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Reflections on a floral career: Supermarkets have strategic advantage

After 17 years in the floral business, I will be retiring from Price Chopper Supermarkets Aug. 1. Here is a brief reflection on my career in floral.

I began in sales and marketing at a traditional regional wholesaler. In nearly every industry, the wholesale segment is getting squeezed out or eliminated, and floral is no exception. I would say the biggest learning I gained in wholesale floral was about the conventional florist. If you look at the absolute number of florists, there has been a precipitous decline over the past two decades.

In most cases though, it is the smaller or very conservative florists who are going out of business. The stronger, forward-looking independent florists are still thriving and growing their businesses.

IFE-SEMINAR-Jon-Strom-PhotoJon StromThese florists either specialize in weddings, corporate work, or special events, or they run their shops for their customers’ needs, not for their own convenience. Many of them are buying direct or working with wholesalers who have formed ventures in South America to get closer to direct sourcing.

Then I worked for an Internet floral retailer. What the Internet floral retailer thrives on is “disintermediation,” a fancy word for cutting out the middle man. The advantage of direct-to-consumer Internet selling is that the product does not get rotated through the wholesale and retail warehouses and coolers. It arrives at the consumer’s doorstep much sooner after harvest than would a traditional bouquet or arrangement.

The Internet company I worked for, Proflowers.com, did an excellent job at this and was sold for nearly half a billion dollars.

When I arrived at Price Chopper, I knew from my experience that supermarket floral retailers have the best strategic advantage in the industry. Most do enough volume to buy in truckloads directly from Miami, and can partner with companies that actually own and run the farms. This gives the chains a pricing advantage, and also eliminates rotation through the wholesale network, so the product is high-quality and fresh.

The weakness of the Internet retailer is that the product leaves the cold chain as it is shipped via FedEx or UPS to the customer, whereas the supermarket can maintain the cold chain all the way up to selling it to the customer in-store or delivering it to the home or office.

I would suggest that all supermarket floral operations engage in the Internet, since then you have the strength of the purchasing power and the quality of the cold chain combined with the convenience and immediacy of selling on the Internet.

I had a varied career before I joined the floral industry, and I scoffed at the many industry insiders who said once you start in floral you never leave. Seventeen years later I must admit they were right. Right now I plan to take it easy for a while with a trip to Europe, but you may see me down the road at IFE or writing for this publication.

Jon Strom, vice president for new business development at Price Chopper Supermarkets in Schenectady, NY, is retiring Aug. 1. He joined Price Chopper in 2003 and became vice president for floral and lifestyle merchandising. Earlier, he was vice president at Seagroatt Floral Co. and director of retail sales at ProFlowers. Beginning Aug. 1, he can be contacted by email at rjonstrom@aol.com or by phone at 518/329-3919.