Original Article (SAF)

3 Step Training Process for Better Sales

May27 SWU1a 300x200Have you ever tried to hold your coffee in the opposite hand? Doing so feels uncomfortable — if you try it, you’ll probably switch back to your default fast.

That sensation happens to your sales team, too, argues Bob Phibbs, in a recent column for his blog The Retail Doc. People are naturally inclined to do things the same way, over and over, he writes. If something feels novel — including an effective sales technique — they’re likely to ditch it the first chance they get and revert back to the comfortable.

That’s why it’s so important for retailers to focus on training year-round, he writes.

“Untrained employees are the bane of retail as they are left to their own devices,” he explains. They bring all their bad habits onto the selling floor … [And] it takes longer for an untrained employee to sell something than a trained employee because they are inefficient and passive when it comes to driving a sale.”

Here are Phibbs’ tips on how to create a year-round training protocol at your business, along with advice on what to focus on and how much time to dedicate to each area.


When to do it: As soon as an employee starts
Time commitment: 5-10 hours
Goal: “At its most basic, onboarding training needs to convey that when working in your store, the customer comes first,” Phibbs says. “This really is just a practical baseline teaching about how to open/close a register, how to ring a sale, how to ship, how to stock shelves, how to pick web orders, how they will be using mobile POS on tablets, etc.”
Common mistakes: Keep onboarding focused on those basic, must-know processes and principles. “The key to onboarding is to teach black and white, no gray,” he writes. “Exceptions can come later, but you only get one chance to say at the outset we do it this way. Don’t confuse it by including except when, or your new hire won’t be able to confidently know what they are supposed to do.”

Product Training

When to do it: Once an employee is finished with onboarding and as new products come in.
Time commitment: “Product-knowledge training of your top 25 products should take about 10 hours,” Phibbs says. “This would include knowing who this product is for and who it is not, what situations it is good for, competing products in the marketplace, and hands-on trial.”
Goal: Most customers today come into retail shops with extensive background knowledge of products. They could have jumped online to order that birthday arrangement. Instead, they are calling your store or coming inside, because they want expertise. “They are looking for someone who can compare and contrast other models or options, challenge the reasons they thought that one product was the best, and be able to upsell them to something they may not even have considered,” Phibbs says. “That hope is what drives brick and mortar retail sales.”
Common mistakes: Keep it simple and clear. Business owners forget to use technology in training — and videos, in particular, can be wonderful tools.  “Product training lends itself very well to videos, everything from unboxing videos on YouTube, to manufacturer videos on their website, to videos you make on your iPhone,” he says. “These training tools help demystify particularly complex products or features.”

Behavioral Training

When to do it: Consistently, year-round, with all employees
Time commitment: Endless — but don’t underestimate how helpful a five-minute refresher can be.
Goal: Behavioral training focuses on changing the behavior of your staff, to ultimately change the buying behavior of your customers. One example from Phibbs: Discouraging sales team members from asking questions such as, “Can I help you?” and “Are you looking for something in particular?” (conversations customers can shut down quickly with a terse, “no”) and coming up with open-ended alternatives.
Common mistakes: Never assume that once you’ve done sales training once (or twice or five times), it’s being universally applied. Check in frequently with staff meetings, workshops and quick reminders about new techniques and store procedures.

60 Percent of Florists Report Improved Sales on Mother’s Day


Data All 170531 2Predictions of a robust Mother’s Day proved to be on target for many florists. According to a post-holiday survey conducted by the Society of American Florists, about 60 percent of member florists saw increased sales this year. Roughly 20 percent said sales were about the same as 2016. Around 16 percent saw a drop.

Prior to Mother’s Day, about 27 percent of respondents were expecting sales to remain the same. A quarter predicted a modest rise of 1 to 5 percent and 20 percent hoped for sales gains of 6 to 10 percent.

Average purchase amount per transaction this year was almost $66. That’s up from last year’s survey ($64).


