If you’ve heard marketing consultant Judy Sharpton speak, you know she’s a proponent of Paco Underhill’s book, “Why We Buy,” and a stickler against the butt brush, an Underhill theory in which customers “brush butts” as they pass because aisles and spaces are too narrow to navigate otherwise.
Sound like a problem you’ve encountered at a garden center, perhaps even a dilemma you face at your own if you’re a grower-retailer? Now is the time to recognize the problem and consider alternatives to fix it. Let’s start with an analysis of bench layouts and basic ways you can convert commercial greenhouses into customer-friendly areas for retail.
For starters, growers must realize greenhouse production area is different than retail area for product. Retail space should be more open than production space, particularly at the heart of spring when customers intend to load multiple products onto carts. If a grower’s retail facility is designed like a typical production facility, carting product around becomes nearly impossible, and customers will pick up only what they can handleâ€“a plant or two, if thatâ€“as they shop stores.
A retail greenhouse with benches covering 90 percent of floor space simply isn’t inviting. Customers aren’t interested in squeezing between benches and hopping over puddles. They don’t want to shop through greenhouse mazes or obstacle courses either, so growers ultimately must sacrifice growing space if they’re serious about retailing.
“In a production facility, you want maximum product and minimum human space,” Sharpton says. “In a retail setting, you want about 50 percent of floor space for product and 50 percent reserved for customers.”
The grower-retailers who struggle with conversions are those who aren’t willing to sacrifice production space. There’s a grower attitude, Sharpton says, that plants must cover every inch of the greenhouse. That attitude is fine in production, but it won’t fly at retail.
Wider aisles are a must, and more width means reconfiguring the facility’s layout. Maybe you already devote 50 or 60 percent of retail space for product already. That’s a great start. The bottom line, though, is less benching is the better option. Smaller, more retail-friendly benches that allow customers to push carts around them make sense, too.
“Often, the problem with existing production tables is they’re just too big,” Sharpton says. “They’re hard to move, and you want flexibility in your layout. You want to be able to change layouts according to what you need.”
What To Sell
When reconfiguring greenhouses for retail, growers must also consider the products they want to make available. Stock your benches with products that are ready for customers, not products that are weeks away from flowering or reaching the right size.
“Retailers are using valuable retail space for products the customer is not going to buy,” Sharpton says. “Why have it there?”
If grower-retailers can, they should locate their retail facility adjacent to main production facilities so product can be moved into the retail space easily when needed. Retailers are, after all, going to be restocking benches regularly if they’re making the right products available. The farther away production facilities are, the more frustrated grower-retailers will get when it comes time to hauling plants from one place to the other.
Open To Change
As basic as these bench tips are, all grower-retailers are not following them. Proven Winners sees the value in such tips, though, and a big part of its 2008 Roadshow focused on them. Sharpton made her suggestions on the tour, stressing the importance of wide aisles, smaller benches and retail-ready plants. Four Star Greenhouses, a Proven Winners founder, afforded 10 retailers the chance to work with Sharpton this year to improve facilities in which Proven Winners products are sold. Oliver Paine Greenhouses in Fulton, N.Y., is one grower-retailer Sharpton visited and advised.
“A lot of our ranges were set up for growing, and we were very interested in making some changes,” says Cindy Paine, co-owner of Oliver Paine Greenhouses. “Judy’s biggest suggestion was removing two entire benches in our main house, so we removed two 65-by 150-foot benches. We made the back walkway wider. It increased the flow of traffic, and we added smaller benches in their place.
“The other thing was to change our entrance and exit. Everyone now enters our three-bay house and exits through our retail building that houses our seeds. Removing those two benches created a racetrack effect and helped the flow.”
Before changes were made, Paine says she could see the frustration on the faces of customers who couldn’t push carts down long walkways with ease. Now, customers can shop the entire range nicely because of suggestions Sharpton made and the operation’s willingness to cooperate.
Oliver Paine Greenhouses also plans to transform an area for perennials. Rather than retailing perennials in rows on benches, Paine is trying to angle benches and make islands with them so the retail experience at her shop isn’t the same as that at grocery stores, where you file up one aisle and down the next without quite knowing which aisle you’re walking down.
For growers who are hesitant to give up production space, Sharpton has another suggestion: double tier benches to get more turns out of the space.
“As you lose floor space, particularly in the spring when you have so much inventory and smaller product, a second tier of tables allows you to add space. You can put one-fourth of the space on top,” Sharpton says.
Many growers resist the tiering display model because plants underneath won’t keep as well, Sharpton says, and they don’t get watered properly. But her solution to that dilemma is turn: When you restock, front the old product and stock the newer product behind it.
“Maximizing turn, you want to keep that product fresh and keep it moving so you don’t wind up with five or six flats of petunias that never get brought forward on the table and stay underneath that second tier of fixturing,” Sharpton says.
She is also a stickler against product on the floor. It’s acceptable in production facilities, just not at retail.
“If you go back to the concept of customer merchandise contact, you can see getting product up off the ground allows the customer to pick it up much more easily,” Sharpton says. “We know that if customers pick up the product, we have a 70 to 80 percent chance they’ll buy it. Getting it up where the customer can reach out rather than bend over is the key.”