Getting Better at What We Do

December 01, 2010
Written by Brian Minter
We must get better at what we do and how we do it. Having just come out of a recession and entering a dead slow recovery mode, and leaving a year fraught with bad weather from coast to coast, I have a sense that more than a few New Year’s “wish fors” might be good weather and a better economy. We have no control over these factors, but going forward, our overriding industry-wide approach should be to improve our products and services and how we promote them.

Recent research out of Britain has revealed the number 1 reason folks go to garden stores is for the experience. When you think this through, it makes a great deal of sense. Garden stores can be some of the most calming, relaxing places in a world full of stress – an escape and a getaway! We touch all the senses with beautiful perfumes, relaxing sounds of water, tactile plants and gorgeous colours to enjoy. Most garden stores offer a small, unique food service, whether it be a cool or warm drink or a delectable dessert. We also sell “take-out food” in the form of vegetables, berry fruits, nut plants and seeds. We have it all in a calming and safe environment. This is the essence of what we are, and we now need to take each of these elements and bring them to another level. Focusing on these elements will not only reinforce our value to existing customers but also attract younger ones by word of mouth, now one of the most powerful drivers, especially when it functions through social media.

The main theme for 2011, according to most international garden centre consultants, is “less is more.” Most garden stores worldwide have been challenged with sales over the past two years and have learned two valuable lessons: inventory control is paramount and fewer highly productive people outweigh larger staff numbers. You would be surprised at how many stores who were down in sales became more profitable and better-run organizations by focusing on these two areas.

Developing a very thorough budgeting process and actually following it through is an art that we all need to adopt with a passion. There is also a need to be flexible enough to adjust it as sales trends evolve. It’s not sexy, but it’s the core pillar of a well-run business. Watching cash flow projections will keep you fluid and able to pay bills on time and receive significant discounts for prepayments. This can add money to your bottom line.

The key areas to watch are multiple brands of the same product. Make a single choice and save money. Get out of love with all plants. Last year’s invoices and this year’s inventory will tell you what sold. The pretty trees you have left had better be really, really pretty because they are costing you lots. You need to be aware of the new trends and the exciting new plants, and stock them, but recognize that many traditional varieties are going the way of the dinosaurs. Successful nurseries and garden stores are selling the “hotties,” and there are lots for 2011. Colourful, sensory, hardy and easy plants that work in small spaces are the winners.

Speaking of easy, the younger generations, particularly the Xs who are now in their late 30s and early 40s, are in our stores. Keep it simple for them. Easy gardening is what they are about. You used to have 10 words in 10 seconds to communicate with them, but sorry, it’s now seven words in seven seconds! The more technology you can use – your website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – to connect with them, the better. Smart packaging is the key. Simply Salad, the Pan American lettuce blend introduction, is leading the way. Package “flavour” in vegetable and small fruit containers and baskets for sun or shade. Position bulbs as low-maintenance items: you “pop ’em in and they’ll pop up.” Offer lawn seeds with organic weed, moss and nutrient controls. Provide easy and effective solutions.

Interest in the environment is stronger than we think. We need to be leaders in what we personally do for the environment … and no greenwashing! How we recycle, conserve energy, minimize toxic pesticide use and reduce waste is becoming far more important every year. Folks will choose to shop at the places that care for our planet.

Organics are also growing in importance. We need to have effective organic alternatives to chemical products in a competitive price range. Most people want to do the right thing for the planet and need our help to do it wisely and sensibly. They need to be guided in a courteous, informative and entertaining way. Make it fun for them to learn.

Pricing has moved to the top of decision-making factors and will remain there for some time. When folks go to a garden store, they know they will be paying more, but they appreciate the value-added items, the correct information and more personalized service. They will also expect a better selection along with quality, newer plants and plant products.

The year 2011 will be full of opportunity for our industry if we become better at everything we do.

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