Q11 279x300Among those who saw a sales increase this year:

  • 26 percent saw sales rise 6-10 percent.
  • 21 percent saw sales rise 1-5 percent.
  • 14 percent saw sales rise 11-15 percent.
  • 13 percent saw sales rise 21 percent or more.
  • 9 percent saw sales rise 16-20 percent.

The top five factors for florists who experienced an increase in sales were increased shop advertising and promotion (39 percent); regional economy (36 percent); higher price points (33 percent); weather (29 percent) and fewer flower shops in the area (28 percent).

“We are finally back on track after eight years of stale sales,” wrote one respondent in Florida. “There is so much positive optimism now and clients are spending money.”

Another Sunshine State florist reported an equally sunny take.

“We were up in total sales 25 percent [and] our local deliveries were up 35 percent,” he wrote, adding the shop had recently transitioned to a new website (through BloomNation). “Orders started coming in three weeks before the holiday, but the printer was cranking them out big time starting Thursday …  I sold only two to three orders for our starting price of $60; everything else was for our average of $80 or more.”

Among those who saw a decrease:Q16 300x241

  • 25 percent saw sale dip by 1-5 percent.
  • 5 percent saw sale dip by 11-15 percent.
  • 5 percent saw sale dip by 21 percent or more.
  • 4 percent saw sale dip by 6-10 percent.
  • 3 percent saw sale dip by 16-20 percent.

The remaining 58 percent weren’t sure of the drop-off or said the question did not apply to them.

The top five factors for florists who saw a drop were competition from mass marketers/supermarkets (26 percent); competition from order-gatherers (22 percent); competition from other gifts/non-floral vendors (18 percent); regional economy (11 percent) and weather (7 percent).

“Worst [Mother’s Day] ever,” lamented one Maryland florist. “Getting product in on time and of good quality was a nightmare from the farm to the shipper, which caused the wholesaler to have problems getting to me. Sales were drastically down. I did even more promoting this year than before.”

Q14 300x159“Order-gatherers still hurt the floral industry badly,” wrote a florist in Indiana. “They promise delivery then can’t find a florist to deliver. This makes our industry look poor business people trying to capitalize on the emotion of Mother’s Day. All they do is cause people to want to spend their money on some other gift. “

Other highlights from the survey include:

Crunch Time. The end of the week proved to be the busiest for many florists, with respondents reporting on average that 27 percent of orders came in on Friday; 21 percent on Saturday; 19 percent on Thursday and 12 percent on Wednesday.

Cut Flower Kind of Day. Respondents on average said that cut flowers made up 78 percent of sales; flowering and green houseplants constituted 14 percent; outdoor bedding and garden plants, 10 percent.

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Call Me, Maybe. On average, 44 percent of Mother’s Day orders came in by phone; 21 percent by shop website and 21 percent from walk-in. About 17 percent were credited to wire services and order-gatherers.

Open for Business? More than half of respondents never cut off orders completely for the holiday. Twenty –three percent stopped accepting them Saturday; 11 percent on Sunday and 5 percent on Friday. About 31 percent of respondents never suspended incoming orders. About 24 percent did so on Friday and 23 percent cut them off on Saturday. Nine percent stop taking those orders on Sunday.

By the Numbers. Small town shops were more likely to report higher returns this year than the general survey sample. In fact, 75 percent of self-identified small-town businesses saw sales increase. In addition, 65 percent of businesses with less than $300,000 in annual sales saw an increase and 63 percent of businesses with $1 million-plus in annual sales saw a jump.


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Link to Original SAF Article.

March 2017 Show Re-Cap

As many of you may be aware, we had Neville MacKay CAFA PFCI at our facility on March 29th for a Spring Show that was focused on weddings. We have had Neville as our featured designer two times previous, once was a funeral show done in July of 2013, and the other time was a Fall & Christmas Design Show in October of 2014. So it’s been a good three years since we had the highly entertaining and highly skilled Neville here.



