move forward, but not necessarily in a traditional ad. Our customers are busy and the traditional print medium is slowly becoming extinct. They are on the go and want information in a different way.

How do you provide this? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — you know the list and it changes every day.

So use it. Social media engages your current customer base, as well as an entire new generation of young consumers who use smartphones and tablets as their main conduit of information. Through social media we can communicate, educate and relay information about our industry and about our individual businesses. Daily, weekly or monthly posts or ideas will help build a relationship with your customers and enhance their shopping experience with you. This next year will bring us many of the same challenges from years past, but by embracing social media, I believe we can overcome these and grow our floral businesses.

Cindy Sulzman is assistant vice president for floral operations for Hy-Vee in Des Moines, IA. She can be contacted at csulzman@hy-vee.com.