Use Displays To Boost Shoppers’ Confidence In Growing Plants

Ian BaldwinThe following is from industry consultant Ian Baldwin’s Bits & Bobs blog

By the end of February 2015, I had already worked with or looked at more than 20 local garden centers (LGCs), helping teams get ready for a strong spring season.

One of the greatest challenges facing garden retailers today a changing consumer. We have all heard of the new demographics emerging in the do-it-yourself gardening business: younger customers are tempted but terrified, intrigued but intimidated.

Merchandising Has A New Role!

The fear of failure is high and not easily overcome, despite strong interest in the end result (like a stylish planter of succulents or luscious home-grown tomatoes). The traditional response from LGCs is to say that they have lots of knowledgeable staff anxious to help the newbies succeed. In fact, LGCs argue that this is their unique, distinguishing competitive feature compared to the bigger and usually cheaper big-box retailers whose model is essentially one of self-service.

But in the crazy spring season, everywhere is self-service, or at least self-start. No retailer has enough staff to hand-hold every customer, even if that was what the consumer wanted. Increasingly it is actually not what a lot of customers want, at least until they pluck up enough confidence to engage in a conversation with the experts who work there.

This is where merchandising — better called “silent selling” — comes in. As consumers change from hobbyist to project shopper, merchandising’s role becomes one of a salesperson. Displays can and should validate needs, show options, recommend solutions and close the sale.

In fact, a perfect display can attract, hold attention, inform, inspire, answer fears and doubts, suggest/show end results and make the sale in a few seconds and 8 square feet. At a very minimum, displays must give a customer a feeling of relevance while boosting their confidence.

Reflecting The Changing Customer

Of course, for 40 years, most garden retailers were selling to consumers who knew what to buy (or at least were willing to learn by trial and error.) More and more consumers today don’t know what they don’t know, as you can see from the deer-in-the-headlights look when they enter your store or greenhouse. To those people, a stunning display of perfect plants will make them feel even less confident.

Silent Selling Can Sell The Project, Not Just The Product

Merchandising has a new role: to sell the complete project without a word being said. But from what I have seen in the last few weeks, we have a long way to go. In fact, the current fixation with building inch-perfect photo-shoot displays contradicts that new role. Everywhere I go, I see products being used to decorate end-caps, around fountains, in front of doors, around table legs — decoration everywhere — but displays helping customer relate and buy, nowhere. These decorative displays are often very attractive but do not offer solutions or suggest projects, making them hard to relate to the typical home space. They also shout, “Don’t even think about touching me!”

The overwhelming majority of merchandising in LGCs today makes customers look around with that inevitable question: “Excuse me, do you work here?” Displays should boost productivity by, if nothing else, engaging shoppers with an idea that helps focus their questions until a staff member is finally able to get to them.

Displays Should Answer Questions, Not Create Unnecessary Questions

Let’s see the suggested products bundled together in volume, and easily shoppable displays with themes such as:

• “Hide The Neighbors For Under $200”
• “Plants For Busy People”
• “Feed Your Lawn For 3 Cents Per Square Foot Per Week”
• “Home-Grown Tomatoes Made Easy”
• “Grow Your Own Pesto”
• “Save The Monarchs”

I offer this challenge to retail teams this year as they design, build, stock and work on sharing their knowledge and helping customers to buy:
1. Is this display meant to simulate the end result? If so (and if you don’t want the impact to be lost as people shop it), where do shoppers find the product/kit/bundle to do the job?
2. Is this meant to be a grab-and-go display that sells itself, and consequently does it say, “Shop me, ruin me, that’s OK?”
3. Does this display answer questions and build customers’ confidence until we can get to them?

Now it’s time to put those displays to work. Happy silent selling!

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