The show started at 7:00 PM and Neville injected his unique brand of funny into pretty much everything he did. He told about 10 jokes in a given 5 minute period, and even if you got only five of the ten jokes, you were still laughing uproariously 5 times. He also wowed our attendees with some really creative ways to use some of the flowers. Two things he did stood out for me. He hung amaryllis upside down, poured water into the stem and used the stem as a vase for another flower. That trick was pure genius. He also made topiary forms out of a few bunches of tree fern. And those things he cut them back with scissors to shape them as if he was a barber giving a teenager a crew cut. Many in the audience told us that these two ideas they got made their trip to our show that evening worth their while.


Sample of one of the tree fern topiaries



 Our attendance at the show was 154 people, which is a really fantastic number for us. Our previous show in Oct of 2016 was 148 people, and our 2016 Spring show had 121 people. So Neville’s show beat out ones from J. Schwanke and Kevin Ylvisaker. That’s pretty heady company!

We were pleased to award an Amazon Echo (Personal Assistant) to two different florists as part of our major giveaway for the evening. Flowers and Bridal Boutique, and Rose Petal Floral Design, both based coincidently in the Bronx were the big winners.




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We were so proud of our whole staff that worked hard for weeks getting ready for this show. Many of you may not realize what goes into getting ready. There’s massive amounts of phone calls to customers to promote the show. There is a lot of floor work by the stockers to get the supply department whipped into good looking shape. There is an AIFD designer hired a month previous (Bill Taylor) to spend a few days in our showroom setting up displays so you can see how some products can be used together in groupings. There is agonizing and handwringing about how much food to order, for we don’t want to have too little or too much left over (as it turned out our food estimating team hit it right on the button!). People cleaning floors, people testing sound systems, people setting up cut flower displays to wow the attendees, people checking in attendees when they arrive, people walking designs thru the crowd ala Vanna White.. A hearty thank you to our entire staff.


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Our growers were nice enough to send us samples to have on display


As many of you know, one of our show traditions is to auction off the live designs at the conclusion of the show.   Neville is an auctioneer in Canada for some charity events he is attached to, so it was a natural to have him bring his impressive brand of auctioneer babble to our event. As I was standing on stage with him watching the bidders make bids, they all seemed to be having a lot of fun, and everyone was smiling. It was a great end to the evening.

We usually hand out a list of the vendors at our show. People visit the vendor booths, get the vendor to initial this document, and then the papers are handed in to Hillcrest staff, and there is a drawing for free supply product. This March show, we were late in getting those vendor lists out to the attendees, and our guess is we missed a few people. So when it was time to do that drawing near the end of the evening, there were a few customers that were very annoyed with us. If you were one of those people that we missed getting a vendor list to, call me at 800-437-7000 and we can make some accommodation for you. Sorry about that. We are human, and sometimes mistakes happen.

Lastly, we want to thank Smithers-Oasis for sponsoring Neville MacKay. Smithers has a wonderful line of wedding and floral products. They really stepped up to the plate, and it was wonderful that they were willing to help underwrite this design show. I hope you can reward them in kind by asking for Smithers products when you place orders with our supply sales reps.





Musings from an Amateur Lobbyist at SAF’s Congressional Action Days in Washington DC

-Eric Levy

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Among the nearly 120 floral industry members who braved the snow for CAD: Oscar Fernandez, Equiflor/Rio Roses; Corrine Heck, Details Flowers; David and Pat Armellini, Armellini Express Lines; Sharon Roeser, Alex Atwood and (front and center, bent over) Liza Atwood, Fifty Flowers; Patricia and Glenn Sprich, Baisch & Skinner Wholesale; Jodi McShan, McShan Florist; Jamie Kitz, Sakata; Norman Northen, TMFA, and Diana Nordman, Texas State Florists Association, Mollie Meulenbroek, Studley Flower Gardens; Chris Drummond, AAF, Plaza Flowers; Susie and Nicole Palazzo, City Line Florist Inc.

