Displays are People Too!
This year I have already worked with or looked at over 20 Local Garden Centers (LGCs) helping teams get ready for what promises to be (weather permitting) a very strong year as the economy slowly picks up.
All garden retail channels will be trying to tempt, engage, inspire and sell to the public within the next few weeks. 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-result and make the sale in a few seconds and eight square feet! As 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, 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” or “Save the Monarchs”.
So, let’s give 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!
MarshaMar 1, 2015 at 4:16 pm
Thanks for putting the actions into words!
I will share this with staff and make it happen.
Ian BaldwinMar 2, 2015 at 10:46 am
Thanks Marsha, you could even add scores to the questions and create some incentives for the team, Upwards and Onwards!
BrianMar 2, 2015 at 9:23 am
Great points Ian! Sometimes I think we all need to step back and ask ourselves these questions as we walk through our stores.
Ian BaldwinMar 2, 2015 at 10:51 am
Thanks Brian, see my comments to Marsha. You are correct, this HAS to start at the top, so many of most Garden Centers’ teams would vote for the “photo-shoot” look unless they had this kind of guidance. It’s not their fault – all they see at trade shows and in the magazines are these perfect displays, so they think that’s what is expected by their leaders too.
Ron VanderhoffMar 2, 2015 at 3:11 pm
You mean we cannot just make things look pretty and call our merchandising efforts a success? You’ve popped our balloon.
Actually, we sometimes call that result “museum” merchandising, where everything is presented perfectly; the customer lowers their voice and then quietly walks around and admires the presentation. All the time of course, with their hands behind their backs and with minimal interaction.
Well done, as usual Ian. Our merchandising team are each reading your article right now and we are meeting on Friday for a little group discussion – with a goal of no museums at Roger’s Gardens.
Ian BaldwinMar 2, 2015 at 4:41 pm
Ron, thanks for taking the time. I know that the Roger’s team is great at massing color for impact and shop-ability but 7 acres is a lot for staff to cover and we have discussed how ‘Silent Selling’ can help even at full-service Roger’s Gardens. Maybe the next opportunity is “bundling” and signage to sell the project sale!
Keith TurbettMar 3, 2015 at 8:11 am
You’re on the money as always, literally in this case as merchandising done well produces customer spend.
I always suggest GC staff do store walks in grocery stores. No better place to learn how minimal interaction with consumers results in sales dollars. It will also remind people that fussy displays (that’s what you wanted to say Ian) get in the way of making sales.
All good advice, I’d throw in a link to photo libary to re-inforce your point. Not everyone is the born display maker and therein lies so often the danger of over-loaded displays as someone who claims expertise doesn’t always have it.
Ian BaldwinMar 3, 2015 at 10:36 am
Keith, so nice to hear from you, hope all is well in Scheurich-land! You make a great point about grocery stores, thanks and I totally agree that managers need to be very firm about who to delegate merchandising too! Everyone thinks they can do this when in fact it is a skill that some will never grasp! Have a great spring.
Tina BemisMar 3, 2015 at 11:14 am
As a contestant in the first merchandising competition at the former OFA Short Course, we were give 45 minutes to create a tall, approx. 15 square foot display. That was actually 25 minutes too long. My competitors were way more talented and artistic than I was. But I won my first round with simplicity and a message to buy now, complete with benefits. Most of my time was spent on the signs.
I ask my staff to create most displays in 20 minutes.
We have to do a better job telling people why we pared the plants and accessories together, and why they will look good at their home. If we don ‘t, we become a free botanic garden visit for our customers, like the museum effect alluded to earlier. We can’t let them leave thanking us for the beauty. They must buy something.
Ian BaldwinMar 3, 2015 at 11:49 am
Tina, as always, sense and sensibility! You should write my next blog! Great comments. You are so correct. If we don’t get our displays and messages to align with customer situations we will cease to be relevant to about 100 million consumers – not a good business plan! Garden retail can no longer thrive through one-on-one hand holding selling. Thanks again, Ian
cheri BernsMar 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm
wow, THANK YOU IAN FOR THE ARTICLE ON DISPLAYS. FOR YEARS I HAVE FOUGHT WITH THE STAFF ABOUT DISPLAYS. YOUR ONE LINE ABOUT WHAT DISPLAYS SHOULD DO IS PERFECT. 1 VALIDATE NEEDS,2 SHOW OPTIONS,3 RECOMMEND SOLUTIONS,4 CLOSE THE SALE IS PERFECT. I PUT THIS ON MY DESK AS A REMINDER TO MYSELF AS WELL AS THE STAFF. THROWING HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS OF PLANT MATERIAL ON THE FLOOR AND CALLING IT A DISPLAY IS JUST UNTRUE. I AM NOT ANTI-DISPLAY JUST ANTI-MESS. WE ARE WORKING ON TRAINING STAFF ON WHAT A GOOD DISPLAY IS. MOST OF THE TIME SMALLER IS BETTER IN THIS CASE.
Ian BaldwinMar 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm
Cheri, how nice to hear from you again, it’s been a while so I am glad to see you are still fighting in the trenches! The drift towards photo-shoot perfect and decoration drives me mad as you can probably tell. Sometimes being a non-shopper really helps focus what the purpose of all that inventory really is, so your comments are right in-line with my agenda: to sell the right product and help customers succeed – the first time! Best wishes to Mike from both of us.
Jim WebsterMar 4, 2015 at 2:11 pm
Well put Ian. The Barn Nursery has gone from TRAILERLOAD after TRAILERLOAD after TRAILERLOAD of pottery and plants displayed in mass (which works!) to also having a gift and Christmas shop. We are becoming much better merchants. From time to time I wander if some of my great displays are more for “Community service” or do they actually sell.
We will revisit all of our displays and make sure that they are truly “Silent salespeople”!
Thanks for the reminder, and sometimes a much needed ‘gentle’ nudge.
Ian BaldwinMar 7, 2015 at 12:28 pm
Jim, thanks for your note, which is high praise indeed coming from The Barn where I know you “get it”. Your pottery sales and tie-ins should be an inspiration to one and all. Is there a resident of Chattanooga who has not yet got a container from you?!! Y’all have a great spring!
Renee QuanceMar 19, 2015 at 7:50 am
Ian, You make some great points on creating displays that sell! Do you have some pictures that you could share with us? I’d like to be able to show our merchandisers both good and bad displays. I think we can grasp the concepts much easier with some visual aids.