Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Reinvesting in Our Stores

January 5, 2009  By Brian Minter

During the recent International Garden Centre Association Conference in
Vancouver, where 177 of the world’s leading garden stores visited
several West Coast garden centres, one question kept coming up: why
weren’t we continually reinvesting in our garden stores?

During the recent International Garden Centre Association Conference in Vancouver, where 177 of the world’s leading garden stores visited several West Coast garden centres, one question kept coming up: why weren’t we continually reinvesting in our garden stores?

To put this in perspective, virtually all the 177 garden store venues were very good and many had definitely raised the bar for this event. This comment really came from some of the world leaders in garden stores who are in a very competitive high-end marketplace where upgrading is an ongoing process. Most of our best garden store venues were quite similar and when the Europeans compared them to their marketplace, the differences became obvious. It’s an important issue because experience shopping is here to stay and a store’s physical appearance and layout is a huge part of that experience.


One difference is the need to identify the use of top garden store design consultants who have a credible list of clients. Most of us tend to think we know store design and layout and we hire architects who are not conversant with the unique needs and the flow and rhythm of garden stores.  For long-term success, a great design and layout is essential. We may not be able to budget for massive change but with a plan in place, over time we can approach it on a priority basis.

The first issue is the sense of arrival. What does the signage and storefront say to your potential customers? Does it create that ‘wow’ factor and make folks eager to visit? From unique signage to waterfalls and intriguing landscape design fabulous storefronts can be creatively used to differentiate your store. It can entice people who are just driving by to make the stop at your garden centre. Ask yourself the question: what would make potential customers want to come into my store?

We’ve all entered competitor’s stores. What instantly makes you feel you’re in the right place? Is it sensory appeal? Does it feel good and is it professionally done?  Make note of the things you like at the competitor’s store as well as things that you don’t like. Many things go through a customer’s mind. Does it feel like a place they would like to be in? Do they want to shop here? Does it offer their kind of quality merchandise? I’d like to discover more. Is it clean, fresh and tidy?  Do the interior colours add value and are they up to date?

While a stunning store interior with a great layout, fabulous flooring, nice overhead structures and good climate control are important, topflight store display stands are essential. Even the best merchandise is compromised by old, tired, out-of-date display stands. Display merchandising is an art and good consultants can help create a very professional look. It adds value to all your merchandise, but more importantly, when displayed well, it will inspire sales. Years ago we copied the European style of hexagon tables in our tropical area where they are varied in height and fit together in many configurations for changing seasons and products. The difference between European annual and perennial tables and our merchandise stands are vast. Boring long tables are the norm, and A-Z merchandising is just mundane; along with a nice flow, shorter ‘shoppable’ tables with stunning end-caps are a must. All tables should be painted matching colours, be constantly cleaned and supported by attractive wooden legs or clay chimney flues, not unsightly construction blocks. This is one of the best investments you can make.

Europeans are big on brick pathways, both in and outside their stores, and it does create a nice garden experience. The warmth of coloured stones certainly creates a far superior look to either pavement or cement. In outdoor venues, curved pathways around creative beds for trees and shrubs are the ultimate nursery presentation. Gone are the days of lining up shrubs on the ground like soldiers. Blending plants together in designed beds not only looks fabulous, but it also inspires potential buyers with fresh ideas. These design beds should change with the seasons, if not more often.

Climate control is another huge issue in garden stores. Comfortable, covered shopping is a must.  On rainy days shoppers won’t brave the elements to browse your plant selection so keep them dry with a stable roof. In winter, there needs to be warmth both in the environment and the temperature. Noisy heaters are not the answer. In-floor heating tubes, radiant heating or traditional boilers with pipes are preferred.

These are just a few suggestions about reinvesting in your garden store. During the conference the Europeans were talking about experience shopping in the future, and it’s hard to create that experience in a tired venue. Even if you have a great shop, improving it every few years, changing colours and adding new features must be an ongoing process. It will continually create new quality experiences, attract new clients and keep your core of great customers coming back.

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