On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

January 18, 2005
Written by By Stephen Head
Planning and Promoting for the Start of the Gardening Season

The May long weekend is a highly anticipated event, but it does cause some trepidation amoung garden centre operators. Do we have enough products? What will the weather be like? These are a few of the questions retailers ask themselves as the weekend looms closer.  From my own experience and talking with colleagues in the industry, the event can go smoothly with advanced planning.  Of course, we want to get new customers in the store, but it’s just as important to sell to our existing customers.

Remember the retail adage, ‘It costs five times more to attract a new customer than to sell more to the ones you already have’. How do we achieve this?  Planning – what products to stock and which to promote, letting people know what you have and how it can make their lives better, attractive displays in strategical positions. Although the May long weekend tends to kick-start the gardening season, these strategies should carry you through the retail journey throughout the spring and summer.
With planning, practice and some training, creating show-stopping displays does not need to be a time consuming activity.

The long weekend will inevitably happen, and how successful we are can be determined by a well-executed plan. Identifying current trends in fashion and home décor, what’s hot and what’s not, what has sold well this season, what has given the best return for space, new and exciting plants and products – these are all vital elements in creating a plan.  Today’s garden shoppers are sophisticated, often being influenced by trends from major retailers, magazines, and television. The planning process is multi-faceted, involving the timing and placement of advertisements, and product selection – especially those used for store promotions.  It’s critical to place advanced orders of products to ensure key items are available, revenue expectations are met and product positioned within the store.

The availability of items in demand isn’t always predictable. Historical data of previous sales, how much was wasted and went unsold can be an enormous help in judging quantities and selection.  Going back over your inventory from three years ago should give a good indication of a trend. Many staple items go on year after year; new is not always better.  But there are some extremely interesting introductions coming out each year to tantalize the garden consumer. Some of the most exciting and effective. displays I have seen have been created with products that have been around for years.

Be aware of the media, who often mention new introductions as well as old favourites, wholesalers advertising directly to the consumer, and garden shows where amongst the tried and true favourites, many new plants are featured.  These are sources of information that help fuel consumer demand, and being aware of these can help you be prepared for what customers may ask for.

Promotion is generating a broader awareness of specific products. Some consider price and advertising to be the main elements of promotion. Advertising and flyers are a part of an overall promotion strategy, but promotions are not always price driven. Promoting a product involves careful product selection combined with a carefully co-ordinated merchandising strategy and advertising plan.

Can we afford to be creative in our displays at this busy time? The question should be: could we afford not to be? Although time is short in the spring, I have often heard retailers say ‘I don’t have time to do fancy displays, its all I can do to get the plants off the racks.’ What about the opportunities to sell more? Research indicates that 7 out of 10 plant purchases are unplanned.  How products are present and positioned can contribute to the success or failure of a merchandising plan. Well organized and presented displays can often save on labour, making it easier for the customer to shop, while enhancing their enjoyment of your store.
Visual merchandising is more than making products look good.  It can be a statement of a store’s identity and market positioning.  Effective visual display makes use of lighting, colours, shapes, textures and sightlines. With planning, practice and some training, creating show-stopping displays does not need to be a time consuming activity. With a plan in place, displays can be created as products are initially put on the floor.

Strategic use of colour in the display can be an excellent method of attracting attention and drawing shoppers to the display like bees around a honey pot. When using colour, consider the hot colour trends and combining colours that work well together.  If shoppers like your coordination choices, you improve the chances of them picking up more than one item to purchase.

Contour is another feature that can be used to visually draw shoppers into a display. Taller plants, props and decorative features can enhance the display and attract attention. Care does need to be taken to avoid creating visual obstructions, blind and dead spots. Height can also be used to create visual impact from several sides of the display.  This is especially important if there is more than one direction of approach. For maximum effect the display should be dressed to each direction the customer approaches the display from.

Determining how the shopper travels your store can help when deciding where to place displays and where to present products to achieve the best selling advantage. Walk your display areas regularly with the eyes of a shopper – look for what works and what doesn’t.  If a presentation is not working, it is better to find out as soon as possible and replace it to avoid lost sales opportunities. Failure to do this can result in poorly performing displays taking up valuable retail space at the peak time that could be put to better use.

How the shopper travels your store and what stage of the buying process they are in can affect their decisions. Placing products in the order the shopper is most receptive to is vital. If a customer is shopping for roses, what are the chances that they will purchase the rose food before selecting their roses?  This progression applies to many products and by positioning for success, you are increasing the opportunities to make a sale. Try making a list of products that go together and then arrange them in the order, the customer would purchase them.

Techniques, styles and strategies vary from location to location. Knowing your customer demographics, what influences their buying decisions and understanding the buying stages are key tools in product presentation planning. Planning takes time, but a well planned and executed merchandising strategy can save time, increase selling opportunities, and enhance the enjoyment of the customer’s shopping experience.

Can we afford to be creative in our displays at this busy time? Can we afford not to be?

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