I was at Congressional Action Days (CAD) in Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday (3/13-3/14). It was the most well attended CAD in about 10 years, 119 participants from 30 states. There were 30 first timers. That quantity of first timers for this event is staggering. I think this may be due to how much politics has been in the news lately. The major nor’easter/snowstorm whipped thru just as Congressional Action Days was heating up.

These were the issues we lobbied Congress on:

  1. Support comprehensive tax reform by simplifying the tax code and reducing rates, but excluding imported floral agricultural products from a border adjustment tax.
  2. Oppose stand-alone mandatory E-Verify legislation, including S.179, the “Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act,” which SAF’s Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney said would “cripple our agricultural economy.”
  3. Include a $250,000 increase for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative in their formal requests to the Appropriations Committees.

On Tuesday, the day we go to the Hill to lobby after a training day on Monday the Hill was on a 3 hour delayed opening due to the storm. (Is this High School?) We went up at 11:00 AM instead of 9:00 AM and we all had extremely good visits in the offices. The administrative assistants we met with, I think were less overwhelmed for the other lobbyists that would usually be there, took the day off. Or perhaps the Congressmen told all their assistants to be nicer to constituents. Paul Fowle my partner in the NJ contingent from Delaware Valley and I (and the rest of SAF) noticed a different tone in the offices today. It seemed like the assistants were more interested and engaged in our meetings. Taking notes and really being willing to see our position through.

SAF had some Washington type insiders/speakers give speeches during the entire two day CAD event. The first one was Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post. At the opening breakfast on Monday, he talked about the Trump victory, how it happened. The Democrats foisted a weak candidate on the country, and more votes drifted that way because of it. He also mentioned that perhaps the Democrats need to run an alternative candidate in 2020, somebody like Mark Cuban, as an example. He characterized how the electing of Trump was like a middle finger to Washington from US citizens. During the Q &A afterwards one person asked Mr. Cilliza what is going to happen to the Trump presidency. He said there are four possibilities….He could resign, he could be impeached, re-elected, or run again and lose.” He stated there was probably at this point a 25% chance for each of those four options.

We also had Jessica Summers, who works for a law firm that SAF employs, Paley Rothman. As an SAF member, we are allowed to call SAF for free legal advice, and quite often if we get a lawyer on the phone, it would be this woman, Jessica. She spent about 20 minutes talking about Tax Reform and the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax). The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. The rest of the world has lower tax rates for their corporations. What this does is it makes US companies more valuable for foreign entities to own. There was an estimate done, that if our tax rates were lower, 1,300 companies would not have left the US. A Prime example is Anheuser-Busch being bought by InBev. When a company is bought by a foreign entity, we lose some tax revenue and many jobs.

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Do not be intimidated,” said SAF’s Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney. “Congress relies on you for information. They want you to tell them about your business.”

SAF lost a longtime lobbying employee a few years back, (they still employ Shawn McBurney as a lobbyist) and rather than hire a second in-house lobbyist, SAF switched gears and hired a lobbying firm that also lobbies on the horticultural side. So there’s lots of synergy when those lobbyists visit a congressmen, they can talk the hort side and the cut flower side on the same visit. One representative from the lobbying firm that Paul and I got to know at CAD was Dr Joe Bischoff. He is a NJ guy, who has various degrees, including a PHD, from Rutgers. He now lives near Washington. He joined us on our visit to Josh Gottheimer, the newly elected House of Representative from NJ’s 5th District (where Scott Garrett roamed for many years before being deposed in Oct.). Joe thought it would be a good idea for Hillcrest Garden and his firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, and SAF to begin to build a relationship with Rep. Gottheimer, so we can lobby him frequently on SAF’s wants from Congress. Hillcrest Garden resides in Rep. Gottheimer’s district.

