By John Stanley Retailers over the last few years have found it difficult to justify the amount of space required by house plants to get a good return on their investment. The logical conclusion is to close down the department and use the space more adventurously. This is what leading edge garden centers are doing in a partnership with key suppliers and discovering the new opportunities that await them. The old commodity thinking process to put the category together (ie plants lined up on benches) doesnï¿½t work anymore, this is why this type of department needs to be closed down. What needs to be created is ï¿½The Living Roomï¿½ where mood retailing is introduced. This concept was introduced into the marketplace in mid 2004 by Groupe Unique from Denmark, Scheurich of Germany, Scotts, Mike Hills Services the benching company and John Stanley Associates. We introduced this concept to leading British garden centres with some excellent results. At GLEE in Birmingham, the group got together to show how integrated merchandising can be put together and a model living room display was one of the highlights of the Innovation Centre. Dutch Ideas We also invited the Flower Council of Holland to construct a ï¿½beforeï¿½ and ï¿½afterï¿½ display table at the Innovation Centre. The ï¿½beforeï¿½ table showing the traditional way of merchandising and the ï¿½afterï¿½ display showing the modern way of merchandising. The research carried out by the Dutch in 2004 reflected the same findings that came out of our observations. To grow the category you must: Add value Create themes Use promotions Retailers and suppliers must be more flexible in their approach to marketing and retailing and be prepared to partner to grow the category. I was recently working in the USA and the topic of integrated merchandising and partnering came up in conversation. One grower replied ï¿½ I have enough challenges growing the plants never mind now having to get involved in marketing.ï¿½ One can appreciate this sentiment and this is one reason why the ceramic companies are becoming a key partner in the category and leading the way. Calendar of Plants The consumer is now very fashion conscious and expects to see fashion roducts change with the season. As a result of this the Flower Council of Holland is producing a ï¿½Calendar of Plantsï¿½ for garden centers to relate to the indoor fashion market. Three of these fashion promotional statements include: ï¿½Out with the old ï¿½ in with the greenï¿½. This will be a January 2005 promotion aimed at consumers, it will encourage them to take down the Christmas tree and fill the empty space with a living indoor arrangement. ï¿½Weird, wacky and wonderfulï¿½. A promotion launched in spring to promote indoor living arrangements during the spring season. In this season the consumer is visiting garden centers in large numbers, but has the outdoor garden in mind. ï¿½Inside, outside, insideï¿½. Will be the summer promotion informing consumers that many indoor plants become versatile in the summer and can be used in the indoor or outdoor living rooms. The Dutch promotional material comes in the form of banners. Another trend in garden centers, the days of small promotional boards is rapidly going. To be noticed today you have to be bold. Promotional boards, also note only need to promote a fashion statement, they also need to communicate simple benefits to the consumer. This is achieved with statements such as: ï¿½Easy to care forï¿½ and ï¿½Good for your healthï¿½. Integrated Merchandising Indoor living is a growth category, but it must appeal to women and especially your Generation X customers. Gen X buyers want the complete package and they want it now. They want it to reflect their home dcor fashion. These are generally ï¿½IKEA babiesï¿½ (or a retailer similar to IKEA) it is well worth looking at the fashions in these stores to ensure your products compliment their furniture. They want a more limited choice than Baby Boomers, but they want quality and they want to be treated with respect. Does it work? Let me use Mid Ulster Garden Centre as a case study. Jim Bradley, the owner, and his team were using traditional merchandising techniques and seeing the category slowly die. Today, they have seen in excess of 400% increase in sales. They have integrated plants, containers and indoor furniture to create a new category. The key to their success is that the whole team is allowed to develop ideas and the ï¿½old worldï¿½ category walls have been destroyed. Take down your walls and grow the category.