Editorial: June 2011

June 14, 2011
Written by
Sometimes a change of perspective is good. At the end of May, I accompanied a friend to a garden centre to see the experience through her eyes. She’s a great example of a first-time garden centre customer who has the potential to become a lasting one, with a little work.

Having purchased her first home late last year, she’s now at the point where she’s moving beyond the home’s interior and looking to the exterior. Luckily, the previous homeowner left her with a garden full of perennials that needs just a little TLC and a lot of weeding. She was hoping to venture to her local independent garden centre for a few containers to provide a little extra colour and add interest to her front porch. She views containers as a safe introduction to gardening – if they end up dying (which she believes is likely to happen) then the investment is minimal and she can shuffle the containers off to a corner in the tool shed to hide her failed attempt.

So off we went on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was only there to observe, but she felt more comfortable having someone alongside her. When we reached our first greenhouse, filled with rows of annuals lacking clear signage, she hit a wall. She’d seen the lush and full containers on all her neighbours’ front porches, but suddenly the task seemed overwhelming. She had no idea where to start, what would work best for her lighting conditions and which plants would be compatible. Sure, they all had those little plant tags but she was looking for a little more direction and reassurance than the white picks could offer.

Changing her mind, she opted to start with an easier task – find a pot first and then try to fill it. When we arrived at the hard goods area, it was clear this wouldn’t be so simple. Most of the pots were difficult to access and there wasn’t a price tag in sight. Feeling defeated, she decided maybe this year she’d go with a pre-potted container and once she’d conquered that, next year she’d plant her own. Unfortunately, even that route was a bust. The pre-potted selection was limited to just two options and both were larger than she was ready to commit to. Feeling frustrated, and with no one to help her, she left the garden centre empty-handed.

What would have turned her into a buyer? Employee contact would have been a start. While we did venture out on one of the centre’s busiest days, we spent a half hour wandering the isles without anyone acknowledging us. Several staff members crossed our path but they were on the way to water plants, sweep the floors or restock the shelves. Approaching the customer – especially one with the look of confusion she had on her face – should be the most important task during retail hours.

Garden centres also need to make things easier for shoppers to buy. On a hot day in a steamy greenhouse, frustration creeps in fast and the ambitions of garden newbies can wilt pretty quickly. Use your displays and signage to present options. Stock the supplies for a quick and simple container garden on an end-cap. And make sure your pre-potted selection provides options. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for a quick way to beautify their yard. They’ll pay for the convenience of swinging by the garden centre to pick up a pre-arranged pot for a last-minute summer barbecue or gathering.

Next time a new face walks into your garden centre, consider how they might feel walking into a brand new retail environment. Your products can be intimidating and you and your staff are key to overcoming this factor. By paying a little extra attention and offering up careful guidance, you can convert this nervous new shopper into a loyal, longtime customer.

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