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Focusing your garden centre

December 10, 2009  By By John Stanley

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Focusing your garden centre
Garden centre retail guru John Stanley discusses why garden centres need to pick what they do best and then become famous for it.

I’m not going to take the credit for the title of this article, that goes to John Whitehead in the U.K., he brought the heading up when we were talking about the industry over a glass of wine in the U.K. recently.
The thinking process is worth sharing as it brings up some interesting challenges for anyone in business today.
The conversation we had started with growers and retailers trying to please everybody and as a result, failing to completely please anybody.
Successful business are focused and often become famous for specific categories or lines of product. In the ups and downs of the last twelve months many businesses have broadened the range of products on offer, when what they probably should have done is gone deeper in specific categories and become famous for that category.
History has shown that long term success revolves around being famous for something. The best way to explain this is to look at restaurants. I have my favourite restaurants. If I want steak, I select a particular restaurant, when I want fish I select a different one and if I’m “going Italian” I select a different restaurant again. It is very rare that I select a restaurant that just does food, and, if I do, I often select it on price and convenience.
The challenge is; are garden centres really any different? I should be selecting an independent garden centre because I believe they can do something exceptionally well. They may be my “rose expert”, “tree expert”, “edibles expert” or “colour expert.” If they do not hit any of these hot buttons, they are just another plant outlet who are competing for my gardening spend.
This does not mean that the particular garden centre should not be stocking the full range; I believe they should, but at the same time they should select a category when they can use their “best shot” and become wide and deep in that category and use that expertise in their marketing campaign.
I often meet retailers who say their “best shot” is customer service. This always concerns me as this is difficult to measure, plus one person’s definition in customer service excellence, varies from another person’s definition. This is not to say we should not focus on customer service, I think we should, but you also need a category where you can specialize.
Best Shot or No Shot
Creating a key destination is key to independent garden centre success. The gardening industry is changing rapidly at present.
The home improvement stores are investing in the garden category as they see this as an opportunity as consumers spend more time at home. They realize their success model revolves around providing an offer that will please the majority of consumers. They have to cover all the categories within gardening, but space limitations and customer demands mean the key to success is to be wide and shallow in category development.
To differentiate themselves independent garden centres need to identify a category where they can become deep and therefore become the destination for the category.
The depth revolves around what the retailer is passionate about. I have clients who are deep in bonsai, saltwater fish, local plants, roses and Christmas. Select one category where the passion exists and give it your “best shot.”
Growers Should Create Their Best Shot
This principle also applies to growers as well. I have been to three trade shows in a two week period. The growers who are seeing growth in sales are also seeing the same principles applying. Being a general grower who is not seen as a specialist is hard work. Growers who have specialiaed are seeing growth in sales.
The key to success is being focused and identifying what is your best shot.


John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and
author.  His specialist areas are customer focused layout, customer
focused merchandising, customer focused marketing and branding, and
customer focused selling and service.  Email John at

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