Q&A :: Independent Shop vs Grocery Store

Hello Flower Friends,
I have a question for all of you today from a business owner. Please leave your suggestions, comments, thoughts and advice in the comments section of the blog.
Thank you in advance!


I purchased a small flower shop in a small rural community (the county has a population of approximately 17,000 people) in September and have been open since October. The community is great, but also hosts the highest unemployment rate in the state, so there isn’t a whole lot of extra spending that happens here, as you may find in an urban community. I’m the only florist, so folks have to drive over an hour to find another florist. According to the previous owner’s records, the business made less than $100,000 a year with a profit of only $20,000. I’m working hard to reduce overhead and increase profits through quality, with some success so far (it’s really too early to tell). Needless to say, it’s tough doing business in this town.

My shop is next to the town’s grocery store, who frequently gets fresh flowers and plants in stock. Much like other grocery stores, they sell the flowers super cheap, making it hard for me to compete with them. I’ve been trying to figure out who they get their flowers and plants from and just realized today that they receive them from my primary supplier. The other tough part about running a flower shop up here is that there isn’t a marketplace to purchase flowers and only 2 distributors deliver up here. Recently, I’ve been ordering flowers from growers online, but shipping is pricey, so I limit my orders and try to offset costs by ordering from the distributors. I’m tempted to eliminate my business relations with this particular distributor altogether and go strictly online and only order flowers from the other distributor on an as-needed-basis.

What would you do? Confront the grocery store and/or the distributor and tell them that they’re making it harder for my business to succeed? Or am I being selfish and should roll with the punches…. chock it up as a part of doing business?

Thanks for any input.

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  1. I worked 8 years in floral retail at a very popular high end grocery store. On an average week, our store about $12,000 in sales per week in floral sales. We were able to sell our product at a great price, because of the distributers made deals with the grocery store to make massive purchases as an entire region. All of the stores in the entire region, would spend hundreds of thousands per year buying from this one distributer. Who could then, charge a much lower price. But, with that being said, even at the high volume in sales, we made VERY little profit. The shrink rate is extremely high for grocery stores. They only sell about half of the product that they put out. It is extremely hard to be profitable at a grocery store. The clientele there is not looking for great style or quality, they just want a quick bunch of flowers for a low cost. But they will not buy a bouquet if there is just a display of 5 bouquets! They are attracted to huge displays of flowers! Their main concern is buying the biggest bouquet possible, for the lowest price. The grocery store floral departments are not around to generate a profit, they are only there because of the customer demand. The rest of the store’s department sales pick up the slack for the floral department. I just wanted to help you see things from another perspective. It was a very stressful job, because the store is publicly traded, investors wanted to see big numbers. And with that being said, the grocery store will not feel bad for you, because they aren’t doing that great themselves!

    • Be different, price is not most important, find your own way, there are plenty possibillities. I have one of 5 ( ! ) flowershop in our small ( 10.000 people) town.

  2. Hi, I also worked in a grocery store floral dept. I also have worked in small shops and now part time home floral business. I would just offer something grocery does not: delivery, personal touch with community-make a presence in the high schools for prom, the churches for weddings, restaurants for table settings or decoration for holidays. I think the ordering on line is a good idea for an as needed basis. When you do have large orders, take quality photos so customers can see what you can offer..even if its not on display. Good luck!!

  3. I don’t think you should confront the grocery store, they are there to make money too. And don’t confront your distributor either, I think if push comes to shove, they are just going to drop you and keep the grocery store who is buying a much higher volume.
    Just concentrate on making original arrangements, memorable packaging and great service.
    Like Hilary said, groceries don’t offer corsages, wedding flowers, table centerpieces.

  4. “What would you do? Confront the grocery store and/or the distributor and tell them that they’re making it harder for my business to succeed? Or am I being selfish and should roll with the punches…. chock it up as a part of doing business?”

    I’m not a florist, but I am a small business owner competing with the big guys, so I feel your pain. But don’t waste your time confronting the grocery store or the distributor. Why on earth would they care if they make it harder for your business to succeed? Isn’t that the whole point? If you *don’t* succeed, the grocery store will pick up any market share you may have taken from them; and the distributor is most likely far more interested in keeping the grocery chain happy than a small shop, and would certainly not do anything to jeopardize their contract with the former.

    Your best strategy will be to provide better service, better product, different selection, higher quality, etc., that the grocery store can’t offer. Are there any local growers you can partner with, who could provide fresher local flowers than the big distributor? Maybe even organic? I’m sure the grocery store isn’t pursuing these veins. Could you possibly grow some specialty flowers yourself that just don’t ship well, and thus the grocery store would have no way of providing?

