4 Stores That Get Their Customers

Jennifer Polanz

Sephora: Creating Custom Experiences

Sephora isn’t all that different from a garden center. The store carries a seemingly endless supply of beauty products, all from a variety of different vendors.

So what does Sephora do so well? It educates consumers on how to apply products in store for maximum impact. It also creates an emotional experience for shoppers, which encourages them to pay a premium price for makeup, perfume and other beauty supplies.

Samples are a huge part of Sephora’s business. It allows customers to try on products, either by themselves or with the help of associates. It has easy-to-read instructions on makeup application to take away the intimidation factor, and the handout includes space for writing down product details so customers can come back and find exactly what they need, time after time.

The Sephora model can be replicated in the garden center with mixed containers, or even small landscaping/decorating projects in which a designer helps the consumer walk through placement, plant choice and planting tips.

Anthropologie And Urban Outfitters

Apparel stores make their living telling people what to wear. But they don’t just throw the clothes out there and let customers choose. They set up mannequins and displays for a reason: Customers need help deciding how items go together, and that goes for everything from clothes to housewares and home décor.

Stores like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters take the guesswork out of apparel and home décor by displaying items color blocked so the product stands out and customers can see which colors work together. They dress mannequins complete with shoes for the outfit so customers can grab and go.

But stores like these also work hard to create an ambiance with unique fixtures that set the tone for the store. To gain a premium price, these stores have to tell a story with their products. That means no cheap-looking merchandising, a spotless store and investments in fixtures and ancillary products that set the experience (like live plants). It also means an investment into products that fit the demographic of the shopper.

It’s clear walking into Urban Outfitters that the demographic target skews much younger than Anthropologie. The feel of the store is more humorous and lighthearted (think a book called “5 Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth”) versus the more sophisticated atmosphere of Anthropologie (books like “Vegetables From An Italian Garden”).

And while these stores, like most in retail, are faced with sluggish sales, Urban Outfitters added four new stores this year, while Anthropologie added seven.

The overall company, which also owns the Terrain independent garden center in Pennsylvania, is up in sales so far over 2010. And that means this premium brand is doing something right. Pay an Anthropologie or an Urban Outfitters a visit and see which elements you can incorporate into your own business–or your customer’s.

Crate and Barrel

Kristine Lonergan is the director of sales and marketing at Garden State Growers in New Jersey, but before venturing into floriculture she worked in marketing in the home furnishings industry. The industries have multiple parallels, she says, including the fact that both furniture and flowers are an emotional purchase. And with that emotional purchase comes an intimidation factor. At her previous job, interviewers were sent all over the country to find out what factors make people shy away from buying furniture. The main factor is the idea of making a mistake. Plants have that same mystique.

“Shopping for flowers is not a financial risk the way furniture can be, but it is still emotional,” she says. “When you start gardening it becomes more of a project; it’s all of a sudden more of a look.”

And that’s why her marketing team created a program that infused fun and whimsy into the furniture-buying process. It’s also why other companies like Crate & Barrel have done the same with lighthearted yet informative and detailed signage, appealing with displays that are color-coordinated for easy decisions. Crate & Barrel also offers helpful sales associates who are ready to match customers with the right home décor for their tastes.

The store has a wide variety of printed material available, from the general catalog to more detailed, room-specific literature. On-site designers are available to help customers coordinate colors to take away the intimidation factor.

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