Up on the Roof

Up on the Roof

Many pundits would argue that the garden centre model of the sixties will not work in the future. There are number of reasons for this, these include:

  • The move to urban living rather than suburban living and the need for garden centres to be near the consumer, especially as this consumer is not prepared to drive to the fringes of the city to purchase plants
  • Peri-urban land, where most garden centres were located, has become more expensive and is being “gobbled” up for housing at the expense of small independent businesses.
  • A changing consumer demographic that is looking for a different model retail model.

Does this mean the demise of the garden centre, I think not, it will just need to change the model to attract the new cliental.

If that client is an urban city dweller then the garden centre needs to move downtown to where the consumer is. You may argue that land is too expensive downtown to build a garden centre. Larry Lee of EcoG would beg to differ, he is building a chain of garden centres in China and in one of its biggest and most expensive cities, Shanghai.

To date Larry and his team have constructed two garden centres on what was vacant land. Where do you find vacant land where consumers gather? On the roof of a shopping centre.

The landlord of the shopping centre often has a roof with nothing on it. To shopping centre landlords that is an opportunity, if only they could rent it out. That is where Larry comes in and builds a garden centre. Not just a garden centre, but one of the largest and most inspiring in the country.

I was lucky enough to spend half a day with the team when I was working in China. I arrived expecting to see a mundane retail offer, I came away inspired.

The Chinese consumer

The key is always to know your consumer, and sell them what they want to buy.

When it comes to product selection many of the products on offer are not to my taste. The Chinese consumer is looking for bright colours, trendy items and to me slightly quirky. The product range that works, for example, in many European countries will not work in Shanghai.

The target consumer is the top 10% of affluent Shanghai consumers who have a garden. This does not mean that products are expensive, as an Australian, I was amazed at how cheap products are, the consumer is still looking for a bargain. This newly rich consumer wants a garden, they do not want TO garden.

This means that they need inspiration, ideas and solutions and this is exactly what EcoG Garden Centre provides them. The consumer walk around a series of gardens based on different garden styles. I had to keep reminding myself I was seven stories up on top of a shopping centre.

Children are a key

As in other countries children are a key to building traffic in store as well as they are our future consumers. Whilst other countries are developing National Children’s Garden Week, EcoG are already a step ahead. They have a three-day garden workshop for children in the garden centre. They have found when the workshops are held they are some of the busiest retail days.


A visit to any garden centre should have take-aways. For me the “take-aways” are that we can take a roof in a shopping centre, pay low rent, be right next door to the consumer and inspire them to engage in their garden.

Surely this is model to consider for the future.