Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Setting Up Shop

January 22, 2014  By Brandi Cowen

Spring is a season of fresh starts in the garden centre as well as in the garden.

Spring is a season of fresh starts in the garden centre as well as in the garden. To help you start the new gardening season off right in your store, we spoke with Judy Sharpton, owner of Growing Places Marketing and an expert in garden centre design, development, renovation and branding.

Colour blocked end caps  
Colour blocked end caps show the customer the wow factor in your plants. They also make shopping easier for those who buy based on colour.



We asked Sharpton to share some of her top tips to set your garden centre up for success this year. Here’s what she had to say.

If you could walk into a blank slate and arrange the whole garden centre with the ideal setup, what would that space look like?

First it would be square and it would be flat. Those seem like basics but we deal with stores that are built on hillsides, stores that have been built topsy or where there’s a building here and a building there and something else over there. If I could start with a palette that is square and flat, then that gives us the basic starting point. If I don’t have square and flat, we may have to start dealing with grade changes or shopping areas that are located behind buildings and all that weird stuff.

If I’ve got square and flat, then we can ask where we want the customer to go and we can begin figuring out how to move her through that space. How are we going to create aisle space that she will actually follow? We want to give her a clear and simple path through the store. After that, once we’ve got her walking in a direction, hopefully with a cart, where do we want to put merchandise?

Is there an ideal way to lead the customer through the store?

What we want to ask ourselves is what does the customer come to that store to buy in that particular season? That changes. We can sit down with our staff and talk about why our customer comes to our store at this time of year. We want to try to put that merchandise as deep as we can and then arrange other merchandise so that she has to go through that merchandise in order to get to what she came for.

So it’s about creating a map that leads the customer where you want her to go?

It is about that and it’s always about asking yourself what they’re here for. Why did she come through the door? Let’s imagine we have a special that we’ve sent out on our electronic newsletter and there are customers coming in for that special. We don’t want to place that special right at the front door so she can buy one of those and leave. We want to place that special as deep in the store as we can get it so that as she moves through that other merchandise, we have a better chance of selling her something else in the store.

A store’s objective is customer-merchandise contact. We want the customer to come in contact with as much merchandise as possible. We don’t want her to shop the special at the front of the store, check out and leave. If those aisles are open and clear and easy for her to navigate, she’s much more likely to navigate the whole store than she is just to get the special merchandise and then leave.

What other areas of their garden centres do you ask your clients to consider?

I always ask the staff to identify dead spaces. We want to identify places where product does not sell and then we want to try to figure out what we need to do to fix that. Do we need to clean that space out? Is it too cluttered? Is it too dark? We need to figure out what’s wrong with that space so that we can then try to make it work.

I think the instinct is to put things wherever you can place them because the order has just come in. Where I spend a lot of time is in trying to get the store to think about the wall space that they have and how they use it. With a lot of stores, I start off recommending that they install flat walls in their space. I start with trying to create this geography of merchandising where they’re thinking about how they use all the space that they’ve got. If you can get the area organized and say this is going to be a flat wall and this is going to be your “do you need” department, the store can figure out how to put merchandise on it in an inviting way.

In terms of store layout, what are some of the things you have seen garden centres do very well that make customers feel comfortable coming in to shop?

Anytime you can, show the customer an easy way to use the product. Where I’ve seen garden centres that embrace this really do a good job is in the container gardening department. Garden centres that have an area in the store that shows the customer either how they can create a container for them, or an area where they have what some stores call a “grab and go” with two or three sizes of containers already made up and adjacent to that container they’ve got a co-ordinated wall of hanging baskets, do well. Those stores have really been able to make those departments very, very lucrative. They’ve been able to build sales in those departments in ways that you don’t see if you’ve got the line of black pots or branded pots just sitting on the table.

We have to remind ourselves our customers don’t know what we know. They don’t know how to look at a table full of plants in little four-inch pots and figure out how to put them together. The stores that are really developing their container gardening are showing customers how to put plants together, either custom planting, or helping them redo their pots, or providing them with something they can put on the deck this afternoon. That’s the department where we’re really helping the customer quickly and very easily figure out how to use our product. That container gardening department is the most valuable space that anybody can use in their store.

If they’ve really got their merchandising hat on, they’re putting images on their electronic newsletter so that the customer can see that image and say, “I like the way that looks together” and then walk into the store and see it right there in three dimensions. That’s a powerful selling feature.

Are there any other strategies that you’ve seen used effectively in the garden centre?

People are learning how to use end caps more and they’re using them as big colour blocks. The colour blocks are very effective ways of letting the customer see the wow factor in plants. The more the end cap is colour specific, the easier it is for the customer to shop. There are some retailers who have been doing this really well for a long time. A big “wow look at all that red” end cap is really effective in the store.

Think about having customers shop by colour as opposed to having them shop by varieties.

Does colour blocking work as well when we’re talking about hard goods?

It certainly is effective if you’re selling containers because the customer shops for her containers the same way she shops for shower curtains. If we colour block containers and put them all in one place, then we give the customer the ability to say, “I know I like blue” and she can look at all the blue options in one place. If we could get them all in one place and if we could organize them by colour then it would make it much easier and take up a lot less staff time. It works amazingly well with containers.

What one thing do you wish every garden centre would do to kick off the spring season?

If I could click my ruby slippers for one thing, I would make every garden centre in the world cart friendly and give the customer a cart to use. And I don’t mean a pull cart; I mean a push cart that she’s familiar with. If the customer walks through the door and you put a cart in her hand, she’s going to buy more. It’s a no brainer – that would be my number one objective for every store.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed.

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