Learn how to maximize your sales by upselling; your customers (and your bottom line) will be glad you did. 

By Andrew Joseph

A customer has the flowers in hand and is happy with what he or she has. And so are you. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make both of you happier? You’re in luck; there is.

Florists’ Review talked with Tim HuckabeeFSC, president of FloralStrategies (floralstrategies.com) for some education. A straight shooter with a great sense of humor, Huckabee is a globally renowned and respected educator in the areas of flower and plant sales and customer care, who has worked with more than 7,000 retail and wholesale florists of all sizes spanning five continents. 

For Huckabee, when a customer is satisfied with the assistance provided to him or her and is ready to check out, this is the time to upsell or suggest some add-ons. “To be honest, I find those descriptive terms to be a bit pedestrian,” Huckabee notes. “I teach the more eloquent terminology of introducing a secondary item as ‘the finishing touch.’ The customer may have the donut, but wouldn’t he or she prefer to add some sugar glaze? That’s the mindset retail florists need to have with their products. It’s the best way to increase your retail sales with very little extra effort and no additional customer acquisition expense.”

Upselling has nothing to do with trying to “rip off” customers and everything to do with adding to their shopping and purchasing experiences—and, yes, your bottom line, Huckabee assures. It is all about increasing your shop revenue. “This is a way to easily increase your shop revenue,” he emphasizes. “You aren’t spending any time, energy, or money trying to attract a new customer; you have one right in front of you—or on the phone. You are simply piggybacking onto an existing sale.”

Huckabee describes upselling as kind of “putting an emotional pepperoni around a heartworm pill”—a tactic a dog owner knows all too well—and explains that when shop owners are training their staff to suggest “finishing touches” to every customer, they need to understand that they are helping to further personalize the sale for the customer

He notes that when customers are offered a box of chocolates, a scented candle, a plush toy, or balloons as something that would pair nicely with and enhance their floral purchases, they will, more often than not, purchase at least one of the items being suggested. “More important, though,” he assures, “they will respond with a thank-you because they might have been unaware that you offer such things.”

Huckabee points out that even if your retail flower shop offers a great many items other than flowers, 99 percent of the time, customers are coming in to purchase only the flowers they need. “They have tunnel vision and will not see anything else in the shop, regardless of how blatantly placed it is,” he elaborates. “I’ve been in flower shops where someone trips over a card rack and asks the salesperson if the shop has greeting cards.”

Huckabee fears that some retailers might be put off by having customers thank them for allowing them to spend more money but reiterates that all a retailer is doing is offering the customer an opportunity to personalize his or her purchase. While he understands the standard mentality of not wanting to be pushy, “It’s a $5 balloon, so get over it.”

He realizes that some florists might think they are going to upset a customer, but he says it’s best to present “finishing touch” items that are within the customer’s already determined price range. “I’m offering a $5 balloon, a $10 box of chocolates, or a $20 candle, and the customer is already spending $100 on flowers, so what’s the big deal?” he asks. 

The Online Mentality

Huckabee shares a fact about online shopping: Customers shopping on a florist website spend, on average, 25 percent more than customers who call or come into the store. “Customers go online because they are looking to purchase floral gifts for themselves or other people—just as with in-store shopping,” he remarks. “But, online, they have to look around to see what they want because they aren’t escorted by retail staff to a flower cooler, so they must scroll through the products available on a florist’s always updated (hopefully) website. A retail website shows exploring customers everything the shop has to offer, and customers often add items on their own, without having to be prompted.” 

Huckabee adds that florists’ websites should be programmed to prompt customers to add a balloon, some chocolates, a teddy bear or whatever else a florist offers as additional sales items to the “shopping cart” upon checking out. “Just as with in-store sales, the additional options are offered only as the customers are getting ready to pay for their floral purchases.”

ABC: Always Be Closing

For retailers who have qualms about trying to determine the right time to add to a customer’s purchase, Huckabee offers this advice: “With every single sale, you should offer the customer a ‘finishing touch,’ which, obviously, based on the term, would come near the end of the sales conversation, when closing the sale.”