    If you were competing with another small independent florist, I could see there being some opportunity for cooperation or even collaboration. But as for the grocer, they’re in it for the business. They’re highly unlikely to be sympathetic with your plight. So make yourself a standout for something other than cheapo price, and develop a reputation for the best quality and best service, and focus on your personal strengths. This is how the business world works! Best of luck!

  5. You’ll never beat a grocery store on pricing since they’re able to sell such large quantities. So focus on quality of design and service. Focus your energy on areas of floral design where those qualities are truly appreciated such as weddings, funerals, weekly deliveries, events, etc. Also, as you’re searching for new business remember to take great care of your faithful customers. I would also look for vendors other than the one you share. Not because you’re angry but because no doubt there are different wholesalers and growers out there with better quality product and/or different product that clients will find interesting and be willing to pay a little extra for. Good luck!

  6. Let me just say, I feel your pain. I have had to confront this issue as well and it stirs up a lot of feelings about fairness and competition. But, the bottom line is everybody gets to sell whatever they want at whatever price they want (within certain constraints, of course). It’s all part of being in business. But as I’ve learned in the past five years, the floral business is particularly tricky because the margins are so slim to begin with. And while I complain about grocery stores, others could complain my home-based business, and the other 20 or so people I know in this market who are doing the same thing, is nibbling away at their profits as well. The modern consumer has driven a lot of this change. They’re so stressed out they want to make one trip and buy everything they need at the same place at the same time or they want to buy it online. My advice would be similar to that already posted: concentrate on what you do differently and what you do best. Take care of your customers, watch your expenses like a hawk and keep doing what you believe in. Good product and good service still go along way. You could also think of starting some marketing efforts such as classes in floral design and help for the do-it-yourselfer that produce revenue, draw people into your shop and build customer loyalty. Or, take a lesson from the grocery stores and develop some not-so-perishable product lines such as specialty coffees, chocolates, decorations or stationery to bring in more customers and help them spend more time and money at your shop. Make it a destination they want to visit, not just a place to buy flowers. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Good luck.

  7. When I heard that Whole Foods was going to open down the street from me I realized that I couldn’t compete with their prices. We’ve always beeen a high end shop, but I carried some basics for the student population in our area.
    I now have a sign on my door that reads ” we always have extraordinary flowers, cards and soaps”, and I don’t apologize for not having Gerbera Daisies and Alstromeria and I happily send customers down the street for these items.
    Create a cosy evniroment, use your space to showcase the freshness of your product and carry something affordable but unique that’s made locally. And you might relax your bottom line for a while during the time you’re creating a special business.

  8. I’ve worked in a local shop and currently out of my home. After facing the same dilemma I decided to use the situation to my advantage. If I need something specific from the wholesaler then I will order it, but for everyday basics I often ship the local grocery store myself. They are getting the same flowers from the wholesaler that I am and often their retail prices are less than my wholesale. I have a great relationship with our grocery floral department and can even order directly from the wholesaler through them. They appreciate my business and since we service the same customers for different occasions, we often refer back and forth. They are more than happy to refer weddings and funerals. And my customers know if they want basic flower arrangements and dance flowers they can pick them up at the grocery store and if they want extraordinary custom designs they come to me.

  9. Bev GREISMAN says:

    I am retired…love nature, gardening and flowers…your business is way more than selling flowers…I buy flowers at the grocery store and/or Costco for myself….for my wedding, a ill friend, a birthday gift…I choose one of my small and local florists…I want a mood created, I want to match a theme, I want the recipient to feel special…flowers from Safeway or Costco are just flowers…

  10. The curious thing about this is I ran a list of counties with populations between 16,500 and 17,500 and cross-referenced this with unemployment data (taking the 2 most unemployed counties from each state, since these numbers move around a bit), and only one county in the nation fits the profile in the description: About 17,000 people, highest unemployment in the state, and hours away from a market.
    That county is Dukes County, Massachusetts – which includes Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick Island. There are several florists in the county, including at least one Teleflora shop and an Independent.
    Drive time to the Boston market is 2:30 – about the same as my drive to the Los Angeles market.

    If that’s the location, I’d seriously question why gross sales is $100,000 and net profit $20,000. This is an excellent location for destination weddings and high-end work. If she is the TF shop, or any other wire service, for that matter, I’d urge her to go independent – perhaps join the Real Local Florist group – and, as others have said, focus on the kind of work and services which groceries and big box stores can’t handle.

