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Features Business Marketing
Boost Secondary Sales: Encourage your customer to add-on

June 23, 2008
By Andrew Hind


Secondary sales – the
sale of additional items to supplement an original purchase – are the
key to success in many retail endeavours, but most especially among
garden centres. It’s the easiest, most effective way to boost sales,
category wide.

Combining furniture and plants in displays serves as a reminder of how customers can use the products in their homes.

Secondary sales – the sale of additional items to supplement an original purchase – are the key to success in many retail endeavours, but most especially among garden centres. It’s the easiest, most effective way to boost sales, category wide.

Consider for a moment a fruit tree, which would amount to a good sale of $50 or so. But if one were to add transplanter fertilizer, fertilizer spikes, fruit tree spray to ward off insects and disease, a stake to support the immature tree and ensure it grows straight and tall, and perhaps even a tree guard to prevent rodents from gnawing on the tender bark, the sale is easily doubled. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?


And when you combine lifestyle and garden décor products with green goods, the potential for increasing sales goes even higher! That’s the magic, the allure, of secondary sales. Best of all, increasing your secondary sales isn’t difficult nor does it involve an outlay in money. It simply requires planning and dedication on the part of you and your staff.

Merchandising to Sell

Merchandising is more than simply putting stock on the shelves. It’s about selling a lifestyle and creating displays that allow people to visualize ideas in their own homes. An inspired display is a silent salesperson; it will sell for you.

“The most effective method of selling additional products depends on the item, of course, but the best way to sell gifts and home décor would be showing them in a home or patio setting,” says Karin Vermeer of Vermeer’s Garden Centre and Flower Shop, in Welland, Ont. “This makes the customer feel they just have to have it to complete the look they are trying to achieve.”

It’s a truth savvy merchandisers embrace to the fullest and to their advantage. Customers, particularly casual gardeners, may not be creative or visually inclined, or perhaps may not be confident enough to explore their options, so it’s important to show how décor can be used. Combining furniture and plants and decorative items in displays serves as a constant reminder how customers can – and should – use these things to enhance their own homes and gardens.
As a result, a popular and effective way to increase sales is to devote space and time into creating vignettes within your store that incorporate a range of products, from plants and furniture, to pots, lighting and décor. It might be a sophisticated outdoor living room, a tranquil pond sanctuary – whatever image you want to sell.

If it’s eye-catching and dramatic, people will want to recreate the look and you will have made an impressive sale with very little effort. While these displays need to be spectacular, you don’t need to be an expert designer to pull it off. Simply open the pages of commercial gardening and lifestyle magazines for inspiration and designs to model after.

It’s important to note that these vignettes are one way an independent garden centre can separate itself from the big box stores. They may have more stock. They may have better prices. But when selling a lifestyle the cold confines of a big box store, which typically merchandises with an eye towards efficiency instead of flair, is at a distinct disadvantage to an intimate garden centre that bursts with ideas, options, and inspiration.

Location is key in driving secondary sales. Make the effort to view the garden centre as your customers see it. Enter through the main doors and walk through your displays following the most well-travelled routes. Note the spots that naturally catch your eye. These are the best choices for cross-merchandising displays.

Displays near the entrance are particularly powerful because they provide a vital first impression and set the tone for a customers’ shopping experience. The idea is to make the entrance visually compelling to create a sense of swelling excitement.

Don’t be afraid to blur the lines between departments as well. There’s no reason pots can’t find their way into the furniture department, or that stone statuary can’t brighten up a plant display – it’s a way of subtly reminding customers, who may have come in for a specific item, that their original vision can be enhanced with other complementary products.


Your staff members are vital to promoting secondary sales. The process begins by having staff on hand who are available to customers and trained to help them recreate the looks presented in your displays. After all, it’s no use having a beautiful and inspiring in-ground pond vignette if a shopper interested in recreating that look can’t find someone to guide him through the process.

At the same time, and more generally, they need to be encouraged to go that extra mile to suggest add-on items for every sale. A salesperson who helps a customer select a rose should be sure to recommend triple mix for the planting hole, rose food and perhaps gloves and pruners. If the exchange is handled in such a way that it’s clear the staff member is trying to help the customer realize his dreams and avoid pitfalls, the customer will be appreciative and more often than not will not only buy those add-on items but will also leave thoroughly content with his experience.

Customers, after all, want to be helped and guided. There’s a skill to making add-on sales though, a fine line between assisting and pushing. Using anecdotes is far more effective than a typical sales pitch, and it encourages people to try the item, to become excited about it.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it needs to be reinforced among staff members that customers really do come first. Frequently, customers want more than just a simple answer to a technical question – they seek an affirmation of the choices they are considering. Staff should spend time with the customer during the entire purchase, to encourage them, to reinforce their ideas, to make suggestions. It’s about turning a recreational gardener into an avid gardener who will return time and time again with increasingly grandiose plans. A shopper who is emboldened to higher levels of experimentation will make his own add-on sales, perhaps not today but in the months and years ahead.

Obviously, to make your staff efficient at driving secondary sales, they need to be trained in a relatively broad manner. But, as should be apparent, any investment in training will be more than reimbursed in sales.

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