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Fashion with Passion

March 6, 2008  By John Stanley

If there is an industry that has changed rapidly, it must be the garden retail industry.  It’s an industry that has to change from a gardener-related industry into a fashion-related industry at great speed.  This does not mean we have had to discard gardeners.

It's easier to display plants in rows because they are easier to manage, but if you create a fashion statement with your plants, you'll sell product faster.

If there is an industry that has changed rapidly, it must be the garden retail industry.  It’s an industry that has to change from a gardener-related industry into a fashion-related industry at great speed.  This does not mean we have had to discard gardeners.  It means we have had an opportunity to grow the industry by attracting a new consumer:  The fashion-conscious garden decorator.

This is a phenomenon that has hit the industry across the Western world.  Independent garden centres in the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have all seen major growth if they have grasped the opportunity.


The challenge for many garden centre owners has been to identify the opportunity and then to convince the team to accept and then implement the changes.

Before we look at those issues, it is worth considering why these changes have taken place.

Traditionally, gardeners have come from the older generations, the baby boomers and greying tigers.  These age groups have been the core consumers of the independent garden centre. They are now, often wanting the “do it for me services,” hence the growth in landscape design and construction services.  Previous generations have passed on skills to the next generation.  As an overall rule, today’s baby boomers have not passed on gardening skills to Generation Y, X and Jones generations.  There is a new group of rich consumers who want a beautiful garden but do not know how to garden or often don’t even have the desire to learn.  These groups have become the garden decorators.   They are led by fashion.

TV Influence
TV around the world has done a great service to the industry.  The emergence of reality TV providing makeover gardens has grown the desire in a new consumer base to be garden decorators.  No other industry, apart from the food sector, has been exposed to such a great deal of media publicity.  It is the role of the retailer to grasp this opportunity and “go” with the ideas.
Our consumer, when buying furniture, is now exposed to room-style merchandising and when they enter a business that aims at decorating their outdoor living room, they are expecting a similar layout.  They would not expect to walk into a furniture store and see lines and lines of chairs and are puzzled when they walk into a garden centre and see lines and lines of plants.

How Do You Show You Are Passionate?
To have ‘fashion passion’ your team need to be in tune with the consumer, but also be perceived by the consumer as a leader of fashion.  This means it is essential that the team are fashion leaders.  How do you achieve that? Delegate!

Delegate the following:
1. Identify what are the leading TV garden lifestyle programs in your area. Allocate one program to one person and share the programs between the team.  Each week have a report-back session on the main features promoted and build an “as seen on TV” makeover garden display in your garden centre.

2. Identify the leading lifestyle magazines read by each consumer generation in your marketplace.  Again, allocate one magazine per person and report back.  Build 'endcap' displays in your centre that relate to the magazine.  Do not be afraid to use the magazine, open at the right pages on the display to provide reinforcement of the idea being displayed.

3.  Get the team to read women's fashion magazines and to identify this season's fashion colours.  Then build simple displays highlighting the colours.  Keep colour displays simple and well apart, otherwise the customer will get confused.

4. Ensure all your team are in tune with fashion trends and can relate these to the consumer.
Does it work?  I was recently at Mid Ulster Garden Centre when a ‘Jones Generation’ consumer walked in with some wallpaper, she placed it on the checkout counter and asked the assistant what plant containers and plants she recommended to match the room. When situations like this occur, you know the industry has moved on and that this business is adding value to the consumer and the bottom line.

The Challenge
The challenge is often not converting the consumer; they are already converts.  It is converting the team. Many of the team joined this industry because of passion for plants and we now have to convince them they need a passion for fashion.  In my experience, the indoor ‘shop’ team grasp the concept quicker than the outdoor ‘shop’ team.  But, once you have convinced the outdoor team of the opportunity, it is this area that sees the most growth.

It is a change in mindset.  It is easier to put plants in rows and they are easier to manage, but the name of the game is stock turn.  By creating fashion statements, products ‘turn’ quicker and surely this is what retailing is all about.

To help in a cultural change, take your team to look at how other retailers, outside of the garden retailer sector, put the story together.  Get them to consider how they could do the same in the garden centre, don’t let them resist by putting up barriers on plants that are managed differently.  Get them to understand the concept, then question how they can put it together to maximize sales.

Yes, the team need a passion for plants, but the consumer has a passion for fashion, so we need to change our mindset if we are to create loyal, passionate customers.

John Stanley is a qualified horticulturalist, obtaining his degree in horticulture in the U.K.  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 or phone 08 9293 4533.

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