Queen of Shops delivers her verdict on garden retail

In her talk titled ‘Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does your Garden (Centre) Grow’? Mary confessed to being a keen gardener who loves to be able to show off her own garden to friends and is a visitor to Clifton Nurseries, Boma Garden Centre and Petersham Nurseries – all of which are near her London home.

With the demanding economy, new environmental issues and the digital revolution all shaping changing consumer habits she told the 220 strong audience that a new breed of consumer now exists – the ‘universal shopper’. This savvy shopper can’t be pigeon holed and is just as likely to shop at both premium and value outlets.Mary urged garden retailers to ‘put themselves in the place of the shopper’ to get a true picture of their businesses. Taking this approach herself she then delivered her verdict on what she considers to be the good, the bad and the ugly points about garden centres following her visits to a range of garden retailers prior to the conference. She welcomed the advertising of additional services such as garden design consultation, appealing entrances, powerful displays through colour blocking and encouraged centres to capitalise on their location where possible. She was less impressed by poor merchandising standards illustrated by blown over plants, untidy pond liner displays, lack of information in the growing media area and displays that lack inspiration. Making the point that your product defines you she was critical of centres that stock garish ornaments asking ‘who sells these’ much to the audiences’ amusement. She encouraged garden centres to know their specialism and make the most of it. She spoke about how retailers need to change the way they sell to connect with today’s consumer. ‘There are new rules for selling and marketing. We have moved away from ‘greed and gain’ and towards ‘generosity and giving’ in our retailing offer, she said using examples such as Apple’s Genius Bar and the Orange Wednesday cinema promotion. She encouraged garden centres to make more of the information they have and educate their visitors asking ‘if they are not going to get the knowledge from your where will they get it from?’ With people more interested than ever in the stories behind products and their heritage she urged garden centres to tell those stories and use them in their business – the history of the plants, where they were grown and by whom.  ‘Did you notice gardening got cool?’ Mary asked the audience as she outlined some of the initiatives that she has come across which focus on providing an experience, a service or a specialism. She urged garden retailers to create an experience and provide a ‘talkability factor’. Her examples include flower filled skips, making greater use of community links through groups and schools, pop up shops, creating room sets – taking inspiration from Chelsea, having a ‘gardener in residence’ in your centre, incorporating allotments or a garden – to name but a few. Using the example of Majestic Wines Mary stated that ‘serving is the new selling’ and quoting Pret a Manger’s great staff, she said, ‘hire people that are happy’. HTA Director General David Gwyther comments, “Mary’s emphasis on the great opportunity for garden retailers with the ‘new consumer’ was heartening. Happy and knowledgeable staff combined with new service initiatives and ‘outside the box’ excitement in store will provide the value and environment that they are looking for. HTA’s training schemes and merchandising workshops will help, and our supply chain work will also encourage suppliers to work with retailers to provide new levels of inspiration to the younger people now trying garden centres for the first time.”