Retailers are doing it tough around the world, the lessons learned to grow a business in the good times, do not apply to the economic climate of 2009. Having said that, I do believe that retailers who analyse the market and introduce new strategies have something to smile about. The consumers’ attitudes have certainly changed. The “elite of the elite” consumers are probably riding the storm better than most. Research carried out by Bains and Co in the USA [Ref The Australian 26/1/09} when they were analysing the market in the USA identified a drop in luxury goods of 3.7%. These consumers may be buying less, but they are not reducing their standard of living. They are not gardeners, they have someone to maintain their garden and therefore have no real impact on the retail garden sector. Aspirational Consumers Aspirational consumers spend and prefer to use independent garden centre retailers for their purchases. This market still has money, but to use the jargon, are “Constrained by Guilt”. In practice what does this mean? It is now unfashionable to drive around in an expensive luxury car or to show off an expensive handbag or drink the best champagne in a restaurant. This market will spend on luxury items they can hide within the four walls of their house and garden. This means not showing off in the front yard, but it is acceptable in the backyard where prying eyes cannot see. The way to market to this group has changed. Selling the luxury for luxuries sake is not the way forward. The best example I have found on how the market is evolving is by studying adverts by De Beers, the top end diamond jewellery retailers. They adjusted their advertising message as the market tightened up with what they call “adding a selective buying message”. Their ad now says “Fewer, Better Things”. In other words they are promoting the endurance value of their product over more disposable items. As one of their customers says,”It does not scream $3000 handbag, I would rather buy one really special thing, than 10 not so special things.” Gay Browne, a Los Angeles resident says “we are spending more time making decisions and being more selective, which means that the item is more expensive because we want it to last.” The Lessons For Independent Garden Centres Consumers come to the garden centre because they fall into the aspirational group of consumers. They aspire to have a nice garden or grow their own food. So, if a business adjusts their marketing strategies accordingly, there is an opportunity to develop a market niche. But What Strategies will work? Consumers will spend more time browsing the garden centre. Promote the fact that your garden centre is a place where they can wander around and look for new ideas and solutions. Remove the clutter and give consumers browse space. The shopping experience will take longer and more importantly the time to make a decision will take longer. Ensure your sales team are trained in relationship communication skills. They do not need to sell or pounce on the consumer; the consumer will make their own decision. But, the customer does want a relationship with your team members. The customer is looking for value. Therefore how you promote products in the media, on signage and verbally with the team will probably need to change. Consumers now want to know the origin of the product, how it compares in value, not price, with alternative products and how the value will enhance their enjoyment and investment in their garden. This does not mean price is irrelevant, it is very relevant in today’s market, but you need to create value in the consumers mind. A more expensive item may be cheaper in the long run. Strategically position “Value” garden vignettes around the garden centre. Place ‘Vignettes” in major sightlines and space them evenly around the customers route in the centre. This will inspire the customer to linger longer as well as provide ideas and encourage “bundle” selling of combination product sales opportunities. The “cocooning” consumer still has money to spend, they are reallocating their budget .A decline in spending on tropical holidays and expensive cars means more money is available to enhance the garden. Recessions often prove to be beneficial to the gardening industry and this one is no different. Positive people can make the sale .Your sales team need to be upbeat and smile. The consumer is coming to the garden centre to cheer themselves up. They want to be greeted by happy retail consultants who will avoid getting into negative conversations about the weather or the economy. These sales consultants will need to empathise with the consumer, but they can do that with a smile.