Historically, in a flower shop, sales associates are concentrating on getting the perfect flowers for a birthday, anniversary, new baby or whatever the customer’s important occasion or event is, and they can easily forget to suggest additional items, especially if doing so is not part of the store’s sales culture and/or if they have not been properly trained to do so. But Huckabee and his FloralStrategies approach teach that all staff members must learn to mimic websites and offer a “finishing touch” to every single customer. 

“It’s usually at this point in my classes where someone will ask if his or her staff should try to sell a bereaved individual some funeral balloons,” he shares. “Uh, no, but what we’re going to do instead is give the customer the chance to personalize the sale with a script of ribbon that reads ‘Beloved Grandma’ or perhaps a small wind chime, an angel figurine or other keepsake memorial.”

We asked Huckabee about the best way to present the idea of a “finishing touch” to a customer, and while he was reluctant to explain it in detail, seeing as this is part of how he makes his living, he did provide some insight. “You’re asking me to reveal the secret sauce,” he lamented, quite reasonably. “Let’s just say that I introduce the item to the sales conversation as a suggestion rather than a question. We tend to ask customers questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response, which is exactly what we don’t want to do when it comes to suggesting a ‘finishing touch.’ The point is, regardless of the purchasing situation of your customer, you aren’t trying to ‘hard sell’; rather, you are suggesting something, which is a much gentler way of selling.”

It’s important, he points out, to realize that a “finishing touch” is simply a secondary sale. “The flowers that customers purchase for an anniversary, funeral, et al., are the primary sale, and that isn’t going to go away because you suggest a ‘finishing touch’ to further personalize the gift. Floral retailers must make this mindset a reality and part of their routines,” he advises.

Secondary-sale Suggestions

Huckabee offers his take on just what some of those secondary-sale items could be for “finishing touches,” adding that he has seen pretty much everything being added on—but again, it depends on the customers’ needs and budget and the occasion for which they are purchasing the flowers. A “finishing touch” can be any low to moderately-priced gift item in the store—such as a special ornament during the Christmas season, for example. Some savvy florists shop the gift markets specifically for distinctive items that they can offer as their secondary-sale options, some of which are occasion or holiday specific. However, for many florists, Huckabee recommends “sticking with the usual suspects: candy, scented candles, plush toys, balloons, and greeting cards.”

For those wondering about what percentage of the primary flower purchase the “finishing touch” should be, Huckabee says, “It depends on the reason for the primary-flowers purchase, the price of the primary purchase, and even the shop’s clientele and location. You aren’t going to try to sell a $100 secondary item when the primary item costs only $50. You have to use your head; it’s a ‘finishing touch,’ not a cash grab! The proportion is key, and by following the methodology I teach, retailers can easily increase their average sale by 20 percent.”

The “finishing touch” has to be part of the way the entire shop staff goes about its daily business. “It can’t just be the shop owner or manager; it has to be everyone involved in customer service,” Huckabee emphasizes. “It’s important that suggesting ‘finishing touches’ become part of a shop’s culture and to motivate employees to mention them to every customer.”

Regarding incentivizing “finishing touch” sales among sales staff, Huckabee points out that while it may seem like a good idea, it may not be. “Turning the selling of ‘finishing touches’ into a contest to see who can sell the most or the highest dollar volume can foster animosity among the staff, especially if one or two people continually sell the most.” Instead, he suggests providing all of the staff, at the end of a specified period, with a gift card to a local coffee shop or grocery store if a specified sales goal is met, “but it isn’t necessary.”

“The ‘finishing touch’ concept has to be confirmed with your staff, not as an upsell but, rather, as good customer service,” he instructs. “There’s nothing negative about it; it is all about offering customers exemplary service, and it becomes a regular part of the sales process in a store. One doesn’t need to go above and beyond to get people to do their jobs.”

If you’re interested in learning more about making “finishing touches” a part of your daily sales strategy and how to incorporate them into your sales conversations, consider taking a business training course offered by FloralStrategies, or inquire about on-site training sessions for you and your staff in your store.