    If this is not her location, the wire-service and general recommendations still hold. There is one other thing which occurs to me. If the grocery is not one of the big chains, she might be able to relieve them of the risk and trouble of operating their own floral department and rent space from them to operate it as a concession. If they are making minimal profits from it and it is a load on their staff, she might be able to induce them to let her rent space and handle it. They get the rental income (and perhaps a percentage of on-site sales), she gets better buying power from her wholesalers, and she can use it to widen her product offerings as well as move product between her store and the grocery as demand requires.

  11. Daniel Claeys says:

    This question has been a hot topic since the 80’s. If my memory serves me correctly, it was 1988 when a large grocery chain open a 50,000 sq ft mega store complete with a designer serviced floral department. Every florist in our area thought that this was just a passing fad, don’t worry about it, sort of thing. WE WERE WRONG.

    Now, having said that, and realizing that the grocery and other Big Box stores are carrying flowers and plants, I feel that the question should be: How do WE as an industry survive in an economy that is now being populated with a new generation with their own ideas of their wants and needs. This ‘us verses them’ mentality has become nothing but squabbling in the same playground and while we were throwing dirt at each other, we have lost our focus. We, as one industry, have to put our own internal differences aside and decide that we really are all in this together. I wonder if the people in our industry evens stop to realize all the other purchasing options that are out there for the customer to buy and those other companies do not hesitate to throw the floral industry under the proverbial bus in their advertising campaigns. For me, this is a much more important issue than the ‘us verses them’ issue. This needs to be addressed on a national, if not, global level. But, I do digress.

    Many of the above comments do make valid points and to put this back into the playground, I would suggest that if one is to survive in this industry, the answer is quite simple. Get better. By this, I do not mean to one up anyone else in the industry, I mean to look in a mirror and start there. Stop with the finger pointing, quit whining and get better. Start with one thing on one day and make it, and yourself, better. Oh, yes, one more thing, don’t ever stop.

  12. Hi Alicia,

    I work on the wholesale end of the flower business in the social media department. In any type of business, all is fair game when it comes to competitors. A perfect example is clothing manufacturers; they likely distribute the same blouse to different retailers. How is it that one store sells it at a lower price than the other competitor? This is your scenario.

    My advice from a marketing point of view, would be to evaluate your business and your competitor using the SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Make a comparison listing your companies strengths and the grocery store’s strengths, and so forth. The goal is to identify what sets your company apart from your competition. Is it service, quality, variety, presentation? What do they lack that you can provide?

    Another suggestion would be to use social media ads to market your business. It is significantly less costly than print ads, and the results are immediately effective. You can reach markets outside of the local community. You mentioned that you are the only florist within the area. Use this to your advantage, and market yourself accordingly.

    In regards to distributors and offsetting costs, try to find floral distributors that cut the middle man. Our company for instance, ships directly to retail shops. To the designer’s advantage, we offer free overnight shipping and you can purchase floral varieties by the bunch. We deliver nationwide 5 days a week.

    I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor! I hope my tips were insightful.

  13. I was in the florist business for 30 years and now work part time for a wholesale flower seller/distibutor. First off the buying demographic has changed, you are lucky to get a kid to attend a wake never mind send flowers to one. The WWII generation has passed and they were a great customer to take care of, they were faith based, loyal, and loved to give. That being said you have to focus on the harder more talented work. The frosting on the floral cake has been licked off by the big box stores selling seasonals (poinsettias) for less than cost, the boy scouts selling wreaths in every corner and church, and frankly a lot of ex florists selling out of their garages. Things that still work; Garden planters and well kept garden center items, if you can establish a loyal following and have quality as your goal you can grow and be profitable. Weddings, high stress, but if you agin go for quality and charge what you are worth, it is profitable. The key is to be branded as a quality, special, talented, designer. The goal is to grow first your income, then hire people and expand, you will want to manage people and delegate and grow. Frankly 20,000 for a small town florist is better than a lot of guys are doing, which means you can grow it. Avoid the ftd,tel,800 flow trap. Unless you need volume without profit avoid these wire services they basically have you working with a 37% discount, Flower shop network is a little fairer and doesn’t use order gatherers. USE THE INTERNET FOR DIRECT ORDERS AND DONT BE AFRAID TO SPEND MONEY DO AQUIRE DIRECT ORDERS THROUGH INTERNET MARKETING! tis is the only way a small florist can grow, by receiving orders to fill at 100% of value.

    I’m glad there are still shops giving it a go, I’m tempted to get back in myself but boy it’s a lot of work,
    All the best,