Jalopy Showdown 2012

Ideas to Help Grow Your Garden Center Business

Retailers operating garden centers know that success in growing healthy plants depends on fertilizing the garden to provide nutrients and enrich the soil in order to maximize their garden’s yield.  So too specialty garden centers and retailers need to fertilize their business with new ideas, innovative concepts and strategies that will help their businesses grow.

That is what my new book, Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success, from Paramount Market Publishing, does for specialty retail businesses.  It’s a book about and for specialty independent retailers, like you.  Its core message:

Today success in retailing is LESS about what you sell and more about HOW you sell it!

It is filled with advice, ideas and real-life examples to help you focus on the HOW – creating extraordinary shopping experiences for your customers.

Meet a garden center that POPs!  Riverview Nursery and Garden Center

Let me illustrate with inspiration from a garden center that POPs!   Riverview Nursery and Garden Center, located in Temple, PA, outside of Reading.  (http://riverviewtree.com/) Riverview is everything that a garden center should be, offering 5,000 sq. ft. of indoor retail space and 18 acres of nursery that sells all the ‘usual suspects’ for a garden center, along with gifts, pond products, lawn care, landscaping and related services.

Plus it is so much more – Owner Diane Salks and her staff are devoted to helping their customers enhance their outdoor living experiences, and when the growing season is over, their indoor garden experiences as well.  “We have to give people a REASON to stop here and buy from us,” Diane says.

Part of that reason is that Riverview sells distinctive and different plants.  “We have a massive selection of trees and shrubs carrying over 400 varieties including specialization in unique conifer and Japanese Maples, many of which we grow ourselves.  We always want customers to find something new and exciting, so we go out of our way to carry products that you don’t find in the chains, big boxes or even in most IGCs (independent garden centers),” Diane explains, as she points to a selection of tropical air plants, like Tillandsias, Bromeliads and Orchids on offer.

Yet even with its extensive and unique products, Riverview distinguishes itself by educating customers about how to best enjoy their plants and get them to thrive in their gardens.  “Our #1 marketing strategy is an extensive workshop program and special events we hold throughout the year.  We give information to educate the do-it-yourselfer about planting and care, how to build a pond, how to grow houseplants and tropicals, and the value of having plants in the home,”  Diane says, like two workshops coming up this fall focused on planting spring bulbs and designing creative fall planters.

But the workshops are not only organized to provide ‘need to know’ information.  Some are more whimsical in nature, such as a recent Fairy Garden workshop where participants got to flex their creativity by creating miniature container gardens for their own garden ‘fairies.’  And others are organized to train the next generation of garden enthusiasts.

Riverview’s focus on gardening for kids isn’t a surprise, since this is family-run business.  “We have Junior Gardening Club, complete with a kids garden on site where they are dig and get their hands, and knees, dirty,”  Diane chuckles.

Riverview reaches beyond its borders out into the community

Besides its focus on the gardening lifestyle, Riverview Nursery and Garden Center also reaches out into the community with philanthropic efforts to support the needs of the community.  For example, Riverview supports the Berks-county Restoring Hope Foundation, which annually donates a home makeover to a local family in need, with Riverview providing the landscaping products and services.

Further, Riverview supports other local small businesses with a Women Helping Women annual event where 8 or 9 local women-owned businesses bring their stores into the garden center and set up ‘shop’ the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Each business invites their own clientele to enjoy live music, wine and hors d’oeuvres, mini-massages, hand waxing, a Chinese raffle and other engaging experiences.  All guests are asked to bring a donation to Mary’s Shelter, a local foundation that helps pregnant women.  So the event directly supports Mary’s Shelter along with helping these local entrepreneurs, plus it gets new potential customers into Riverview to experience its offerings.

While Riverview focuses much of its marketing and customer service strategies through personal interaction, it also has discovered how to use the selling potential of the internet.  It is a charter member of Bower and Branch, a virtual network of growers and independent garden centers devoted to helping homeowners select, plant and care for trees.  Diane explains, “It is basically an online tree selling service.  We have seen sales of trees through this at all times of the day, evenings and holidays.  It allows us to sell trees even when we aren’t open.”

Seven ways Riverview Nursery and Garden Center POPs!

Riverview Nursery and Garden Center is a shop that POPs! because it exemplifies the 7 essential qualities that transform a store from ordinary to an extraordinary customer experience.

  • Encourages high levels of customer involvement and interaction. Shops that POP! deliver a shopping environment that fully involves the shopper and engages them interactively in the shopping experience. Riverview encourages customers to touch, feel, taste and participate in the store in a highly personal way.  Plus its workshops and special events are truly hands-one experiences.
  • Evokes shopper curiosity.  Shops that POP! excite consumer curiosity to explore and experience the garden center fully.  Gardeners are by nature curious about plants, how to grow them, and how to bring them together for the maximum effect.  Riverview satisfies customer curiosity with educational experiences that help them make the most of their time in the garden center and back in their home gardens.
  • Spark a contagious, electric quality. Shops that POP! exude energy and excitement that is contagious.  It is this quality that makes a shop a dynamic place, exciting to visit, and a thrill to be in.  Diane and her staff are energized by being in the garden center and that excitement is transmitted to the customers that visit.  Diane says, “Amazing customer services is our goal.  We train our staff to be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful to everyone.  We want everyone who walks in our doors to be treated as if they are our friends and we have invited them into our home.”
  • Creates convergence among atmosphere, store design, and merchandise, Shops that POP! present a cohesive vision that combines all the tangible and intangible elements of the garden center into a unified whole.  They present a distinctive point of view that holistically tie together all the disparate elements of the store into one authentic experience. Since Riverview is a garden center, they work diligently to make the center feel like one’s own garden, only better.  Careful attention to displays and the overall environment is carried throughout the shop, outside and along the walks and plantings.
  • Expresses an authentic concept. Shops that POP! are more than stores selling stuff — they are conceptually driven and reflect a visionary’s values. The center transcends being just a store into a place for a new experience.  Riverview is the ‘real deal’ and consistently carries it throughout the center, on the website and its Facebook page.  It is dedicated to making their customers’ gardens a thriving, happy place.
  • Priced for value. Shops that POP! have a carefully constructed pricing strategy based upon offering fair value for a reasonable price. Pricing is not about how low can you go, but how much value can you offer. Pricing, therefore, hinges upon the value for the shopper, not the price tag.  Regarding Riverview’s gifting offerings, which take center stage during the annual Christmas Shop, Diane says, “Our gifts are unusual, with many made in America.  They are upscale, without being too pricey.”
  • Be accessible, non-exclusive, and free from pretensions. Shops that POP! have all the six preceding qualities, plus another essential feature — they are immediately accessible to everyone, free from pretensions or snobbishness.  What could be a better testament to Riverview Nursery and Garden Center accessibility than their efforts devoted to kids and raising up the next generation of enthusiastic gardeners?

7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success

Shops That POP! explains how small independent retailers, like Boxwood’s Gardens & Gifts in Atlanta, Tiger Lily flower shop in Charleston, South Carolina, destination gift shop Grapevine Farms in Cobleskill, New York, and many more are changing the retail equation by delivering an experience to their customers that giant retail brands simply can’t match.
Find out what you can learn from these and a dozen other merchants who understand the specialty-retail consumer and seem to be a few steps ahead in perfecting the secret sauce of retail success.