Creating a Curated Collection of Add-on-sales Items

Florists’ Review has some advice on how you can put Huckabee’s “finishing touch” plan into motion that is specific to your shop and your customers’ needs. When customers come into your shop looking for a gift of flowers or plants for someone’s birthday or anniversary or graduation, or because someone’s in the hospital, having a baby—whatever, it’s up to you to suggest appropriate flowers or plants for their needs. And that applies to the types of “finishing touches” you suggest for each purchase occasion

Our suggestion is that you curate a collection of add-on gift items—“finishing touches”—that are specific to each purchase occasion, including holidays (although there could be some crossover items, which would be a good way to control inventory and expenditures and to simplify things). We further recommend that you offer two or three “finishing touch” items for each purchase occasion—each at a different price point (more than three options might overwhelm or confuse some customers and would take more time to present).

Here, we provide suggestions for the types of items you might offer as your “finishing touches” for just a few occasions and holidays. Our list is by no means complete; it is intended to be a springboard to brainstorming with your staff about the types of items—and price points—that would be appealing to your specific clientele.

NOTE: Our suggestions are in addition to the more traditional items mentioned earlier in this article—although those would be appropriate for any these occasions, as well. With the suggestions that follow, our goal is to help you get a bit more creative and unique with your offerings and to differentiate your store from other competitors.

Before we begin with specific occasions and holidays, we would like to address “finishing touches” for customers who purchase flowering and foliage houseplants as gifts, which are appropriate for virtually any occasion and holiday. If you choose just the add-on-sales items, these sales should be easy. Our suggestions include: 

• plant-specific fertilizers and/or potting mixes 

• decorative self-watering globes and misters 

• pruners or other plant care or repotting tools 

• and, especially for orchids, succulents, ferns and palms, a small, charming care book specific to the type of plant (e.g., check out The Orchid Whisperer by Bruce Rogers and Essential Succulents: The Beginner’s Guide by Ken Shelf). 

the orchid whisperer book cover

NOTE: As a retail business owner, you should be able to purchase books wholesale, in quantity, from the publishers or their wholesale distributors. Now, moving on …


Births: Plush toys are obvious options for this category, but get creative and don’t forget about the new moms and dads. Consider photo frames—especially if it is suggested they be used for a photograph of mom, dad and the newborn. Other options include a unique baby rattle or pacifier, a small blanket, a nursery nightlight, a mobile to hang over the crib or other decorative accessory for the nursery. 

Birthdays: How about working with a nearby bakery to provide small birthday cakes—on request, of course. They could even be customized with icing lettering. Or, how about number-shaped candles or age-indicating balloons, birthday party hats or tiaras, or even a birthday pin the recipient could wear that simply reads “Birthday Boy” or “Birthday Girl.” Each of these items would work for all ages.

Anniversaries: Creative upsell items might include packaged rose petals; a small cake (as described above, in “Birthdays”) or other sweet treats; a bottle of bubbly (leaded or unleaded—whatever your local jurisdiction or state allows you to sell and deliver); the “Where Do We Begin” card game; or, again, a photo frame. Just note that items for this occasion should be able to be enjoyed by two people.

Sympathy: Keepsake remembrance/memorial items would be most appreciated in this occasion category. Our suggestions include a small windchime; an angel figurine; a “soothing stone”; an inspirational book, plaque or garden stone; tea; a small photo album; and a lovely journal. Spa items and aromatherapy or inspiration candles would also be great items.

Wind River Chimes

Graduations: For those special moments—be it graduation from elementary, middle or high school, college or university, or even getting one’s driver’s license—photo frames could be a winner. You could arrange with another local business to print your customers’ digital photos on photographic paper, with you will then place into the photo frames. Also consider insulated tumblers or “smart” mugs; small messenger or tote bags; an inspirational plaque or book; or an item of “spirit gear” from the school, college or university.

Other occasions to consider curating “finishing touches” for include:

• Get Well

• Congratulations (promotion, new job, etc.)

• New Home

You will know best; you know your clientele and the occasions for which they buy flowers and plants as gifts.


