Sell More Plants: The 10 Percent Project

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If you’ve been paying attention to The Grow Initiative, you know that the Greenhouse Grower team is looking for ways to rejuvenate the industry. The team at Today’s Garden Center, Greenhouse Grower’s sister magazine, has a similar mission.

We’ve recruited as many big thinkers as we can to brainstorm ways we can help retailers succeed. The result is the 10% Project, a series of research projects and activities with the goal of increasing garden center plant revenues by 10 percent. Significantly increasing plant sales obviously benefits growers as well.

About The 10% Project

Why plants? Because plants are the core of garden retail. Depending on the store, plants make up between 60 and 80 percent of annual sales. What happens in that department can make or break a garden retailer.

At an ANLA Management Clinic a few years ago, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa talked about how he decides where he will spend his energy.

If he had two players on his team that needed coaching to improve their batting average, one that is a weak hitter and the other a strong one, which gets his attention? The stronger hitter, because the return on investment of coaching time is so much greater for the team.

The same is true for garden centers. Say overall sales in 2011 were $1
million. If plants accounted for 70 percent of sales and gifts for 5 percent, which will provide the bigger return for the same effort to improve sales? An increase of 10 percent in each departments equals $70,000 and $5,000, respectively.

Who Is Your Best Customer?

In the first 10% Project venture, Today’s Garden Center and Emory University professor Susan Hogan teamed up on a research project to help Lakeview Nurseries better understand their customers and, ultimately, increase their sales. Before the research began, Lakeview Nurseries’ Michelle Harvey guessed that her most important customer group was women in their 50s and 60s. But in the study, the younger crowd not only was more likely to make purchases, their purchases were more likely to be large ones.

Other details Lakeview learned about their 20- to 40-year-old customers:
• It’s the group most likely to add impulse buys at check out. Two-thirds of the impulse purchases during the study were made by this group.

• 81 percent of customers in this group made purchases, the highest percentage of any age group.

• This group is the second most
likely group to talk to staff, after the 60- to 80-year-olds.

• Their average time in the store was 19.5 minutes.

Harvey says after seeing how many children go through her store, she may add some child-related impulse items to her checkout display.

That’s the thinking behind The 10% Project. If garden centers can increase their strongest category sales by 10 percent, then the entire store is healthier. And if enough stores improve their plant sales, the entire industry is stronger.

The 10% Project In Action

The 10% Project kicked off in 2012 with three research and educational projects:

1. Understanding customers: Today’s Garden Center matched an Emory University professor and a Revolutionary 100 garden center for an observational and interview study to learn more about who the retailer’s best customers actually were and how to appeal to them to sell more plants. (See “Who is Your Best Customer?” sidebar).

2. Determining price sensitivity of customers: A common lament for garden retailers is how cheaply a plant is sold at a nearby big box. To those retailers, that means they also have to keep their prices low. But is that really true? How sensitive to plant prices are shoppers in reality? Today’s Garden Center worked with Michigan State University’s Bridget Behe, Texas A&M’s Charlie Hall and Marco Palma and three independent retailers on a study this spring. What we found is low prices do not necessarily sell more plants.

3. Visual Merchandising: In September, Today’s Garden Center worked with a high-end visual merchandiser that we set loose on a garden center plant yard. What did someone with that level of talent do with plants and how will the results impact plant sales? We recorded the makeover from beginning to end and worked with a financial expert to analyze how inventory levels are affected and how the transformation impacts sales.

New Projects For 2013

Based on the success of the projects this year, Today’s Garden Center invited a select group of retailers, suppliers and allied organizations to a meeting in August to discuss priorities in creating additional projects that will be truly helpful to garden centers. We came out of that meeting with a number of new projects for the coming year.

The bottom line is to help garden centers increase their bottom lines. This in turn, will help to increase your bottom line. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Carol Miller is editor of Today's Garden Center. You can eMail her at clmiller@meistermedia.com.

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