“Today’s retail garden centers face significant challenges,” Said John Stanley, retail coach, author and trainer. “This is the only industry where customers and retail staff are regularly smiling,” he continued. Why wouldn’t people smile when, according to Stanley, there is an average of 23% growth in perishable retail sales in the last 12 months.
This will be a year of disruption; Stanley paraphrased William Taylor of Harvard University. All businesses must change or they will not be in business next year. It can be both exciting and terrifying, for retail owners and managers to consider which practices to stop, continue or start.
Today’s average American customer is a women aged 35 to 45. To grow your business, learn to reach this challenging customer; they are hard to understand, predict and engage/capture as loyal customers. Consider reading women’s magazines to see trends, colors and outdoor living themes.
You must satisfy the ‘Hunters’ and the ‘Gatherers.’ Men often shop like ‘Hunters;’ they gaze, select and go; men appreciate simple and clear signs. Most women shop like ‘Gatherers’. They enjoy the experience of browsing, reading signs and labels before making selections.
Today’s retail customer wants “an experience” with “weekday convenience” and “weekend experience.” Customers are looking for something to do, not necessarily something to buy. On-line shopping is the perfect way to address this with the ‘store’ conveniently open 24/7. Some business models skip the retail center entirely; Plants 4 Perth is the fastest growing garden center in Australia with on-line only shopping.
The New Rules
Here are Stanley’s recommendations on ways to grow your business:
- Social Interaction and Service. Surveys show that staff with name badges are perceived as 15% more helpful.
- Sensory Experience. Smells matter. (think vanilla and cinnamon) Color matters. (think red) Sounds matter. (think water garden or Japanese table fountain)
- Dress Code. Uniforms like logo T-shirts increase staff credibility.
- Develop hiring standards. Staff must be neat, speak clearly, make eye contact and be courteous. Consider whether visible tattoos or facial jewelry will enhance your customers’ experience. Stanley recommends asking candidates, “What are you passionate about?” Hire the best candidates who engage you and fit your business.
- Staff Training. Help your staff to understand your brand and image goals and customer service; everyone must deliver a consistent message.
Bring your customer on an adventure that only you can provide. You and your staff are “Day-makers;” you help customers by making their day. Update and rotate displays regularly for a fresh experience when customers return.
In less than 40 seconds, new customers make up their mind about your store. Here are some ways to engage customers, meet their needs, solve their problems and move more products.
- Street Appeal. Does your place look ‘sexy’ from the road? Does your display garden have weeds? Do not let your storefront or parking lot be full of soil, mulch and fertilizer bags. Put those items near the parking lot, to the side or even out of sight.
- Entry. Is your front door appealing and clear, inviting customers in to see your beautiful displays, or is it full of credit card logos and posters promoting someone else’s products?
- Power Display. Your “Wow” table should be four to five steps inside your door. If done well, it should sell up to five times more product than anywhere else in your store. It should be round, hexagonal or conical, three to five feet tall with at least two tiers. An umbrella or other tall element work well if the venue supports it. Use a current fashion color as a theme.
- Customers are buying the whole package – not just a plant to go in the ground. Consider coordinating container colors with flowers. Include some whimsical shapes or containers. Offer several sizes of the same plants. Include a sign explaining your theme: “terra cotta is our color of the month.” Or “begonia is our plant of the week.”
- Staff ambassadors. These ‘Day-makers” should engage customers and help make their day.
- Flow matters. Americans, Canadians and Italians typically move through a store counterclockwise. Brits and Australians move clockwise. Set up your displays accordingly to maximize revenue. Put basic commodities in the back. (I.e. Grocers put eggs, milk and toilet tissue in the back corner.) Offer your unique, special products along the way to the commodities.
- Season. In winter, you will be a production grower. For the six to eight weeks of late spring, you should operate like a supermarket and should offer straight rows to get customers in and out quickly. The rest of the year, you will be a lifestyle retailer. For success, you must adjust your display’s style and layout to the season.
- Display Height. Far more products move from shelves located between customers’ chin and belly button levels.
- Lower your hanging baskets to chest or chin level to increase sales rather than hanging them up high with their ‘bottoms’ showing. When customers have to stretch up to reach a product, only ¾ as much product moves. Customers bending over select about ½ the products and the floor shelf gets less than 1/5 as much action.
- Make sure your shelves are adjustable so there is not a lot of air in between products. “You can’t sell air,” reminded Stanley. Your ‘facing’ should be equally wide and tall. If it is narrower, sales will drop.
- End caps. These areas turn over more than twice as much product as typical ‘chin to belly button’ shelves. Always remove one product so people think it is OK to take a product off the display. Include a medium to large sign.