Valentine’s Day: The suggested items in the “Anniversary” section above would also work for Valentine’ Day, and the traditional chocolates, plush toys and balloons are always popular. However, when curating a collection of more creative add-on-sales items for this holiday, we recommend separating this holiday into two categories: 1) Romantic—those in steady, long-term relationships; and 2) Non-romantic—Valentines who are simply friends, relatives, co-workers, etc.—as well as those still attempting to figure it out. For this holiday, you may want to offer more than just two or three options in each of the two categories, but we caution against offering too many choices, which can confuse and overwhelm customers and become unnecessarily costly for you. 

Easter: This is a solemn religious event for many, but it also is a kickoff to spring for others. Regardless of the ways in which your clientele chose to celebrate Easter, holiday-specific novelty candies and other edibles from your gourmet collections will always be appreciated, angel figurines; small, charming Easter books (religious or secular); pastel bunny or carrot soaps; bunny-ears headbands; spring oven mitts or pot holders; Easter cookie cutters; Easter cookie or cupcake kits are just a few suggestions for this wide-ranging category. Also, be sure to stock some Easter-specific plants, like crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii) and Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri, formerly classified as Hatiora gaertneri and Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri), which are different from Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi/S. bridgesii)

Mother’s Day: This holiday can be tricky because moms come in all types, with all manner of tastes, preferences, hobbies and even dislikes, so curating a collection of “finishing touches” that will be successful—sales wise—will likely require additional consideration. Seek somewhat-generic items that will spoil and pamper, and celebrate and thank, moms—and grandmothers. Relaxation, pampering and indulgence gifts, such as items from your existing candle/home fragrances; spa/wellness; jewelry/wearables; and gourmet collections (especially teas and coffees) are always great add-ons for moms, but also consider specialized gardening tools and accessories, plant propagation vases, journals and stationery, windchimes, clever kitchen gadgets—you get the idea. Have fun with this one!

spa gift basket
bath accesorries.com

Thanksgiving: Small bags of miniature pumpkins and gourds, as well as taper, pillar and novelty candles—items with which a host can accessorize his or her home or dinner table are logical suggestions, but also consider gifts of dried fruits and nuts, and specialty seasonings, sauces and other small gourmet items. An affordable, fun puzzle or game, like Cards Against Humanity, could inspire lots of fun with family and friends. In addition, have your designers create a collection of festive napkin rings featuring dried botanicals, nuts and acorns and other seasonal items (suggest to customers that these can be gifts for dinner guests).

Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza: This category requires knowing your community and your customer base, but it offers myriad possibilities, which, for the most part, we will leave to you to curate. Each of these holidays has many traditions and iconic and symbolic items—some religious themed, some not—that can inspire your “finishing touch” selections. That said, one universally popular item for all of these holidays and celebrations is an ornament. Ornaments can be incorporated into flower arrangements and plants and tied onto other gifts with beautiful ribbon; you just have to make the suggestion. You can present this add-on-sales option in any number of ways. One plan is to let customers choose an ornament (perhaps at a special price) from any of the decorated trees in your store; this will enable them to select a perfect ornament for any recipient’s personal taste and style. Another idea is to shop the gift markets early in the year for a single distinctive ornament that will be your shop’s “collectible ornament of the year”—much like Hallmark does. Or you can offer, say, three “collectible ornaments of the year”—each with a differing theme or style—from which customers can choose. 

Again, our list of purchase occasions is incomplete, and our suggestions are intended primarily to help get your creative juices flowing. To jumpstart the process, simply google “anniversary gifts,” “Easter gifts” or whatever purchase occasion for which you need inspiration. Brainstorming with your staff, however, is possibly the best plan; collectively, you will come up with “finishing touches” that are best suited to your clientele and work within their budgets. More important, though, is to get your staff’s input and participation (buy-in) on the selection process.

Once you’ve curated your collection of “finishing touches,” provide each salesperson with a list of the items for each purchase occasion, not only for easy reference but also as a reminder to mention your these items to every customer—in store and on the phone. Also, be sure to create a special section of “finishing touches” on your website and in all other marketing efforts. Here’s to a holiday season and new year abounding with increased sales.