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Royer’s at 85: Finding our niche

Kenneth Royer, then-president of Royer’s Flowers, was the subject of a 1991 “Masters of Business” feature in the Lancaster New Era newspaper.

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.

Ken Royer, the son of Royer’s Flowers founders Hannah and Lester Royer, wrote the book on running a successful flower shop, both in a figurative sense and quite literally.

His decades of experience at the helm of Royer’s Flowers, during which it became one of the largest florists in the United States, certainly qualified him as an authority in his field.

And he put his insights into words, which he published in book form under the title, “Retailing Flowers Profitably.”

QUALITY CONTROL

If you wanted a distillation of Ken’s 500-page manuscript and flower-selling philosophy, you could do worse than a 1991 “Masters of Business” feature in the Lancaster New Era newspaper.

In a question-and-answer format with a reporter, Ken described how Royer’s carved a niche for itself that allowed the company to grow from one store with $170,000 in annual revenues when he took over from his parents in the mid-1950s to 18 locations and more than $12 million in annual revenues at the time of the interview.

“Most people in this business are crafts oriented,” Ken said, “they’re most comfortable with the design aspects and working with the flowers. That makes it hard to be able to grow beyond a store or two.”

Ken, who earned a degree in floriculture from Michigan State University, said he was more drawn to the business side.

“I saw a big opportunity to bring sophisticated business procedures and marketing techniques to the industry, which traditionally was very segmented and never really had a national chain like most other industries.”

Creativity being a subjective thing, Ken explained, made it difficult to institutionalize across multiple locations.

“But that’s essentially what you have to do,” he said. “The key is developing a system where there are controls over the stores that give you consistency and quality control.”

Royer’s was dubbed the “McDonald’s of the flower business,” Ken said, for offering 25 basic arrangements available at each of its stores. Royer’s talented designers could customize anything, but the company’s aim was to offer “easy-to-buy flowers for personal enjoyment or routine social expressions.

“The average guy can come in here and not feel intimated or embarrassed. You don’t have to know a thing about flowers or how much they cost to come in here and get something nice.”

MAKING MAGIC

To control the quality of products and services offered, Royer’s introduced:

  • An in-house design training program
  • A central design division in Lebanon
  • A 24-month management training program

The depth of the effort betrayed the limit of the fast-food comparison.

“It all comes down to knowledge,” Ken said. “You can’t just hire anybody to stand behind the counter; they must understand the business. It’s not like fast food – you can teach somebody everything they need to know about burgers in five minutes.”

Floral design was more complicated than flipping burgers, but Royer’s wanted the process to be fast-food simple from the customer’s perspective.

Royer’s focus early on was to make flower buying easier and more convenient.

“I guess you could say that we want to take the mystery out of flower buying,” he said, “but not the magic.”

Royer’s at 85: Expansion to Ephrata

The new Ephrata store as it looked when it opened in 1983. (Photo: Ephrata Review)

This is part of a series of occasional blog posts about important events in Royer’s history as the company marks its 85th anniversary in 2022.

In 1991, a reporter for the Lancaster New Era newspaper asked then-Royer’s president Ken Royer how the company had been able to grow from its flagship location in Lebanon to 18 stores throughout the region.

“What we did first was figure out our niche,” Ken said, “determine what kind of store we wanted to be. You can’t be all things to all people and maintain the element of control that is so vital.”

He noted that many flower shop owners could do well with one or two locations if they were relatively close to one another.

“But when we opened the Ephrata store in 1969, we crossed that mountain, so to speak,” he said. “The Ephrata store was in a different county from our Lebanon base, and I couldn’t be there all the time, yet I had to make things happen there.”

Ken’s mother, Hannah, started what would become Royer’s in 1937 without really knowing it. She was just growing African violets on the windowsill of her Lebanon home until a neighbor offered to sell some of the plants at the garment factory where she worked.

Acquiring For-Get-Me-Not

What evolved into South Side Flower Shop and ultimately Royer’s Flowers & Gifts comprised only the Lebanon store until the expansion 20 miles east into Ephrata, Lancaster County.

Royer’s acquired the For-Get-Me-Not Flower Shop in Ephrata, which Paul Weik had founded in the 1940s. The store, adopting the Royer’s name, moved from 9 W. Main St. to larger space next door at 11 W. Main St.

It remained there until April 1983, when it relocated to yet larger space, a former Arco gasoline station at 165 S. Reading Road, across Route 272 from the Ephrata Cloister. Jim Martin, who had owned the gas station, joined Royer’s as a delivery driver in Ephrata.

Royer’s turned a former Arco gas station into its Ephrata store, which continues to operate today. (Photo: Ephrata Review)

Royer’s spent $100,000 to remove underground gasoline storage tanks and renovate the building, expanding it from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet and adding a greenhouse and walk-in cooler for customers to select loose flowers.

The new Ephrata store celebrated a five-day grand opening in June 1983 with a circus theme and a visit from Miss Lancaster County.

By that time, Ephrata was one of seven Royer’s stores, with a first York store soon to open.

Royer’s had found its niche, which we’ll explore in a separate installment in this series.