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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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In Marketplace

Locker's Florists is cooking up a unique promotion for Valentine's Day.

In Marketplace

Locker's has three retail locations and will add a drive-thru Feb. 11-14 at State Fair Park.

Locker's to add drive-thru twist to Valentine's market

Chris Leffler has been in the flower business for roughly nine months and jokes that he still "doesn't know a pansy from a petunia."

What he does know, however, is that understanding customers and serving their needs is the key to success in just about every business.

Leffler, the owner of popular Leff's Lucky Town tavern in Wauwatosa and Revere's Wells Street Tavern in Delafield, took over operations of Locker's Florist last May, just in time for the Mother's Day rush.

"I didn't do any arrangements," he said. "We have experts for that. The employees here have been in the business a long time and they know how to handle that end of things."

Leffler's expertise is in a different area.

"What I bring to the table is more the marketing side and the business end of things," he said. "I look at things from an inventory and distribution standpoint and see how we can make things work in this economy.

"It's a new business for me and it's been a lot of fun. Locker's traditionally did a very good job of marketing themselves. We came in with a bit of a new perspective on things."

Leffler shared one of his first ideas with operations manager Emma Todt and the results will be very visible very soon.

"Valentine's Day is obviously a busy time," he said. "I said to Emma, 'Why don't you guys ever have something at the State Fair Grounds, where the giant pumpkin is for Halloween?'"

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the "drive-thru Valentine."

"At first, I just wanted to get a trailer or something to advertise," Leffler said. "Then it evolved to a drive-thru. We have a Web site -- It will be under the Locker's name, but we'll market ourselves a little differently. That's the start of an entity within an entity."

Todt, who guided the business through a rocky period when the Iowa-based Boesen family relinquished ownership, liked the idea from the outset.

"We're a tradition-based industry," she said. "To have a different, unique perspective is exciting.

"It's no secret that the grocery stores have tapped into our industry and it has hurt. Now, we can offer something that they don't have, which is the drive-thru."

The drive-thru location will operate Feb. 11-14 in front of the Pettit National Ice Center and will offer roses, tulips, mixed bouquets and an array of candy from Ultimate Confections.

Leffler thinks the drive-thru concept will be a hit for Valentine's Day with the potential for expansion.

"You can give your wife or girlfriend flowers for Valentine's Day or get your mom a bouquet on Mother's Day and that's fine," he said. "But, when you do it for other occasions, it means that much more to them. They're really impressed and overwhelmed by it.

"One of my ideas was that flowers are a great way for guys to get out of the doghouse. I thought we could have a 'I Stayed Out Too Late' bouquet or a 'I Forgot To Call Last Night' bouquet. I thought it would be great to have a drive-thru for those and that's pretty much how it evolved to Valentine's Day.

"Normal guys usually don't think about Valentine's Day until it's here, then it's 'Oh, (no) ...'"

Several years ago, Locker's partnered with radio station 102.9 The Hog on a popular "flowers and pie" promotion that brought a bouquet of flowers and a Bakers Square pie. Leffler brought that back this month.

"We're doing it with a new spin," Todt said. "Since we are a local business that is trying to survive in tough times, instead of Bakers Square we're using Kaiser's Six Points Bakery, which is locally owned. That's also why we use Ultimate Confections. We'd used more regional candy suppliers in the past, but we wanted to support local businesses."

It was that strong local tie, coupled with the fact that he owned the company's warehouse and wanted to keep the facility occupied, that attracted Leffler to the business.

"It's always been known as Milwaukee's homegrown florist," he said. "We want to emphasize those roots. We live and work in Milwaukee. We're locally owned. We want to get that out there."

Last month, Locker's sold Christmas trees from the small lot in front of Leff's Lucky Town. Some of the proceeds benefitted the baseball teams at Wauwatosa East and West High Schools.

"That was great," Leffler said. "It wasn't a huge moneymaker, but Leff's got some traffic, the baseball teams got some money and maybe those families will remember that we helped."

Later this year, Locker's will partner with Habitat for Humanity's "Women Build" program. Special bouquets will be produced and $10 from each sale will benefit the charity.

Leffler hopes things like that will give Locker's an edge over national competitors.

"It's always nice to get flowers, but with some of the national places the quality just isn't there," he said. "It's like they put a kit together."

Todt agreed. "Half the time, they're frozen," she said. "Or, they are so limp because they've been dehydrated. You have to re-cut them and cross your fingers that they might come back."

That's not a problem at Locker's, Leffler said.

"If you're at one of our three retail locations (Wauwatosa, West Allis and the Milwaukee Public Market) and they take something out of the cooler that doesn't look fresh, they'll replace it on the spot," he said.

"We want to offer the type of service that will set us apart."

Sounds like a guy whose knowledge of the business is growing, doesn't it?

"I still don't know that much about the flowers," Leffler said. "Every so often, I'll pick some flowers out of the garbage at the warehouse and lie to my wife and say "I put this together myself.

"I'd never had centerpieces for Thanksgiving and Christmas before I got into this and they are great. I encourage everyone to buy them ... and call us when they do."


rubyteus2 | Feb. 3, 2010 at 10:13 p.m. (report)

If Leff thinks it's a good idea then it must be. He's a success story and a great guy who gives back to his community. Good luck Leff, and I think you will be a great flower peddler.

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webtrain | Jan. 29, 2010 at 10:49 a.m. (report)

I think it is a great idea. There are a lot of guys that don't think about it until last minute, or are just to overwhelmed by going to the flower shop. This makes it easy for them. The option is still there to go to the flower shop or online for everyone else. How cool is that!

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Thoughtful | Jan. 27, 2010 at 9:58 p.m. (report)

Not sure if I like this idea...shouldn't you take some time and select something meaningful or thoughtful. This is the equivalent of getting an extra value meal vs. going to carnevor and having your favorite table waiting.

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