Learning from the competition

September 27, 2010
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The garden centre industry is full of competitors. You’re up against the big box stores, grocery stores, warehouse outlets and the reason for this is that the garden centre sector is full of opportunity. These retailers have noticed that there’s money to be made in plants and they’ve found ways to sell your product. They’ve studied your business, pinpointed the opportunities that you’re missing and taken advantage of your weak spots. So why aren’t you doing the same to them?

The fact is that there’s plenty you can learn from your competitors. In August, Keith Turbett spoke to an audience of garden centre retailers at Chicago’s Independent Garden Center Show. During the session, Turbett, an industry supplier and marketer, relied on his European garden centre roots to share tips on how retailers overseas are keeping up with their competitors and ways North American retailers can do the same. He described grocery stores as ideal benchmarks for garden centres – these are places where your customers are going to shop every day.

Turbett encouraged retailers to look at how the supermarket is set up the next time they run out for milk or eggs. Grocery stores and warehouse clubs are under pressure to change their displays in time with promotions and keep the shopping environment fresh in order to wow shoppers seven days a week. Displays in your garden centre need to be set up so they can be changed with ease – think posters you can switch up in minutes, or wooden planks that can be painted a completely different colour on a rainy afternoon.

Turbett said you can also learn from the way a grocery store is set up – what products are grouped together and at what height are they displayed? Familiarity is important in a grocery store as people depend on a product to be in a certain area and get frustrated if it’s not. Consumers are trained to look for signage and they’ll do the same at your operation. The same goes with price – if you don’t have every single item clearly priced, the customer will pass that product by.

During the seminar, Turbett said that many European garden centres have added new categories to their shops to appeal to a wider audience, similar to the way in which big box stores began adding garden centres to their operations. He cited bookstores, pet stores, fish stores, kids’ items and home fashions as product categories that have become successful for many garden centres.

As you look at ways to expand or improve your garden centre this winter, don’t forget that inspiration can be found right in front of you. Your competitors are first and foremost successful retailers, and typically only offer garden products on the side. There are plenty of dos and don’ts you can learn from them that will give you great insight into your own operation.

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