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Joe Bischoff, Ph.D., one of SAF’s lobbyists with Cornerstone Government Affairs, explained the ins and outs of Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative funding; CAD participants asked lawmakers on Tuesday to support a “modest” increase that would restore the fund to earlier levels. “[FNRI] is a partnership be industry, the academic community and the federal government,” he said. “We’re not just asking for money from the government. It’s about leveraging dollars.”


Great lobbying story: As we were waiting outside of Josh Gottheimer’s office, Joe Bischoff, Paul Fowle and I were talking about the e-verify system. For those of you that don’t know, e-verify is a computer system the government has built (that businesses are encouraged to use to vet new employees’ legal status). The only problem with e-verify is sometimes legal US citizens are flagged as illegal and illegal citizens are flagged as legal. It is riddled with errors. Joe was asked by Paul what dealings he had with Paul’s Delaware Valley NJ Congressman, Frank Lobiondo (NJ – 2nd District). Joe mentioned that he was in one meeting where Lobiondo (who normally does not want to be lenient on immigration) was talking about e-verify and he said that e-verify alone was not the way to go as far as Immigration Reform, due to the rampant error rate in the system. What struck me about this story was that Paul and I had been in Lobiondo’s office at least twice over the years, where we actually talked to Lobiondo about e-verify and its problems. So I’m sure our lobbying efforts helped build a base of knowledge of Rep. Lobiondo’s perspective on e-verify. Good job us!

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“We don’t have to be the experts,” Skip Paal, AAF, the head of Rutland Beard Floral Group in metro Baltimore, told the crowd. “Our stories matter.” Skip owns flower shops in NJ and Maryland.

Now For the Shameless Recruitment Effort: It would help the NJ contingent (at CAD) if we could get more floral companies helping with the lobbying effort, wholesaler, retailer, grower. If you know of a NJ or NY florist that seems even slightly interested in politics, or is passionate about the floral industry, pass that name along to me, Eric Levy, (201-599-3030) - I would like to approach that individual about taking part in future SAF Congressional Action Days events. There is money that you as an individual would have to spend on travel and hotels and registration to take part in the event, but if you are passionate about the floral industry, then the money would probably be secondary. There are some CAD attendees that do stay in other hotels to save money. SAF has a deal right now with the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, and that hotel can be pricey, even with the negotiated rate that SAF has. Unfortunately other area hotels are only slightly less pricey.

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In the news there’s hysteria that the BAT would make guacamole more expensive, but flower prices would also rise significantly.

Right now there are two scary issues on the horizon that SAF and the floral industry are concerned about. As part of Tax Reform, if the corporate tax rate for businesses is cut from 35% to 20%, then the provision that will help pay for all that lost tax income will be an item called the Border Adjustment Tax, or the BAT for short. Basically it taxes products coming in at the border. The BAT is not a good idea for the floral business, since we do so much importing. It could significantly raise the prices on flowers bought from Ecuador and Colombia. Wholesalers and retailers would all have to charge a lot more money for their flowers, and we may drive customers away to jewelry or chocolate or other gift sectors, if flowers become too pricey. The other scary issue is about trade. Right now we count on getting a lot of flowers from Ecuador and Colombia. If Trump ramps up tariffs to these countries that would affect our business adversely like the BAT would. In sum, this could mean higher prices on flowers from both the BAT and higher tariffs on top of the BAT, a double whammy. If you can, write a letter to your congressman that would help. I have requested SAF email me a sample letter, which I will pass along in a future blog post. The sample letter may only mention the BAT, since that is the hot topic right now Congress is debating. There are Republican Senators that are opposed to the BAT. That is the good news.

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Jim Carter, vice president of government affairs at Emerson, a diversified global manufacturing and technology company based in St. Louis, Missouri, and a tax reform adviser on the Trump Transition Team, briefed attendees on tax reform on Monday. “This administration is more attune to checking off campaign promises than others,” he said. Tax reform is something [President Trump] campaigned on. I would be shocked if we didn’t have something this year.”



