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WOBURN, MA-Driven by franchisees, KaBloom Ltd., founded in 1998 to introduce Americans to the European practice of making fresh flowers an everyday purchase, is blossoming nationwide. There are currently 108 KaBloom units, and Donna Capichano, VP of real estate and construction, tells GSR, “right now, we’re opening two stores a week.” She anticipates between 60 and 100 new KaBloom units next year.

They range from as little as 250 sf to over 2,000 sf. “A unit can go almost anywhere,” she says, “including in open-air locations.” One of KaBloom’s especially successful units operates from 435 sf in Washington DC’s Union Station, for example, and a unit in Boston’s South Street Station consists of an open-air, full-glass, walk-through cooler with wrapping areas on either side.

The company owns seven units and will pare that down to five, which will remain under corporate ownership. KaBloom revamped in 2001 to become a franchiser, initially focused on the Northeast. Now, “we are in all four corners of the country,” Capichano says, “and franchise agreements determine the location of new units.” By year-end there will be KaBloom units in approximately 32 states nationwide.

Once a franchise agreement is struck, Capichano establishes a relationship with a real estate broker in that franchisee’s market area. Pre-selection of a site takes place primarily between the franchisee and the broker, with Capichano having the last word on approval or disapproval.

“We’re flexible,” she says. “We seek high-traffic locations with high visibility, easy access, ideally near other stores that fill daily needs.” Among them are pharmacies, dry cleaners, Starbucks, wine stores, video outlets and grocery stores, she says. “We love cities and other vibrant downtown locations and community shopping centers. It depends on consumers’ shopping habits, such as whether they walk or drive,” she explains. “In Boise, we’re in a high-traffic strip center.”

Despite their differences in size, all units contain KaBloom’s signature walk-in cooler with doors that automatically open as shoppers approach. The coolers are filled with fresh flowers by the stem and bouquets. “Flowers are our display,” she emphasizes. KaBloom units typically contain about 200 varieties of stems, plants and bouquets, compared with about 40 at the average supermarket and just 20 at a traditional florist.

KaBloom CEO, president and founder, David Hartstein, worked for three years to develop a system of transferring flowers from farms in Bogotá, Colombia, in water to ensure that they have a seven-day life when they arrive at stores. Capichano declined to divulge the proportion of sales derived from cash-and-carry fresh flower stems. “The proportion varies from store to store,” she says, “but cash-and-carry is what most distinguishes KaBloom from other flower outlets.”

KaBloom stores also develop B2B business in their areas along with all of the other services floral shops traditionally provide, such as live plants and floral arrangements for weddings, funerals and other events. Franchisees receive three weeks of training at headquarters before opening a unit and also obtain continuing training on site from KaBloom representatives.

In developing stores, franchisees utilize a KaBloom prototype format, which is designed to apply for all sizes of stores. But, they are afforded a lot of leeway in design.

Beyond the requisite cooler, company colors, logo and signage, “we like franchisees to give units their own personal touch,” Capichano says. And they do. The Mesa, AZ franchisee constructed the unit as a full-glass cooler, “so it looks like it’s completely open,” she says. The franchisee in Glastonbury, CT put in a fireplace, “which gives the store a warm, comfortable feel.”

Franchisees buy a territory for a single, or up to as many as 10 units. Capichano says KaBloom does not necessarily seek to open units in geographic clusters, although clusters often form in an area, once a unit opens and then “each tends to benefit the other,” she contends.

The criteria for franchisees vary widely, but must include, she says, “a passion for the concept. A person with a passion for flowers and good business sense can be taught to be floral savvy,” she reasons. “We also look for people who are well-entrenched in their community, because success, particularly in developing B2B business, relies on networking and spreading the word.”

Currently, there are no plans to expand KaBloom outside the US. Capichano says, “we project for five years, and are set up with franchisees,” but she declined to forecast unit expansion beyond 2005, noting, “many franchisees go on to open multiple units.”

The Society of American Florists estimates that sales of flowers, plants and related goods at floral outlets were approximately $19 billion in 2003. KaBloom reports total sales of approximately $15 million in 2002 and projects sales to total about $50 million by the end of this year.

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