After 15 years in the floral business, there is nothing like adding a personal touch for florist Spring Pirtle.
“I think the personal connection is important for me and the customer because, in general, people like to be remembered and to be acknowledged by our names,” she said. “I think it’s important to let them know they’ve been remembered, and that helps build a clientele where they will be more likely to come back and work with you.”
Pirtle said remembering names is often difficult for her, so she will make up a song to remember the person’s face. This way, even if she cannot remember their name, she will remember what is going on in their life.
The small town “mom and pop” setting at the Mahomet IGA helps her form those types of relationships with her regular clients and the IGA staff.
During high school, Pirtle gravitated towards the floral department at Jewel Osco where the floral manager taught her to make corsages and floral arrangements during the holiday season. Although Pirtle studied early childhood education, her interest in plants and flowers continued to spike.
After working in the floral department at Schnucks in Springfield, Pirtle moved back to Champaign where she worked at the Red Barn IGA for six years. During this time, she also received her associates degree in horticulture landscape design.
Mahomet IGA owner Brooks Marsh hired Pirtle in May 2012. Since then, she has used the plant knowledge and design techniques she learned in the Parkland program to add a personal touch on her arrangements.
“Everyone here is really nice,” she said. “They are laid back, upper management acknowledges and speak to you and the customers are friendly.”
Pirtle said she enjoys getting to know the regular IGA customers. She listens to customer needs, stories and ideas to create custom arrangements for all sorts of events. The grocery store setting also gives Pirtle the opportunity to be visible to customers.
“I think it’s important for customers to see you,” she said. “It’s really important that you are there to say ‘Hello’ or ‘How can I help you?’”
In order to be available for customers, Pirtle works on the weekends and during holidays to provide that personal care.
Although Pirtle has arrangements available in the floral case, she also has space to design something for a customer on the spot. As she gets to know customers, Pirtle adds custom orders into her regular shipment to grab people’s attention.
Pirtle also orders unusual flowers and plants from the weekly floral truck that comes to IGA or from a local farmer in Seymour.
The Mahomet IGA Floral Department also offers floral services for weddings, high school dances, funerals and holiday events. With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, Pirtle has stocked the store with green and yellow plants and flowers.
She has also already ordered Easter lillies, Mother’s Day balloons and flowers, and is ready to make corsages and boutonnieres for prom.
Pirtle would like to expand the amount of funeral work the Mahomet IGA provides to the community.
“I like doing funeral work because it’s a time when you can sit down and get to know your customers,” she said. “It’s a delicate situation, but if the flowers are done well, it will help with the grieving process.”
Pirtle has seen the floral market change through the economic downturn, and has noticed generational changes in customers’ approaches to flowers. She said although flowers add encouragement to any space, they can also add sentiment or nostalgia.
“My grandma loves to get yellow roses,” she said. “They were in her wedding bouquet. My grandpa has been gone for 10 years, but every time she sees yellow roses, she tears up with joy.”
“When you buy flowers, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get your point across,” she added. “A single flower or a single rose will brighten someone’s day.”
Over the last year, Pirtle has added floral delivery services to the department. She also uses the Mahomet IGA Facebook page to talk about plant care or new floral arrivals.
The Mahomet IGA also exchanges floral discounts for recycled vases, and they hold a weekly business drawing.