Garden Centre Retailing is Changing – Living Room Retailing is the Future By John Stanley Plant sales down by an estimated 15%; key consumers commenting on garden centres being boring and gardening as a hobby losing popularity with the new consumer. Is this the decline of the garden centre or a new opportunity for entrepreneurial retailers? One thing is for certain; garden centres are having to change to meet the needs and wants of the new consumer. Before looking at the future, it is worth reflecting on the past. Garden centres boomed as the baby boomers spend money on one of their favourite hobbies, gardening. This market sector is now in their mid 50s and early 60s and have become the ï¿½Do it for Meï¿½ market sector. They employ lawn-mowing services, landscapers, gardeners and design services and as a result these horticultural sectors have grown in importance. Baby boomers still frequent garden centres, but for a cappuccino and to buy a few plants to decorate the patio. The market has now shifted; the new consumer is the IKEA baby, Generation X (25-35) year olds and the Jones Generation (35-49 year olds). These generations are not generally gardeners, but do want an attractive outdoor living room. These generations are fashion conscious. They want their gardens to be fashion statements and they expect the garden centre to provide them with solutions and ideas. One shift in marketing we have all seen as a result of the new consumer is that the container is often more important than the plant; they want the look. A result of this is that the old placement of categories in the garden centre that was understood by the baby boomer is not understood by IKEA babies. When they go shopping for their ï¿½indoor livingï¿½ requirements they are used to seeing bedroom, dining room and kitchen layouts. When they are purchasing for their ï¿½outdoor livingï¿½ requirements. they expect to see a patio rose garden and herb garden, not rows of plants and in their mind the category split up into various locations in the garden centre. Re-Look at Category Management This is forcing retailers and suppliers to relook at how they group categories together. A classic example is the indoor living department. Traditionally houseplants were in one area, containers in another area and houseplant care in a separate area again. As a result, traditional retailers have seen a decline in all three categories, mainly because the consumer was confused and could not put a picture together in their mind. The modern horticultural retailer realises that they are selling indoor living as a fashion statement. Fashion containers and fashionable matching plants have to be placed together along with the appropriate care products to provide the correct ideas and to enable the consumer to trust the retailer. As a result, a retailer will sell as many containers as they will plants. This is an added value opportunity for the retailer as well as ensuring the consumer is provided with fashion statements for their living environment. Does this Work? In my opinion, Mid Ulster Garden Centre has progressed down the living room track further than anyone else. Over the last two years, they have changed their garden centre from a traditional garden centre to a lifestyle centre. Has it worked? Jim Bradley and his team, before the change, had a profitable business. Having changed to a lifestyle centre, they have achieved the following results. Outdoor living – Sales Increase 42% Indoor Living – Sales Increase 256% in year one (house plants) and 48% in year two Containers – Sales Increase 42% (as a fashion statement) Plant Sales – Sales Increase 19% (on own) March 2005 Increase 70% April 2005 2004 ï¿½24.16 Average Sale – 2001 ï¿½10.78 2004 ï¿½24.16 The important thing to remember is, Mid Ulster Garden Centre is not standing still, it is continuously changing. The aim is to constantly think of the consumerï¿½s journey. The role of the retailer is firstly to inspire the customer, then get the consumer to trust the retailer; this is followed by providing the consumer with excitement. This should be followed by providing the functional zones, such as garden care and finally providing impulse sales at the checkout. To maintain the consistence of this experience, the retailer must keep changing the experience to ensure the consumer does not get bored. If your Garden Centre looks the same as it did five years ago, you are losing market share. This is an era of change. It is an exciting period to be in this industry. The traditional garden centre has had its day and the consumer has moved on. Now is a time of change. Those that understand the market will win, while those that donï¿½t will wonder what is happening and blame the weather, their competition and other factors outside their control. Implement change now and grow your market, itï¿½s your future.