Recently myself and my colleague Nikki Neale had the pleasure of speaking to a consortium of garden centre operators about lessons from the world of retail and how these might translate into actions they could implement.
We presented in the orangery at Daylesford Organic Farm, an incredible environment with one of the most compelling aromatic landscapes I’ve ever witnessed!
Now, as a novice gardener I saw this as an opportunity to drag my partner and son around a variety of different garden centres, on ‘research’ missions, prior to the talk– most of which involved a cream tea and purchase of what, seemingly felt like an essential piece of kit to assist with my gardening quest.
I was surrounded by a broad array of ‘customers’ clearly more in ‘leisure’ mode than ‘shopping’ mode. There were families taking advantage of the soft play areas, mothers and daughters sharing quality time over a sandwich, green fingered experts deeply engaged with members of staff and younger couples looking to bring a bit of life into their new home.
Throughout my visits to various establishments what quickly became very clear was that, actually, garden centres are doing a pretty good job of it. Yes, there is work to be done in demystifying the art of gardening to the novice, yes, the connected customer journey does have a few cracks in it – and yes this age-old art form infrequently has to surrender to the impact of adverse weather patterns, most recently, ‘Beast from the East’.
All of that said, while the rest of the retail world are looking to put meaningful human experiences at the heart of their proposition garden centres have been doing it for generations.
Well in many respects UK garden centres are ahead of the curve when it comes to the need to attract customers beyond product selection. Over the past few decades the sector suffered blow after blow as society turned its back on home grown vegetables in favour of convenience, and increasing urban concentration often meant that we didn’t have the outside space to invest in. As a result a lot of the operators were hit hard and needed to diversify to continue attracting a spending audience.
The retail sector has more recently followed a similar path with the rise of e-commerce and tightening of consumer spending, meaning that customers can buy pretty much anything online and have become more price conscious. In turn making them fundamentally more critical of their in-store experiences
Customers now want –
- Better, more empathetic human interactions,
- ‘5 senses’ experience that deliver an emotional return,
- To share their experiences with their peer group.
So what can we learn from garden centres and the journey they have been through?
1 – Experiences mustn’t be a bolt on. Garden centre experiences flow seamlessly through the environment – by intertwining sensorially triggered moments throughout the DNA of your proposition you help to shift customer mindset from ‘shopping’ to ‘leisure’ this helps to drive to emotionally lead purchasing – so instead of buying something they think they need, customers walk away with a souvenir of the experience.
2 – Know your audience. Easy to say but often difficult to accommodate, observing people at ease in a retail environment, sharing personal stories while surrounded by purchase opportunities is not a common site. Think about creating experiences that put your customers at ease and makes them want to spend valuable time in your environment.
3 – Empower your staff. Pretty much everybody I spoke to had a clear passion for gardening, moreover they were able to tailor their conversation to my level of understanding, helping me to make the right decisions for my needs and desires – find similar ways to help drive and unleash the passion of your team.
4 – Create reasons to return. Garden centres are by nature highly seasonal, therefore they have had to try harder than most to drive year-round custom – they do this by thinking ahead and creating a schedule of events that keep customers coming back – think around what you could do to support your customers own leisure calendar and how the store could help facilitate this.
5 – Share your ideas. Finally, what I found refreshing about the consortium we spoke to was that they were happy to collaborate and share ideas with each other despite technically being direct competitors. Remember, it’s often not your immediate industry peers who are the competition for your customers attention but a broader range of leisure and retail opportunities than ever before.
If you’d like to talk more about other learnings that can translate across sectors then please get in touch, we’ll even provide the cream tea!
Thank you to Shelley Turner & Chris Francis of Hillier Group for inviting us along.