Breaking Down Barriers: Overcoming ‘Ob-structures’

June 13, 2011
Written by Judy Sharpton
When Macy’s, Whole Foods  or Ikea builds a retail store, they find a flat piece of ground and build a square or rectangular structure that compacts all retail activities conveniently at the centre of the box and all support activities like deliveries, offices, staff lunchrooms, restrooms and electrical controls on the periphery. For the vast majority of garden centres and farm markets, that potential disappeared one or two generations ago when the store started as one greenhouse or one roadside stand that the parents or grandparents never dreamed would be so successful as to need another building or another greenhouse. And another, and another and another. In that topsy-turvy growth over generations, these horticultural entrepreneurs received little in the way of assistance in retail planning and development. They were on their own.

The exterior space adjacent to the hoop houses was the site of a service road. By moving the road to the perimeter of the retail area, Moulton Farms gained 1,800 square feet of prime retail space and a better material handling program.

Many of my most interesting and rewarding projects over the past 15 years have involved these ever-expanding family businesses, often located in small communities where the demographics are never going to allow for the sales growth that fuels bulldozer rebuilds. These are the stores that must initiate a one-year, three-year and five-year plan to refurbish the location out of revenue. Although these plans are hardly ever glamorous, they are often effective.

Several of the stores who participated in the Proven Winners Store-Within-A-Store project embody the greatest challenges of generational development in small communities. Both Moulton Farms of Meredith, N.H. and Riverside Farms in Farmington, Maine have seen their stores benefit from the growth of their communities and the renewed interest in fresh food from local sources. But, each of these stores has grown without an overall plan, acquiring land or adding structures based on immediate demand. When that happens, “ob-structures” become part of the growth – a road that conducts semis through the exterior “store,” a pair of 96-foot-long skinny hoops that demand (sometimes unsuccessfully!) the customer walk to the end and back along very tight “butt-brush” aisles.

I admit, not all “ob-structures” can be corrected. Sometimes roads cannot be moved, carts cannot be accommodated and hoop houses cannot be remodelled. But, not often.

At Riverside Farms, a connecting tunnel allows customer access to greenhouse 2, where we placed the Proven Winners Store-Within-A-Store, and an easy return to the checkout. Naming the tunnel was the owner’s idea.
For Moulton and Riverside, all these options were doable and within their budgets. Moulton Farms had lots of space so the road could be relocated. Riverside Farms were able to build a connecting tunnel between the two skinny hoops.

Moulton Farms had a Macy’s moment; they gained 1,800 square feet of prime retail space at the centre of the store, allowing greater customer-merchandise contact, easier staff-customer interaction and increased sales. Riverside Farms’ customers were sure the store had been expanded and the dead-end greenhouse proved to be one of our most successful Proven Winners Store-Within-A-Store placements, increasing sales throughout the store.

In these difficult economic times, offering the finest product selection in an inviting shopping environment is a primary goal of every retailer. The Proven Winners Store-Within-A-Store concept coupled with a whole store consumer-friendly environment is an opportunity every retailer can embrace, and most retailers can actually accomplish.

Judy Sharpton is a garden centre design and renovation specialist with 35 years of experience in advertising and promotion. She is the owner of Growing Places Marketing.

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