The day before Thanksgiving a few years ago, I reluctantly pulled into Central Market’s parking lot. Central Market is a popular, high-end Texas grocery store chain, the luxury brand for the middle-of-the-road HEB stores.
As expected, the parking lot was packed. There wasn’t a space in the main part of the sizable lot, so I had to park some distance away. It wasn’t a promising start to what I fully expected to be an irritating afternoon. But I was making butternut squash soup and providing wine for the holiday dinner the next day, and so I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I was doomed to endure the busiest shopping day of the year for grocery stores.
I grabbed a mini double-decker cart, resigned to cranky crowds and jostling for space in the produce aisles.
I walked in and paused to figure out where I could find the butternut squash. Almost instantly, an employee asked, “What are you trying to find? I’ll take you there.”
He guided me to my squash, and left to approach another customer.
Nice start, I thought. Too bad I still needed to visit the dairy, spice, and wine departments.
But I soon found that every time I paused to look for something, another employee immediately approached me and helped me out. Within 15 minutes, I was approaching the checkout, and waiting in line seemed like an easy thing to do after such a pleasant shopping experience.
To my shock, every single cash register was open and I was at my car 20 minutes after I left it.
It’s the best grocery store shopping experience I’ve ever had, and it took place the day before Thanksgiving, the equivalent of a garden shop’s Mother’s Day weekend.
4 Ideas You Can Use For This Weekend
At a time when younger generations are not as interested in gardening as their elders, when winning new customers is more important than ever, Central Market’s customer service can teach our industry a great deal.
- Don’t just do your best to make it through a crazy holiday week: Raise your standards. Before moving from Texas, I was a somewhat regular Central Market shopper. While I never received poor service, employees were more laid back, always ready to help, but not so focused on me that they spoke to me as soon as I paused to look around. Give your employees a bit of a pep rally before work starts each day, emphasizing how you want them to watch customers for their heads popping up. It’s easy to spot a customer who wants help if you’re watching for it. Up to that point, they’re walking at a steady clip (either leisurely or purposefully, depending on each person’s character) when they suddenly pause, straighten their shoulders, and look around. They are either looking for a specific product or for an employee. That’s when your staff can sidle up next to them and cheerfully offer to help out.
- Focus on efficiency. While no one rushed me during my Thanksgiving grocery store visit, they made sure I never wasted my time. I was left to browse all I wanted, but if I needed help, they were there in seconds. And they opened up cash registers that weren’t used the rest of the year to ensure customers got through quickly. They obviously hired in extra cashiers and brought every employee in during the most crucial hours. Take a look at what helps make your parking turn over more quickly that doesn’t rush your customers. More car loaders? More cashiers?
- Keep displays fully stocked and attractive. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the store had its usual tidiness, and I didn’t see any empty shelves. That was quite a feat, considering how large the parking lot was and how many people were pouring through. Double check your inventory levels leading into this weekend and make sure you have enough to last the weekend. Mother’s Day is not a good weekend for rain checks. If customers don’t find what they’re looking for, they go find another gift to buy mom at another store.
- Have plenty of gift-completing items near check out. You know a good portion of your customers are buying a gift this weekend. Move your card displays so that customers pass them on their way to check out. Have decorative pots that fit your most common nursery pot sizes, and an assortment of pot wraps, from inexpensive floral wrap to the more current pot decorations. Perhaps you can cross merchandise floral picks and stakes with your combo pots, with a demo container garden showing how these items transform a planter into a gift. And you’ll definitely want to have plenty of gift cards on hand.