Big Box stores are here to stay. Yes, I said it and we all know it's true. Gone are the days of competing against the few local markets and garden centers. Grocery stores, hardware stores, and even drug stores now carry plant and garden supplies at very competitive prices. These chains have more purchasing power so they receive better pricing, allowing them to pass those discounts on to their customers.
So how can independent businesses compete? Well, there are plenty of solutions that can help you set your independent business apart. Let's quickly review a few strategies that are easy to implement.
Be the Expert your Customers Rely On
When one of your customers has a question about how to properly plant a red maple tree, your staff should have the knowledge to help them. It is worth investing in educating your staff on your products. By educating your staff properly, they can offer your customers a better standard of service. Good customer service is the golden ticket in retail, setting your business apart from the rest. Offering your customers truly outstanding service and expertise helps to establish trust. You want to have that kind of close working relationship with your customers that big box stores don’t.
Merchandise with Tons of Color
"Paint" your garden center with all the colors of the seasonal rainbow. Your store should be an ever-changing sea of color from vibrant green to ruby red. Think about it your customers are more likely to purchase a blooming pink cherry blossom tree then a stone grey sapling. Spend some time researching the "color wheel" and color relationships to take advantage of tried and true design principles when combining colors. For example, putting two "Complimentary Colors" (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel) together actually make the two colors appear brighter. You also need to work with your plant suppliers to time your orders properly so you receive plants that are in bloom. That means working closely with your suppliers is always in your best interest.
Your Plants are your Livelyhood - Keep Them Alive!
Nobody wants to spend twenty dollars on a half dead hanging basket. We have all seen the sad withered plants displayed in the garden departments of box stores. Box stores get plants that are in good condition when they arrive but are clueless on how to look after those plants. It is tragic, to say the least. Your plants should be lush and leafy as they are proudly displayed in your store. Your staff needs to be trained on how to properly maintain those lush plants. Make plant care a top priority for all your staff, those plants represent your business. Customers will happily spend a little extra for a perky flowering hanging basket that will hold up throughout the season. Those perky hanging baskets will standout from all the others on your customer's street. That’s where you shine, there is no denying quality.
Treat Your Customers like Family
The anonymity of big business has its weaknesses. Yes, people feel a sense of comfort when purchasing from a franchise, that comfort is about familiarity. You should aim higher than familiarly, your goal should be to establish trust. Your brand should be based on people rather than a logo and a good return policy. To achieve this your business needs to be involved with your customers. Get involved in the community, people want to support local business so make sure your business is an active member of that community. Hold community events for families, sponsor local groups, educate local students on plants. Be a friend to your customers because friends support each other. Once you are in the minds and hearts of the community they will think twice before heading over to the box stores.
Be a Trendsetter
Selling the same birdhouses as everyone else doesn’t exactly set you apart from the herd. Leave the boring mass-produced products to the big business sheep. Be the trendsetter others will follow and source better product. Go where your customers go to get trending ideas, like Houzz and Pinterest. Pay attention to what your customers purchase like unique planters then blow them away this spring with teacup planters. Finding niche products will be no small task but taking on that challenge is what separates you from the herd. Taking a novel approach to merchandising those trendy products will establish you as an industry leader and keep your garden center fresh and current.
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In 3, 2, 1... BAM!
Variety is the spice of life, so just like spices, add a pinch of this and a pinch of that into your regular inventory. Offer your customers an interesting selection of plants that capture their attention and some specialty "hard to find" varieties that you can't get at a chain store. Focusing on how you can demonstrate variety and at the same time, uniqueness can be more effective at attracting customers. Offer the staples and the frills. Ensure you carry those items you customers simply can’t live without but offer them a few temptations as well. Be the only business in town to carry that one variety of black velvet rose and get new customers through your door. Once your customers are through the door, getting them to pick up all the items they need for their gardening project is much easier.
So There you Have it...
There are still many areas where independent garden centers can thrive in the big box store world we all live in today. The key point here is finding a way to differentiate your business from all the rest. Find those few unique sales propositions and market them.
Interested in implementing some of these strategies?
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