“A GREAT MARKETING PLAN IS NOTHING WITHOUT a great product. It’s just as bad as having a good product but using poor marketing to attract customers,” says Arthur Conforti, president of Beneva Flowers & Gifts, Inc. in Sarasota, Fla. You either entice customers into your shop but fail to keep them, or you fail to get them in at all. In both cases, the results are the same. That’s why Mr. Conforti strives to excel at both winning and keeping customers, using creative marketing to continually attract new business and bending over backward to provide high-quality products and superior customer services that far exceed those available from most retailers – floral or otherwise. In our coverage of the final runner-up in our “Retail Florist of the Year” contest, Mr. Conforti shares how his 18-year-old shop continues to entice and keep customers in this competitive marketplace. THE BACKBONE OF THE PLAN While great marketing and top-quality products and services must work in tandem, most small business owners find that creative, effective marketing and promotion can be the more formidable of the pair. But Mr. Conforti isn’t like most small business owners; innovative marketing and promotion is his forte. The backbone of his marketing program are the two Beneva Flowers’ catalogs, which are each reprinted every six months or so. Both incorporate seasonal merchandise, but one, a 24-page version, contains everyday products while the other, a 16-page version, contains some of the shop’s more exclusive offerings. REWARDING EVEN THE RECIPIENTS In addition to the catalogs, Mr. Conforti’s marketing plan, which requires 8 percent to 10 percent of annual revenues to fund, includes discount and prize enticements. One of his most successful promotions, “Lucky Stems” (a Beneva Flowers trademark), gives floral and gift recipients chances to win prizes. Lucky Stems tags, which have codes printed on them, are attached to all deliveries. Recipients must log on to Beneva Flowers’ Web site (www.beneva.com) and enter the codes for a chance to win. According to Mr. Conforti, many codes are winners. In addition to prizes from Beneva Flowers, prizes are also donated by other local businesses and include services from hair salons, day spas and restaurants as well as travel discounts offered through AAA. Businesses offer the prizes, as well as pay $100 to participate in the program, in exchange for the advertising they receive via Beneva Flowers’ promotion of the Lucky Stems program. For example, the names, logos, and Web links of participating companies are featured on the Lucky Stems page on the shop’s Web site. When a customer enters a winning code, he or she simply prints out the winning notification and takes it into the shop to accept the prize. “The shop gives away 20 to 30 prizes each month,” Mr. Conforti notes. Those who do not win are given an opportunity to sign up to win a dozen roses. This second-chance contest enables Beneva Flowers to gather the e-mail address of those who opt to enter the rose giveaway for future email promotions. GIVING AWAY “MONEY” “Surprise Savings Cards,” worth either $5, $10, $25, or $50, are also especially effective at luring customers into the store. Distributed throughout each year at community events such as United Way fund-raisers, Boys & Girls Clubs of America events, and a national tennis tournament, most Surprise Savings Cards are valued at $5 or $10, but some are worth $25 and $50 as well. The shop distributes approximately 10,000 cards annually, which must be used towards purchases and/or orders placed in the shop, so customers must come in to the store to redeem their cards. REACHING MASS-MARKET BUYERS While giveaways are guaranteed enticements, discounts are almost equally attractive to consumers. As a way of enticing discount-seekers and value-conscious flower buyers (those who are likely to buy low-cost bouquets at supermarkets), Beneva Flowers sells “Value Cards,” redeemable for six bouquets at $5.95 each, for only $19.95. “They’re an excellent value,” Mr. Conforti observes, “and they really help us keep product moving. But, more importantly,” he adds, “they enable us to serve clients who might ordinarily shop at supermarkets.” The cards also keep customers coming back into the shop, at least until the cards are used up. ENCOURAGING ONLINE SALES Beneva Flowers also offers several coupons and other incentives to attract consumers to the shop’s Web site. But it is Mr. Conforti’s “Petal Rewards” program that promotes online sales best. Customers earn “petals” by placing orders online. A petal value, from one to three petals, is indicated for each item available on the shop’s Web site. Customers simply register on the Web site and accumulate petals with each order. Ten petals are worth $25, 20 petals are worth $60, and 30 petals are worth $90. Petals may be redeemed only online, but they never expire. Customers can apply petals as cash toward an array of Beneva Flowers offerings and may also redeem their petal points for other merchandise such as golf equipment, digital cameras, watches and other jewelry, and more. Petal values can also be donated to charity. BEING CHARITABLE BEGINS AT HOME As most florists know, community service is another effective method of making a shop’s name known. Like many florists, Mr. Conforti donates product for organizational events, but his “Helping Hands Program” (another trademarked idea) takes the traditional donation concept to a new level. For every order placed with Beneva Flowers & Gifts, either in the store, on the phone, or online, the shop donates $2 to a participating organization, which includes schools, churches and other charitable causes. Donations are paid to the organizations monthly, and customers can specify to which of the organizations they’d like their donations to go. Each year, Beneva’s Helping Hands Program contributes $2,000 to $3,000 annually to each of the 10 organizations currently participating. Mr. Conforti also instituted a “Gift Card Fund-Raising Program.” Again, schools, churches