Key business takeaways
- Putting in the effort to understand your customer and the emotion behind their purchase builds trust and can help you guide them to the best option
- Creating a united and collaborative employee environment will translate into a better customer experience
- Use social media to convey not only your products but also the experience customers will have with your business
On a warm October day in downtown Evanston, Illinois, balloon arrangements wrapped around the entrance to one particular floral shop, as music from a live band floated down the sidewalk. And inside, vivid green leaves draped the walls while all different kinds of flowers and succulents took up every corner of the store. However, the most colorful display at Saville Flowers‘s 80th anniversary party was not its eclectic mix of brilliant flowers, but the crowd. Adults of all ages chattered above the sound of music while children ran around, curiously poking at the leaves of the more unusual plants.
How did a small flower shop throw the biggest party in a bustling college town? This multi-generational fusion is the result of decades of treating customers like friends. From the legacy customers who have been going to Saville for over thirty years to the fresh faces that rotate in and out of a college town, everyone who walks through the boutique’s sunlit doors is welcomed with a warm smile and friendly conversation. This provides a rare moment of connection for customers who had often spent their days at home due to COVID and the conveniences of online shopping.
“People want to make a special trip to hear questions like ‘How did the flowers work last time? It was your wife’s birthday, right? Did you guys have any special plans?’” said Mark Jones, Saville’s fourth-generation owner and lead designer. “It’s just about really connecting with the human side of your customer and trying to provide them that experience that feels personalized and unique to their tastes.”
When someone walks into Saville, Mark said that striking up a meaningful conversation with them is always his first step. Viewing each customer as a human being rather than just another person to sell his flowers to is key to keeping them coming back for every special occasion. By connecting with the customer and encouraging them to share the story behind why they need a bouquet of flowers—whether that be asking them to describe the person they’re sending it to or the occasion behind it—Mark said that he’s able to create a more meaningful process behind something that could otherwise be seen as a general sales transaction.
He not only listens to the customer’s responses to his questions but also reads between the lines to get a better understanding of their character and the relationship they have with the recipient. He places emphasis on the human element behind their purchase to guide them to the right product. “If you’re trying to say happy anniversary, I would say something like ‘I think like the scarlet roses evoke a beautiful romance. They have a really beautiful kind of intimacy to them and make someone really special feel loved.’ I always try to add a little emotion at the back end,” he said. Eventually, that initial rapport with the customer turns into their trust that Mark will put in the time and care to find the perfect bouquet for every celebration.
A family affair
Mark’s great-grandfather Don Saville opened Saville Flowers in the midst of World War II, and downtown Evanston was a prime shopping area for people in the Chicago suburbs. After Don’s passing, his daughter and son-in-law—Mark’s grandmother and grandfather—took over the shop. Their children grew up around the blooms of the shop, and at one point, each one of their six daughters worked at Saville. Eventually, Mark’s mother Gail, who still occasionally helps out in the business, bought the shop from her parents with her sister Donna in 1985.
Gail recalled the huge influence that Don Saville, her grandfather, had in nurturing her love for the floral industry from a young age. From journeying to the northwest of Chicago to spend the day looking at greenhouse plants to attending a huge floral convention for two weeks every summer, Saville ensured that flowers were an integral part of Gail’s childhood identity. “I was as close to him as I was to my own father. He instilled in me the beauty of flowers and hard, hard work,” she said.
Seeing his mother run the shop fostered Mark’s dedication to the family business. “I really got inspired by her passion for [Saville Flowers], and seeing her build a 40-year relationship with so many of her customers and being able to keep a brick-and-mortar retail storefront alive in the same location was a really cool story,” he said.
Like Gail, Mark’s memories of his childhood revolve around watching his mother in the Saville workshop and helping run the business through his teenage years. Even after he left Evanston for college in Colorado, he would fly back every summer and during busier weekends like Valentine’s Day to help out with the influx of orders.
Eventually, it became Mark’s turn to carry on the family legacy. After completing a three-year apprenticeship under Gail, Mark bought Saville Flowers from her in 2016.
Creating a united workforce
Mark’s commitment to providing a customer experience that feels like home works because, for him, running Saville Flowers is a personal experience that’s deeply rooted in his childhood and family life. As a manager, he tries to foster the same connection among his employees—whether or not they share the Saville name.
At Saville Flowers, there isn’t a work hierarchy that one might typically find in other service industry establishments. Some days Mark will be washing buckets or cleaning the bathroom; other days he’ll be working on flower arrangements, while other members of his team take care of the daily upkeep.
I want [my employees] to feel that they can come to work and access their sense of creativity and do what they want to do. I try to provide that space for them because I depend on them to provide me the same kind of support.
While this flexibility might not work with all small businesses, it’s been crucial in helping Mark inspire a more creative and collaborative environment among his employees. “I want them to have a sense of ownership over their own projects,” he said. “I want them to feel that they can come to work and access their sense of creativity and do what they want to do. I try to provide that space for them because I depend on them to provide me the same kind of support.”
In the same way that Mark goes the extra mile to build a friendly rapport with his customers, he puts that same effort into connecting with his employees to make them feel comfortable and supported in the workplace. He described the work atmosphere of Saville as one that’s always filled with laughter and conversation. And every quarter, the team gathers to talk about their goals and how Mark can be a more effective manager.
According to Mark, the quarterly review process encourages employees to share their honest opinions about the way Saville operates, which in turn allows them to work efficiently together to provide the best experience for their customers. “It’s all about uniting as a team and as a front so that [my employees] really care about what they’re doing and they’re not just here for their shift,” he said.
Changing with the times
With big name grocery stores like Jewel-Osco and Trader Joe’s ramping up their selection of flowers, Mark said that one of the biggest challenges of maintaining a small business is keeping up with the competitive market. Soon after taking ownership, he realized that if he didn’t want Saville to be left behind in the changing times, he would have to let it change with it instead.
During the pandemic, Mark rebranded Saville Flowers to incorporate a more contemporary, floral style, shown through their bouquet design and redesigned website. Most importantly, Mark embraced social media as an important marketing tool.
Saville Flowers’ official Instagram account overflows with the eclectic, whimsical colors they’ve come to be known for while maintaining the classic European design that founder Don Saville adored. In many of the posts, a beaming Mark artistically poses with a bouquet. It’s a strategic choice to populate their feed with actual people, rather than standalone flowers.
“We’re such a visually branded business that it’s so important we show that off. People like to see the human side of the experience from a social media standpoint too so we try to put a face to the brand,” said Mark. “Seeing us look happy with a bouquet is a lot more fun than just having a photo of a flower arrangement.”
Pro tip: Mark encourages other small business owners to invest in a professional camera, colorful backdrop, and professional lighting so that they can take their own photos for social media.
A legacy to be passed on for future generations
Saville Flowers has gone through much change in the 80 years they’ve been around—and Mark still has more in store for the shop. One of their main goals is to expand their multi-generational customer base and re-inspire a sense of community in Evanston. “Especially with the next generation of millennials and consumers that do everything online who may not engage as much in community and neighborhood sentiments, I’d love to carry on a family legacy that still honors community, honors people feeling a part of a neighborhood, and then honors also just flower buying and how special and unique it can be,” said Mark.
Despite this new era of Saville that he’s ushered in as well as the many more years of change sure to come after him, Mark takes pride in the fact that the business has never lost sight of what it stands for: love.
“Life’s greatest celebrations all involve flowers, whether it’s an anniversary, a new birth, or a marriage, so in a way, flowers are an expression of love,” he said. “We always try to have that be our guiding light through everything.”
Photos from Saville Flowers and on Yelp
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