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Want to build sales? Build a playground

Want to build sales … develop a playground

October 25, 2016  By John Stanley

Zulauf Gartencenter (Switzerland) sets up a skating rink each year. John Stanley

November 2016 – In my last article (October 2016) we focused on building sales by removing confusion. In this article I want to focus on the playground strategy in your business.

Consumer research indicates that the main reason consumers are shopping at lifestyle retail outlets, such as garden centres, is that they come for an experience. The product can be purchased online.

One of the keys to building sales is to analyze how you build an experience.


In my DayMaker workshops, group members often disagree that one of the objectives should be happy customers. Part of any marketing plan should aim at making consumers happier – if you do, I guarantee the average sale will increase.

This, then, is the importance of the playground policy. This is a strategy to use space to entertain your customers rather than a space from which you sell product to them. That space can be used in many ways. I recently visited a Swiss garden centre that had converted part of the plant area in winter into an ice skating rink. The plant area was a busy location for teenagers in a garden centre in November … something that is rarely seen.

In my view, the playground strategy should focus on your target market and enhancing what you already do. Many garden centres, for example, have set space aside for garden classes.

Workshops that have intrigued customers and attracted large crowds of gardeners include:

Eat Your Weeds: Consumers are fascinated that many of the weeds in their garden can be used in a salad, soup or garnish to a meal. A workshop organized with a local chef who understands how to engage with the consumer and develop weed tastings in the garden centre will intrigue your customers. Plus, it is something that is difficult to learn from on the Internet, although it is possible.

Grow your Own Blueberry Pie: Following on from the previous theme, more and more consumers are looking to grow their own food. The challenge is how do you prepare it for a meal. The Nurseryland garden centre group in Canada has developed a marketing campaign on “Grow Your Own XXXX.” They have focused on the end product rather than the plant. This especially appeals to millennial consumers who always start with the end in mind.

A garden centre can take this to the next level and the plant manager and a local chef could join forces and do workshops on the growing and food preparation.

Flower Arranging with Vegetables: One of our local florists developed a workshop where they did floral arrangements using vegetables and fruit. This proved to be highly successful as a workshop. They ran the workshops at farmer’s markets, but I can see no reason why this could not have been done in a garden centre.

Secret Gardens: We all love discovering something that nobody else in our circle has discovered. I have one client who starts a workshop in the plant area of the garden centre and then takes the group to private gardens of some of the customers. The day finishes back at the garden centre and shows the plants in the retail area that were on show in the gardens. The garden owners are thrilled to show off their gardens and the visitors are thrilled to see gardens they would not normally see, while the garden centre builds plant sales and loyalty.

All are winners: Brainstorm what can be done with space as a playground to enrich the customer experience and loyalty will build as well as sales.

John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and author. His expertise is in customer focused layout, merchandising, marketing and branding, and customer-focused selling and service. Visit his website at

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