and charitable organizations are the program’s beneficiaries. In this case, organizations sell Beneva Flowers’ $25 gift cards, and for each card sold, the shop donates $5 to the organization. Gift Cards can be used to purchase any Beneva Flowers offering which, in addition to flowers and plants, includes gift and gourmet baskets, fine-quality chocolates, cheesecakes and other edible delights, wine and Champaign, Lenox collectibles and crystal, and more. Most customers spend about $65 on nonfloral products while the average expenditure for floral items is $50, so getting customers into the shop with the gift cards almost always guarantees additional sales. Sales of everyday arrangements and plants account for 60 percent of the shop’s annual revenues, gourmet baskets account for 20 percent and gifts and collectibles account for 5 percent of the annual total. The remaining 15 percent is derived from funerals and weddings. EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS Although Mr. Conforti excels at marketing and promotion, customer care is equally important to him and is another Beneva Flowers hallmark. In fact, the shop’s motto, “Exceeding Your Expectations,” is well-known in this Gulf Coast community. It is printed on the shop’s stationary and included in every ad and marketing piece. But these are more than mere words, they’re a way of life for everyone at Beneva Flowers. “We want to do more than just make customers happy,” assures Mr. Conforti, who grew up in his parents’ Bronx, N.Y. flower shop and bought this one from his parents in 1992. “We want to pay attention to every detail, so customers are pleasantly surprised at how perfect our products and services are for them.” By heavily promoting his shop’s motto, Mr. Conforti acknowledges that he’s setting a high standard and elevating customer expectations, which requires extra diligence so that customers aren’t disappointed. As a result, quality checks are important elements of the shop’s daily routine. “A manager has to approve every arrangement,” Mr. Conforti reports. He says that managers check for consistency, appropriate design techniques, water-level, etc., and before they are placed in one of the shop’s six delivery vans, orders are double-checked to ensure that they are accurate and complete. RESOLVING PROBLEMS Despite the quality assurance program, however, Mr. Conforti admits that mistakes are occasionally made. But he is quick to point out that customers don’t judge businesses solely by their errors, instead, he says, customers judge businesses by how they handle their mistakes. “We do everything possible to fix problems, and then we do even more,” Mr. Conforti assures. “When a mistake is made, it’s absolutely essential to exceed expectations about the resolution.” One key to quick, effective problem resolution is that, as Mr. Conforti explains, every employee is empowered to do whatever it takes to make customers happy. “Our policy allows employees to make decisions without having to waste time getting approval,” he relates. And it seems that the shop’s efforts to exceed expectations are working. Postage-paid comment cards are included with each of the 130 to 140 deliveries made daily, on average. And on the approximately 3 percent of cards returned, 99 percent of the responses are positive. “I won’t accept anything more than a 1-percent complaint ratio,” Mr. Conforti assures. “We track the results of these comment cards, especially after holidays, and if more than 1 percent of the respondents is dissatisfied, we know it’s time to make changes.” MAKING ORDERING FAST AND EASY In addition to solving problems, Beneva Flowers specializes in superior services that make transactions worry-free for consumers. For example, Beneva Flowers is open every day of the year and offers 24-hour phone service as well as an order-capable Web site. The shop also boasts the ability to take an order, from start to finish, in as little as 12 seconds although Mr. Conforti says the average call-in order probably takes about one minute to complete. He adds that proprietary software that quickly recalls past orders and enclosure card messages contributes to the speedy service. Of course, the goal is not to rush customers. Beneva Flowers’ staff take the time to listen to customers’ wants and needs, but there are also many customers who want to place their orders, mark that item off their “To Do” lists, and move on, knowing that Beneva Flowers will handle the rest flawlessly. For these customers, polite, fast, dependable service is a must. CATERING TO BRIDES’ WHIMS For brides, who hire the shop for about 200 weddings each year, special services are truly valued. And the services begin as early as the initial consultation. When brides meet with staff to discuss wedding services, a consultant displays pictures of the couple’s preferred wedding and reception venues (if the event is planned in the Sarasota area) on a shop computer, which makes discussing the floral décor easy and understandable for brides-to-be. Once Beneva Flowers is chosen to provide wedding florals, a “floral design manager” is assigned to oversee all the details of the event. He or she is available on-call to the bride-to-be 24-hours a day, just in case the bride needs assistance. And while Mr. Conforti says brides don’t often call outside business hours, just knowing their design managers are available is reassuring to them. DELIVERING AROUND THE CLOCK For those with special delivery needs, Beneva Flowers will deliver practically any time day, or night. Of course, late-night deliveries cost a bit more, but the service is available for those who need it. Before 8 p.m., after-hours delivery is $20. Between 8 p.m. and midnight, it’s $50. After midnight, the price jumps up to $100. “We just have drivers take the items home and then deliver them later, at the appropriate time,” Mr. Conforti explains. He says that drivers who are willing to make the late-night deliveries earn significant bonuses to make it worth their while.