Encourage Frequent Shoppers to Your Garden Centre

April 14, 2008
Written by John Stanley
The traditional garden centre around the world attracts consumers four to six times a year.  At this average ratio, it is difficult to build a regular loyal customer base and grow your business.
These Are the Customers Who Will Make You Rich

The traditional garden centre around the world attracts consumers four to six times a year.  At this average ratio, it is difficult to build a regular loyal customer base and grow your business. Perhaps it is time we looked at the prime consumer that we should be attracting and then build a business around such a target.

Who will make us rich?
According to the latest semi-annual Shopper Mindset report produced by BIG research and MARS advertising, we should be aiming at a 31-year-old, frequent leisure-time shopper. Their way of relaxing is to go away from the home and spend on average $113.33 per shopping trip.

They have planned their shopping trip before they have left home and are prepared for a relaxing shopping experience, where advertising in the media has done very little to stimulate what they are going to buy.  The important message for retailers is that they are looking for wants, not needs, and therefore are not driven by price.

They are looking for in-store influences rather than traditional advertising messages and as a result are not prepared to shop aisle to aisle to get what they are looking for.

How does this apply to garden centres?
Globally, traditional garden centres who have not changed their layout in the last fifteen years are having a hard time, whilst independent garden centres with flair are increasing their market share; this does not seem to be related to size.  Eden Gardens in Australia are recognized as a large retail player, but Sunkist Garden Pavillion in South Africa, Mid Ulster Garden Centre in Northern Ireland and Old Towne Nursery in California would be considered small garden centres, yet all of them are finding the changes are beneficial and they are gaining market share.

What do you need to do?
Down aging your garden centre is the critical factor.  Down aging means you need to present an offer that attracts the 31-year-old impulse shopper, whilst maintaining the loyalty of your existing customer base.  Achieving that is a real challenge; this article will concentrate on ideas that have worked with our clients around the world.

My top nine ideas for getting rich:
1. Change Your Layout
Rows and rows of plants are not going to provide the consumer with the right ambience to get them to impulse spend.   Plus, it makes you look too much like a ‘box store.’  I know it worked in the past, and as a consultant I used to lay out garden centres using a grid layout.  But, it does not work for today’s consumer.  They want to explore, and therefore a boutique layout works effectively.  Old Towne Nursery and Sunkist Nurseries both achieved a 35 per cent increase in average sales when they changed their layout – plus this was not a capital expense, but it did mean investing in time and thinking outside the box.

2. Make Your Plant Area Smaller
I realize horticulturists are horrified at the thought of smaller plant centres, but at Garden Works in Eire and Mid Ulster Garden Centre in Northern Ireland that is exactly what we did. The result has been an increase in overall plant sales.  At any one time there are fewer plant species available, but over a twelve-month period the plant range has increased.  Why?  Customers buy when plants look good.

3. Containers, Not Plants, Lead the Way
Our new potential consumer is a fashion-led consumer, they don’t know their plants, but they do know their fashion colours.  They select containers over plants.  With gardens and yards getting smaller, the garden has become an outdoor living room and a personal fashion statement.  As a result, containers lead the buying decision, especially with the younger buyer.

4. Provide Lifestyle Statements, Not Plants
Following on from tip two, containers and plants must be displayed together.  In the garden centres I have mentioned, the plant buyer is also the container buyer.  In my view, this is essential.  In today’s market I find it important that the retail product buying decision is made by the same person, otherwise you can have some weird mix and match items on offer to the consumer.

5. Room Settings are Critical
Today’s consumer goes to furniture stores and sees room settings; they go to garden centres and still expect to see room settings.  The garden centres I have already mentioned rely on room settings to grow sales.  Plantland in South Africa has also proved this to be a highly successful way to grow their business.  One of my local garden centres, Zanthorrea Nursery, is in the process of changing from grid setting to room settings at present and believe they have to change these at least once a season to maintain the consumers interest and to get them to come back more often.

6.  Don’t Advertise, Promote
Advertising, in the traditional format, is becoming less and less effective.  Price is becoming less and less of a driver in experience retailing. We now have to inspire the consumer to walk in your door.  This means that today’s promotions have to be a lot more inspiring to ensure you grow your market share.  I recently worked with a client, who was very hesitant about not putting traditional price-led adverts in the newspaper.  I encourage him to use emotional words and sell ideas.  As a result, within six months he has become the retailer to follow with his city and his sales have grown by 50 per cent.

7. Be Open With Your Financial Performance Figures
I recently worked with a garden centre in the U.K. where none of the managers knew sales per square foot in the categories they managed.  This horrified me, as they were making business decisions based on gross profit rather than product performance.  What was even scarier was that their plants were the lowest performers in the business.

Once the performance measures were introduced into the business, the changes were dramatic.  Category managers were able to make business decisions.  For example, the plant manager decided to half the space allocated to trees and double the space allocated to patio plants –  a logical, rational decision that was correct for the business and grow sales.

8. Change is Inevitable
People resist change, we all do, but change is inevitable.  In conferences I use McDonald’s as an example.  This was a business that up to two or three years ago was doing well.  It was easily recognizable.  But, check out their flagship store in Chicago. You would not recognize it as a McDonald’s of old.  McDonald’s is now a flagship for change.

My local McDonald’s offers cappuccino, fresh salad, yoghurt, internet facilities and croissants.   They had to listen to their consumer.  Sixty per cent of women with children who entered a McDonald’s did not purchase anything, why?  They had nothing to sell that appealed to these consumers.

McDonald’s had to change their offer.  It is the same in garden centres; we have to provide the products, presented in the right way, to attract the new consumer and encourage existing customers to buy more.

9. Attitude
Over the last few years the retail message in our industry has been to provide lifestyle statements.  Many retailers have heard the call and changed.  The new message from consumers is ‘attitude.’  Does your team have the right attitude to grow the business?
I recently visited a garden centre where consumers were not greeted and were left to wander the store without any social contact. How they planned to grow the average sale per customer was beyond me.  They had the product and technical skills, but lacked the attitude.
Today’s consumer expects empathy, understanding and an experience.  The team are part of that process.

The opportunities to grow garden centre sales are exciting.  It is a time of change.  Recent hikes in petrol prices will encourage consumers to shop locally and to invest more time in home entertainment and lifestyle statements ... enjoy the journey.

John Stanley is a qualified horticulturalist, obtaining his degree in horticulture in the UK.  For ten years he was a lecturer in Garden Centre Management prior to starting a consultancy company in garden centre design and management. John has written five books specifically on garden centre management and design.  He works with garden centres in 17 countries including the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. John can be contacted via his website www.johnstanley.cc or phone 08 9293 4533.

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