By John Stanley Take a look around any box store around the world and you will discover that the layout is designed in a grid layout. This encourages the customer to walk up and down each aisle and to be exposed to every product on offer. I do use the word exposed with some intrepidation as most products get less than a five second glance from the consumer. Grid layout stores work wonderfully, they can be managed efficiently and are easy to stock. This style of layout can be duplicated anywhere, hence the rapid cloning of box stores around the globe. Grid layouts are a great way of running a highly efficient commodity retailing environment. Historically many garden centres adopted the grid system, not because it was a retail trend they had studied, but because many retailers started as growers and it was easy to set up garden centres in blocks and rows, because that was, and is the way growing nurseries have been set up for maximum efficiency. But it is time to change! Consumers are now well acquainted with the grid layout shopping experience, but at the same time when they visit independent businesses they are looking for a different environment. Alas, too many garden centres look like box stores. The grid layout may be a necessity in some categories and at some times of the year due to the supply chain pressures, but overall the independent garden centre should be a different experience. This, I feel, should start, with the elimination of grid style path layouts and the introduction of a free flow ï¿½boutiqueï¿½ layout wherever possible. Size does matter The larger the business the more the need to develop a grid layout. But, there are a new breed of garden centre retailers out there. They are discovering that smaller centres based on a free flow layout are generating more sales per square foot of retail space. I am working with a number of clients around the world where we are making the retailing more intensive by reducing the retail space, especially in the plant areas, but maximizing the stockturn and return in dollars per square foot. The straight pathways are being eliminated in favour of curved layouts that take the customer on a journey of discovery and inspiration. The layout is a mixture of merchandising and display, but one result of change is that we are exposing customers to more power spots, endcaps and island displays, those key areas that generate more sales per square foot than any other. It is not about Capital The great news about these changes is that you donï¿½t necessarily have to knock down the buildings and start again. You can take your existing facilities and re-design the customer flow to alter the customer shopping experience. Chris Millar, a retail consultant based in California recently challenged an audience to explain why they had a favourite store and what made it their favourite store. All the audience came up with five key points they felt was critically important: It had a great environment The sales team were knowledgeable The place was a fun place to shop It always had new things on offer It provided service to consumers This audience was not talking about a garden centre. They were talking about any type of retailer, but it could easily have been a garden centre. It is the retailers role to create a great environment that is a fun place to shop, that is always offering new products, ideas, solutions and inspiration. What do you need to do? Re-designing your store needs planning time. Start with a plan that has your buildings and retail space and then develop your ideal customer flow. At this point stop thinking in straight lines and develop an inspirational journey for your customers. Yes, there is a challenge. If your merchandising and display is not inspiring customers will look for the escape route. This is a challenge furniture stores have and it is a challenge you will have. If customers start complaining it is because your merchandising is not inspiring them. You will, like IKEA, have to provide escape routes, but like IKEA these should be strategically positioned so most customers will enjoy journey and not realize shortcuts exist. Zig when they Zag There is a saying that when everyone is zigging you zag. The large box store retailers are zigging which means successful independent retailers have to zag. They have to take a different journey and remember your customers want you to take a different journey as well. Yes, other independent retailers will copy you, but as an innovator you need to be constantly changing and as a result the copies will end up implementing your old ideas, look on this as a compliment as you move to the next stage. Become ï¿½Best in Classï¿½ Retailer Donï¿½t aim to be the best garden centre, aim to be the best retailer. Once you have developed your new site, enter local and regional retailer awards. This will be a boost to your team as well as a valuable marketing exercise for your organisation, plus it can help your bottom line. We have a client who recently went through the changes I am proposing. He immediately saw a 25% lift in his average sales and this has continued month by month. The real crunch The real crunch in all that I have talked about is getting the team commitment to change. Some changes taking place in the garden centre industry are quite revolutionary for some team members. In my experience progressive winners can see the opportunities the main challenge has been convincing middle management of the opportunities. You are taking them out of their comfort zone. Some will revel in the challenges whilst some will feel quite threatened. Before you move a plant it is essential you talk through the changes with the team and explain why you are taking such a dramatic step. Once on board they will lead the project. So, there is a challenge, donï¿½t think grid, youï¿½ll be perceived as a “me to” retailer. These are the guys that are losing market share.