Restoring a sense of normalcy to the floral industry is a major goal for many leaders across the space in 2021, although opinions vary about what that will mean on a small and large scale. As part of Floral Connect, we’ve explored how COVID-19 has compelled changes, but as companies return to “normal”, how are buyers and sellers adapting to situations that continue to evolve? These are just some of the questions that major chains like King Kullen are working through on every level.
King Kullen has a history that includes the creation of America’s first supermarket, which makes the efforts that the organization has gone through when it comes to evolving with the needs of their customers especially notable. As a small example of what this has meant, King Kullen stores boast fresh flower shops for fresh cut flowers, large delis, catering and prepared foods department as well as pharmacies with online refills. Those pharmacies have been actively partnering with both state and federal agencies to bring the Covid-19 vaccine to customers and patients in their areas.
As the Floral Specialist/Buyer for King Kullen, Holly Litts has seen how many of these elements have evolved over the past few years. To best prepare for the next edition of the International Floriculture Expo (IFE), we talked with her about how she’s seen things change in the midst of the pandemic but also discussed what it will mean to get together at live events in 2021, how the floral market as a whole has changed, what advice she has for anyone looking to stay relevant in the industry, and much more.
Jeremiah Karpowicz: Can you tell us a little bit about your role at King Kullen and the incredible legacy that the stores have cultivated for over 85 years?
Holly Litts: I am the Floral Specialist/Buyer for King Kullen, we have 29 stores all located on Long Island, NY. In addition to purchasing all of the floral products, I also supervise all of the associates that run the floral departments, plus visit the stores to speak with them and make sure they are doing the right thing and help out any way I can (sometimes physical help packing out, sometimes just moral support!).
King Kullen prides itself on exceptional customer service, clean stores, high-quality products. The upper management associates, right up to the presidents of the company, are visiting the stores almost every day. Everybody knows everybody!
What are some of your most important lessons learned when it comes to the products, palettes, arrangements, etc. that most resonate with your audience?
I have learned that no two of my floral departments are the same! Our stores vary in size, I have some self-serve departments manned by part-time associates, and I have some full-serve departments with a design counter and a full-time associate.
I have worked hard to learn the clientele of each store and narrow down exactly what it is that the customer is looking for. I really listen to my associates requests because they are the ones that are face to face with the customers every day, selling the product.
Are there any favorite stories you can share about how or where a product that was purchased in the floral department at King Kullen has made an impact for someone?
A couple of months after I started this job, a store had a special order for a bunch of potted orchids that the customer wanted to use as centerpieces for her wedding. I spent a lot of time coordinating that order, making sure that everything was perfect and that it was delivered to the correct store at the right time. I was there to receive the order and I drove it to an aquarium nearby where the reception was taking place, and set everything up myself. The customer emailed me a few days later thanking me and letting me know how happy she was with how it turned out.
I still have that email on my bulletin board at the office!
Would you say that COVID re-invented the floral category? If not, in what ways has it changed things, for better or worse?
I think that COVID forced people to go back to basics and slow down, really appreciate their home and their surroundings a lot more. People enjoy the small luxuries such as a vase of flowers on their table or an outdoor plant in their backyard. They are also looking outward and buying plants or flowers for loved ones to let them know they are thought of.
It is a benefit, in my case, that customers can buy high-quality flowers without spending a lot of money, at the same place that they buy their groceries.
Are there any lessons or insights from the approach you’ve had to take over the past year that you’ll carry over into the next few years and beyond?
To roll with the punches and be flexible! There have been some issues at farm level with availability, plus flight delays, but you have to make the best of every situation. Some things are out of our control and there is no sense getting upset over it.
What did the floral industry miss out on by not being able to get together in-person at events like IFE in 2020? What are you most looking forward to doing or being part of again at live events?
Camaraderie was missing. There’s nothing like speaking to people and seeing products in person. The opportunity to check out new vendors was missing as well. There is only so much that can be told via email. Vendors put a lot of time and effort into designing their booths and you never know what is going to catch your eye.
I am really looking forward to seeing all of the friends that I’ve made in the industry, and I can’t wait to hold bouquet samples again!
How do you see the floral market as a whole changing or evolving throughout the rest of 2021?
I think that the floral market is in a really great position right now. Hopefully we can continue with this momentum and build on it. We have a captive audience with new customers that we have made throughout all of this so we have to keep showing them what we can do.
What’s one piece of advice you’d have for someone if they’re trying to make sense of how to stay on top of trends and be relevant in the floral industry?
Going to events like IFE is a major aspect of keeping on top of trends. Plus listen to your customers! Sometimes they are on to things that you might not even know about yet.
The International Floriculture Expo (IFE) will take place in Miami Beach on September 16-18th and you can register now for the event. If you’d like to connect with our team for an upcoming Floral Connect Buyer’s Corner Interview, please get in touch via email or on social media