- Aisles. Be sure your aisles are wide enough that people have enough room to maneuver around strangers. Store footprints should have at least 60% aisles and no more than 40% product displays.
- Bench displays. European garden centers never have plants on the floor like many American garden centers. Make simple benches with 2 by 4s and wire mesh. Variable bench heights create interest; use adjustable or detachable wooden or cinder block legs. Products above floor level move much better.
- Theater. This is your display space above customers’ heads. Tell your story. A good theater will increase sales underneath it.
- Be a hero. Display pictures of your owner, family and key staff. If you are a garden center, show production process and finished gardens. If you sell produce or meats, include farm and animal photos. Tell your story. Help customers connect with you.
- Offer related items together. Grocers do this well: they offer whipped cream and shortcakes near the strawberries or buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil together. Alone, these items move steadily; when displayed together, all three jump off the shelves.
- Colors. Use color blocking. Customers are programmed to stop at red. Put high value items near red products for increased sales. Do not put red items at row ends.
- Range. Be known as a complete shop with hundreds of plant choices and problem solvers. Offer a range of plant sizes and a single brand of problem solvers. (i.e. don’t carry ten varieties of ant traps) Customers will perceive the single solution as ‘tried and true’ and you will sell more of it.
- Signage. Avoid confusion. For staples and commodity items, just list the price. For specialty items, tell what the product is and list three benefits, uses and/or recipes. Use words and phrases like: new, picked today, just in, bestseller, award-winning and homemade.
- Fun signs enhance the customer experience. Stanley shared great signs he has seen with cartoon drawings: “If tomatoes could talk… they would say, do not put us in the refrigerator, it kills the ripening process and our flavor.” He saw a cartoon duck with a bubble that said, “Please don’t offer us people food; it makes us sick.” Animals can deliver a message that we might have trouble giving.
- QR codes on your display signs linking to plant or product information.
- Clearance Bins. Scatter a few medium-sized bins around the store instead of one large bin to increase clearance sales up to 80%.
- Shelf Talkers. Hang a small to medium tag near two or three items on key shelves: “Now is the time to fertilize your roses” or “Kelly’s favorite tomato.”
- Checkout. Promote that your products are LOCAL. Displays near your checkout counter can account for as much as 1/3 of your total sales. Offer impulse items like small bags of fertilizer near the end of the customer journey through your store. Be sure the flow leads them through the whole store. If you get merchandising wrong, you may miss at least $2 per customer.
- More time in the store means more sales. Be sure you have ‘toys for the boys’. This could be products meant to appeal to men, a coffee shop with newspapers and sports magazines or even a “bored husbands bench.” The longer that men are occupied, the longer the women will be shopping and buying.
For more information on retail merchandising, read Sonya Larson’s book on horticultural merchandising and market research called “Signs that Sell.” This book is out of print, but you may be able to find it used on in a library.
You can grow your business without banks or financing, just by changing your store layout! The majority of these suggestions will not cost you any money.
Be sure to analyze your current sales per square foot in each department or store segment. Share this information with your staff and tell them your goal is to improve it 20%. Reward them if they reach 30%. Know the number of stock turns per year for each product and move the slow products around the store, or dump the ones that do not move. Your best competitors are turning stock an average of five times per year.
Social media is a great tool. Assign one or more staff to run your social media campaign. Keep a conversation going; include people and production/harvest photos and humorous stories. Ask your customers to recommend your business. Try weekly contests like “Why are carrots orange when they used to be purple?” The first five people to come in with the right answer win a free cup of coffee (or bunch of carrots, etc.)
Answer a question/Solve a problem. Can you tell a customer how many blueberry bushes it takes to make a pie? Tell a great story like: Did you know that eating blueberries could improve your sex life? This story has led middle-aged or senior women to buy many bushes.
John Stanley is a retail coach, author and speaker. Stanley spoke at a Twilight Meeting co-hosted by the RI Nursery & Landscape Association and the RI Fruit Growers Association on June 18, 2012. About 45 people attended the presentation and dinner at South Kingstown Land Trust’s Barn in South Kingstown, RI. After dinner, the group enjoyed a tractor-pulled hayride next door to Clark Farms, Matunuck Garden Center for a practical look at garden center retailing. The event was sponsored by the John T. Howard and Farm Family Insurance, Unilock, Farm Credit East, Hurd Auto Mall and East Commercial Solutions.
For more information on John Stanley or to sign up for his monthly newsletter, click here or follow his “Farm Retail Talks” Facebook page. John Stanley has written 14 books to help retailers and managers improve their skills. His books and white papers are available at Stanley’s website.
A similar story ran in the August, 2012 Eastern edition of “Country Folks Grower” and the RI Nursery & Landscape Association’s Summer, 2012 newsletter.