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Breaking Down Barriers – Growing and Selling in the Same Facility

March 23, 2011  By Judy Sharpton

In the 15 years I’ve been working inside the walls of independent retail
garden centre stores, the one store development strategy that has been
blatantly obvious is that all stores that successfully develop a retail
operation first choose to separate retail from production

In the 15 years I’ve been working inside the walls of independent retail garden centre stores, the one store development strategy that has been blatantly obvious is that all stores that successfully develop a retail operation first choose to separate retail from production.

In the inset photo, traditional growing benches with narrow aisles discourage customers from venturing too far into the shopping area lest they be caught at the rear and have to butt brush their way out. The large photo shows that removing benches to create an access aisle allows customers to shop the entire area, including the back corners. That’s where the seven per cent sales increase is located.



These two operations are so in conflict with each other that accomplishing both in the same environment sets up a mission impossible. Successful plant production requires an environment completely different from a successful retail environment. The result is a whole series of competing demands:

  • A production environment demands maximum production space with minimum human space. That means the narrowest aisles possible, even using rolling benches to maximize space for growing.
  • A retail environment requires at least equal space for the humans, including the shoppers and the staff. The 50/50 rule widens aisles to accommodate carts and provides space to view merchandise and access the checkout.
  • The primary function of the staff in a production environment is to nurture the plant; the primary function of the retail staff is to get the plant out of the store and into the customer’s trunk. Done successfully, the plant requires little nurturing at retail.

With all these conflicts between retail and production, many stores continue to struggle with growing and selling in the same environment.

It is possible to sell plants in the greenhouse where they are grown, but the space must be configured as retail from the beginning. That means – you guessed it – you lose bench space. Whew! Now that we’ve admitted the remedy, how is that accomplished? The first step, as in most major decisions, happens between the ears of the grower/retailer. The grower half of this dual personality must allow selling the plant to be as important as growing the plant. Beyond that major psychological hurdle, the environmental logistics can be addressed.

Compensating for lost space in the retail area is often as simple as installing another hoop house, adding benches to existing growing houses or bringing in product from an outside source.

At Oliver B. Paine Greenhouses in Fulton, N.Y., all three of these compensating strategies made for a successful transition for a greenhouse used for both growing and selling. When I visited the store as part of the Proven Winners Store Within a Store program, we pored over the site plan management provided and walked the mostly empty greenhouses identifying the barriers. There were many obstacles common to a growing operation trying to double as a series of selling areas: long, skinny greenhouses that could be accessed only at one end, houses constructed on flat pads but with a consistent and problematic grade change between the first and last house in the group, and a too-small cash wrap area. Finally, owner Oliver Paine focused our attention on the newest and largest greenhouse in the group. It wasn’t working. Shoppers would not go to the rear of the house, making that area dead space for retail.

I took a deep breath and told him why: the narrow access aisles and long benches cause customers to avoid the rear of the house. No customer wants to walk a 96-foot aisle, then turn around in a tight space and walk back, almost certain to encounter congestion with other shoppers in both directions. This house, built and benched for production, was a case study in sales-killing layout.

What to do? Take out benches. Paine took a deep breath and said, “I can take out two.” We had just cleared the “between the ears” hurdle. Oliver had additional adjacent growing space and easy accessibility for restocking the house. With two benches out, he could still grow in the space, just grow less.

So what was the bottom line as a result of the change? A seven per cent increase in sales. To make up for the decrease in greenhouse product, Oliver purchased additional garden-ready product from its supplier once it had sold out of the product it grew in house.

There’s a buzz about black
Since launching Black Velvet and its companion petunias Phantom and Pinstripe at Spring Trials in 2010, consumer media interest has surrounded these unique varieties bred by Ball FloraPlant. From local daily papers and regional gardening magazines, all the way to the national lifestyle publications, there is a buzz about black this season!
Here are just a few of the high-profile media hits:

  • Phantom is the featured cover product for Garden Gate magazine’s April issue. Phantom was also featured in Midwest Living (February) and will appear in an upcoming Better Homes & Gardens issue (April).
  • Black Velvet has been showcased in Birds & Blooms (January), several State-by-State Gardening publications (October) and The American Gardener (Jan/Feb).

Ball FloraPlant has developed merchandising tips, DIY downloadable signage and interactive display resources that showcase Black Velvet and build excitement in the store. Greenhouses and retailers can find these resources online at

Silver Vase debuts world’s first blue orchid
Silver Vase introduced Blue Mystique, the world’s first blue orchid at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in January. Exclusive patented technology makes this new introduction truly distinctive.

“We’re pleased to give a first look at the hottest new variety the orchid world has seen in years,” said Silver Vase CEO Andrew Bartha. “Blue Mystique is truly the most unique orchid on the market.”

Exceptional in any setting, Blue Mystique adds flair to home and office alike. Its long-lasting, lovely blooms shine electric blue on a dramatic single or double spike.

Blue Mystique thrives in low to medium light and comes in a 5 inch pot.

Judy Sharpton is a garden centre design and renovation specialist with 35 years of experience in advertising and promotion. She is the owner of Growing Places Marketing.

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