SAF Women’s Day Video: Nearly 47,000 Views and Counting

Posted By: Mary Westbrook on: March 08, 2017In: Floral Industry News

A video promoting Women’s Day, celebrated March 8 each year, and the unique power of flowers to make women feel appreciated, loved and admired has been viewed almost 47,000 times.

The Society of American Florists’ 57-second Women’s Day video uses footage from the group’s recent Petal It Forward initiative to emphasize the obvious joy women feel when presented with an unexpected bouquet of flowers. SAF featured the video in several posts and tweets on its member and consumer social media channels and encouraged members to share the video with their social media followers. In addition, SAF used paid promotions on YouTube from March 2 to March 7 to communicate that message directly to key consumers.

“The YouTube promotion provided the opportunity to boost awareness of Women’s Day and flowers beyond our followers, and reach thousands of consumers with the positive flower message,” said Jennifer Sparks, SAF’s vice president of marketing.


Vermont Teddy Bear Company to SAF: ‘You Won’t Hear Those Ads Again’


Posted By: Mary Westbrook on: February 15, 2017In: Floral Industry News




The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, which has relied on disparaging flowers in its advertisements since the ‘90s, recently told SAF, “Let’s bury the hatchett.”

The floral industry scored a major win last week in its efforts to combat negative floral advertisements and references around the holidays.

For more than 20 years, florists have been frustrated and annoyed by Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s (VTBC) marketing, which repeatedly disparages flowers. The Society of American Florists has reached out to the company dozens of times, urging them to reconsider their approach, only to be ignored or rebuffed — until now.

After receiving an email from SAF that addressed the floral industry’s concern’s with VTBC’s negative approach and this year’s commercial in particular, which showed dead flowers in a vase, CEO Bill Shouldice replied on Feb. 8: “I hear you loud and clear.”

The next day, in a follow-up phone conversation with Jenny Scala, SAF’s director of marketing and communications, Shouldice, who took over as CEO four years ago, said, “If I could pull the ads now, I would but they’re already scheduled and paid for, but you can bet you won’t hear those ads again next Valentine’s Day.”

The shift represents a remarkable turnaround from a company that has disparaged flowers at varying levels in their advertisements since the ’90s, said Scala.

“There were certain years that the negativity would be relatively tame but then the blatant disparagement would flare back up again,” she said. “SAF has reached out to VTBC’s marketing department every year, sending emails, faxes, letters and phone calls, trying to get to the right person to listen to the floral industry’s point of view.”

Therein lies “half the battle” of fighting negative publicity, Scala said. Finding a contact at the company who’s most likely to be receptive to SAF’s message isn’t easy. “Ideally, we like to go beyond a general email address and connect with the individual responsible for the marketing campaign,” said Scala. Marketing representatives at VTBC have stood firm behind their approach over the years, Scala said, and information on how to connect directly with the the company’s CEO proved elusive — until this year, when Scala was able to send her concerns directly to Shouldice. In an email, Scala wrote: “Your products make wonderful gifts, as are flowers, or any other gift that is the perfect fit for the recipient. Shouldn’t we let the consumer decide? On behalf of thousands of small businesses in the floral industry, we respectfully request that you rethink negative promotions and focus on the many merits of your products rather than disparaging other industries. Keeping things positive reflects well on all involved.”

Shouldice took over as CEO in January 2013. Prior to that, he was CEO of the family-owned Vermont Country Store and Commerce Secretary of Vermont under Governor Howard Dean.

During their Feb. 9 conversation, Scala asked Shouldice why the change of heart. Shouldice’s answer: SAF’s email said it best.

“We have the world’s greatest bears, and we should be promoting our merits,” Should said. “Let’s bury the hatchet, and move forward.”

VTBC is the largest seller of teddy bears by  mail order and  Internet. The company produces an estimated 300,000 teddy bears each year.