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Maintaining momentum as pandemic rules wane

Online shopping and delivery options key to consumer convenience.

May 12, 2020  By Greta Chiu

From building an online presence to rolling out delivery options, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed independent garden centres to try new methods of engaging consumers. But as provinces across Canada start allowing brick-and-mortar stores to re-open, retail experts are advising IGCs to continue building on this momentum for modernization.

A lot of garden centres have always relied on regulars, such as their spring customers, notes horticulturalist and garden retail consultant Shelley Levis. “Their online presence was not prominent. They would have a basic website, they didn’t have a full [online] store, shipping or online ordering.” As a result, many IGCs are trying to catch-up as quickly as possible amid constant change in physical distancing regulations.

Shelley Levis

Hearing from her customers across Canada, Levis saw an opportunity to help IGCs modernize and launched IGC Now, a dedicated online hub that leverages expertise from individuals across North America’s green industry. While still growing, the space will soon be filled with marketing solutions, trend reports, interviews and other resources to inspire and help this sector. Their IGC Now Youtube channel is already home to a number of inspiring interviews.


Taking back the market

The first IGC Now video features Jim Munroe of Hort Couture, who sees COVID as a chance for IGCs to adapt, change and survive. For 14 years, he’s witnessed IGCs lose market share to big box stores, and this pandemic is a wake-up call.

“We’ve allowed our business model to be basically embellished by the box stores into a watered-down, less-value, less-expertise acceptable place for gardening …, and we’ve sat here and watched it happen and haven’t done anything to enhance that or change it,” says Munroe. Where box stores have excelled is convenience, he says. “They open early and they stay open late, and they make it easy to get in and out.”

Munroe started Hort Couture in 2008, during what he remembers as some of the rockiest times in the sector. But he refused give in to the big box stores. “I have no intention of every making Hort Couture a devalued brand at a box store retailer. It’s not what the essence of the brand is.”

To maintain their loyalty to IGCs but still reach a larger consumer audience, Hort Couture agreed to distribute through American shopping channel QVC. This way, consumers can get a taste of Hort Couture’s products delivered to their home, then explore the rest of the offerings at a local garden centre. It’s a prime example of how the business has adapted to suit the modern consumer.

Jim Munroe

“This is a wakeup call that you have got to be willing to make gardening more relevant and more …exciting to the people around you. And until we do that, we’re going to continue to lose,” says Munroe.

Moving forward, collaboration is a must. “We can create one wonderful platform almost every independent could use to conduct business in their local market. But instead, we have every independent out there spending money with developers,” Munroe says. “Independents are fiercely independent. They’ve got to learn how to work together.”

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