The Ups and Downs of Horticultural Retailing By John Stanley In July 2005 I had the opportunity to work with garden centres in the U.K. and South Africa. This gave me the chance to take a snapshot of the industry in the winter and summer and at the same time. What was surprising were the similarities in both countries when looking at the independent sector. Whilst I was in the U.K. a leading garden centre chain announced the closure of 28 sites, whilst another group announced a 25% drop in sales. At the same time other independent garden centres were reporting double figure growth. I left the U.K. for South Africa and found a similar scenario in that country. The largest independent group joining forces with a hardware chain for security whilst some independents reported strong growth. What is Happening Out There? It is evident that baby boomers, the consumers who built the garden centre trade in the 90s, are switching their allegiance to the landscape industry. They are getting their gardens designed or redesigned and planted by the landscape industry. Garden centres are now a source of fashion accessories for the garden and the baby boomers are cherry picking the garden centres. The garden centres that look the same as they did years ago are really missing out on trade. The new, inspiring fashion outlets are those making the sales. These garden centres are appealing to a wider age group and attracting Generation X and the Jones Generation, as well as the older consumer. Winners Understand Their Consumer On my July tour it was evident that the winners judged what consumers wanted as an experience far better than those losing market share. Let me give you an example of two garden centres I visited. For reasons that will become clear, I will not name them. Garden Centre A The consumer arrives at the car park and the first signage the customer is exposed to promotes plants with a 10% discount although no plants are visible from the car park. Once through the door, the consumer walks past artificial flowers and enters a hall of garden furniture that is overstocked and prevents browse shopping. Having fought their way through the furniture the customer is presented with irrigation equipment and this is followed by the garden care department. They are now one third of their way through their store visit and have not been exposed to one plant or gardening concept that relates to their lifestyle. Instead, they have been reminded about all the work they need to do in the garden. When they finally discover the coffee shop, it is promoting a special on scones and tea, clearly promoting itself to the greying tigers in the community. As the customer leaves they enter a house plant department, although no containers are visible. I suspect most consumers leave uninspired. Now letï¿½s visit the next garden centre. Garden Centre B Garden Centre B is in the same catchment area as Garden Centre A. As consumers approach the entrance they are exposed to the latest fashion trends for the patio. Black containers are shown off to their best with pink foliage and flower plants. The consumer enters the store and the first category they are exposed to is ï¿½Indoor Livingï¿½. This is a fashion hall where containers and plants are displayed based on generational marketing principles. On leaving this room, they venture outdoors into the ï¿½Outdoor Livingï¿½ zone. Again, this department used integrated merchandising techniques. There are display gardens that target different generations, providing them with solutions and ideas. There are still groupings of plants for the garden enthusiast, but these are merchandised in the plant library. The restaurant, located two thirds of the way through the shopping experience, to optimise sales, promotes chai tea, lattes, cappuccinos and regular teas to ensure it attracts consumers from across the generations. The garden care department is the last category the consumer is exposed to. The ideal location to solve any problems the consumer may have. Consumers leave having had a great experience and wanting to come back to see what ideas the store will offer them on their next visit. Itï¿½s the Same Product The irony is that both companies have the same product. Itï¿½s just that Garden Centre B realises that consumers have changed and that they needed to change to ensure they remained leading edge in the consumersï¿½ minds. Itï¿½s not about capital investment; itï¿½s about how you think through the challenges and opportunities. We have had some dramatic events around the world in recent months, these events result in a shift in leisure spending. Tourism spending over the last twelve months was increasing at the expense of indoor and outdoor home living. Now we are seeing another change. These events will strengthen the cocooning affect. Consumers with leisure money to spend will shift their leisure dollar more towards home entertainment. Our main competitors, home theatre entertainment, cooking, leisure furniture and indoor home improvement will increase the pressure on outdoor living categories, but this is still a golden opportunity. The winning garden centres realise they have to weatherproof their businesses, but throwing money at the problem is not the answer. The answer is to rethink your business with the consumersï¿½ journey in mind.