By Brian Minter
By Brian Minter
How can the independent garden store be the very best conduit between
its customers and the many connecting lifestyle opportunities gardening
has to offer?
How can the independent garden store be the very best conduit between its customers and the many connecting lifestyle opportunities gardening has to offer? Not only do we need to create a greater awareness of the personal benefits of gardening, but we also have to be the very best guides to get customers to appreciate the gardening lifestyle. Our stores need to be a microcosm of the finest gardening experience. At Minter Gardens we’ve been making changes and we’ve got more in store for 2011 to do just that.
Two things we did this past Christmas really touched on this bigger picture. From mid-November through New Year’s Day, we created Christmas light displays to the “wow” level around the perimeter of our garden centre. To be sustainable and environmentally friendly, we used LED lights.
The second thing we did was to operate a real miniature train indoors, carrying 25 to 30 people at a time. The train travelled through seasonal displays featuring winter berries, winter branch colours, winter flowers, winter foliage, and wonderfully perfumed Christmas trees and holiday greens, all enhanced by beautiful Christmas décor and thousands of lights to heighten the effect. We charged $2 (age 2 and under no charge) to make this event self-sustaining and yet affordable to virtually all families. To minimize the impact of any lineups, we booked live entertainment and sold fresh popcorn. Close to 8,000 people from all demographics rode the train. In addition, we brought in owls for photo ops, and the handlers used the opportunity to teach the importance of wildlife habitat. We also sponsored a gentlemen’s celebrity gingerbread house contest, pet photos (donations benefiting the SPCA) and many more activities done in such a creative way that these events became a must-see. We re-arranged the store to give our customers a great horticultural experience. Both local newspapers featured full one-page editorials and a collage of photos reinforcing the value of what we were doing for the community.
This was one of our better Christmas seasons financially, and the customer experience and value proposition was at an all time high. Our displays and activities were universal in their appeal and created a huge positive impression. We are still receiving phone calls, e-mails and thank-you comments from customers for inspiring their winter and Christmas season and for maintaining our family-focused traditions.
Spring is our next target. With a new Wal-mart Supercenter and its huge garden store recently opening five minutes away and a Home Depot set to open beside it this spring, there is a real sense of urgency for us to create a greater value experience for our customers. The key ingredients need to be convenience, inspiration and value opportunities for their lifestyle. We know food gardening is still on the hot list, so we are expanding our lines of edibles with lots of new, hard-to-find and exclusive items. We are also going bigger and better with an expanded selection of large pot sizes and edible container gardens. We want to satisfy folks’ desire to grow and savour fresh produce as quickly as possible. We are going to use far more upscale containers and baskets – ones that are value priced but have a higher quality look and higher perceived value – and fill them with the latest new plants and plant combinations to inspire. Funky stuff will rule, as will interesting and colourful foliage plants. We must be the “wow” container and basket centre, and we must show our customers how containers can add value to their patios and to their lives with perfume, colour co-ordination and bragging rights.
The inspirational use of perennials also needs to be explored more fully, particularly to showcase their long blooming periods and unique foliage.
We are forcing many perennials into bloom weeks earlier to be enjoyed as indoor plants and then planted outdoors. Selling them weeks before their time opens up new possibilities, especially if they are in containers and in bigger pots all by themselves. The new “new” won’t inspire in four-inch or gallon size pots. The pots need to be unique, either low bowls or tall, narrow designs, to help differentiate the look. Although nice by themselves, grouping them together with complementary trees and shrubs or grasses and annuals, will inspire opportunities for creating new garden looks.
Our trees and shrubs will change as well. Big shade and flowering trees are being replaced with more columnar styles. There has been a huge shift away from traditional trees to more compact columnar and espaliered forms. They are far more appropriate in today’s smaller gardens, and they can play various roles: they improve esthetics, provide screening, work well in containers, and help create decorative up-lit garden features and subjects for year-round interest. All these trees will be displayed with complementary, low-maintenance underplantings to inspire a new look.
By employing these important strategies, you will be creating your new brand – a brand that is far more current, one that portrays your centre as an innovative place to discover things that have greater value and one that will ensure a more satisfying experience for your customers.
Once we’ve perfected these new strategies, there are two critical issues that must flow with them. One is inspirational signage. Remember: we may understand the new relevancy model, but so many of our customers do not. They still think of our plants and plant products in their old mode. New sign formats are needed to help them discover new models in a simple, factual and humorous way. Signs should be part of the entertainment. Think of the doormat that says “Nice Underwear.”
Secondly, the most important facilitator of all this change is convenience. “I’m here. I’ve got limited time. Inspire me quickly. Keep it simple, and I want out fast.” Make it easy for your customers to explore, discover, shop and escape. Shift your emphasis to these values, and you will be an important part of their lives and disposable dollars.