Inspiring Summer Customers Without A Word Being Said


As temperatures climb and that manic spring customer flow slows to a trickle some days, it’s always tempting to take a deep breath, look at sales YTD compared with last year and relax… ”it’s over”. There used to be a day when that was somewhat true, retail garden companies (and many of their suppliers) could put a “Gone Fishing” sign on the door and literally, go fishing.

Of course that’s still the case if you are living entirely on seasonal pop-ups – good for you, tell me how you make it work!

But for the thousands of owners, managers and team-members who have been in overdrive for the past 12-16 weeks, the reality is that you can’t afford to take your foot off the pedal. The costs of being in business don’t take a summer break.

Now that the consumer has found, bought and planted what they need (hopefully), we have to sell them what they might like. And given the summer temperatures and competing activities, we have to make the shopping experience as enjoyable and successful as possible.

Traditionally that has meant a customer finding an employee who, by a series of questions and answers, narrows down what they think best suits the customer’s situation.  This assumption is now seriously challenged by such developments as on-line research before customers leave home (over 60% for L&G shopping) and You-Tube videos on their tablets as they walk the aisle.  Let’s not forget the other reality – the cost and availability of knowledgeable labor. 

Hand-Holding May Not Be “Full-Service” Anymore

The full-service Local Garden Center channel is still far too dependent on knowledgeable employees. Even if you can find and hire them to hand-hold every customer, shoppers today are used to (and sometimes more comfortable with) “discovery” on their own. With on-line research increasingly common there is a lot less need to start every conversation from scratch. Customers just want to know if they are interpreting things correctly for their own situation. The retail center becomes a validation center.

Customers who have spent time researching their project, product, size, brand or budget, need much less “discovery” conversation with employees. What they need is guidance, validation, assurance and confidence-building.  Merchandising can do much of that too. Garden shopping is changing from an assisted treasure hunt to a focused project. The mantra might be “Research on-line, validate in store.”

Silent Selling Can Be Compelling

So, if you are able to take some time off and tour some of your peers or your competition, see what you can find in the way of exciting, persuasive merchandising or “Silent Selling” with a compelling value-proposition. Take lots of pictures (if allowed of course) and build a training session around them because exciting, persuasive value propositions are still hard to find. But that’s what shoppers want right now. A simple clear vision of the end result, the products, the how-to “recipe” and the price of the project (or the cost of not doing it!).

Despite all the “merchandising training” and the digital media now available it’s hard to find merchandising that inspires summer spending in this way – without a word being said. 

See what you find out there and let us know in the comments section below. Happy value-propositioning!

Photo by Ian in an English Garden Center 2008


  1. Jay De Graff
    Jun 20, 2016 at 9:36 am

    This not only true for summer, but in season as well. With minimum wage in California headed to $15.00 per hour by 2022, it’s going to have to be a way of life year round. The cost of doing business is not going down at all and we have to figure out how to pay for the increase in payroll. At this pace everyone on payroll is affected.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jun 20, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Well said Jay. I know that you are already well into that transition process at your company; so far so good! For all GCs with a very small footprint and parking like yours in Turlock, this may actually be a competitive advantage. Focussing projects and solutions for the consumer means reduced inventory dollars and quicker turns of both product and customers! The shopper can park near the door, get in and out quickly with the products and the answers, rather than a 100 yard walk to a door leading to acres of walking and hoping. Sounds like a plan! Thanks for your good thoughts.

  2. Jere Stauffer
    Jun 22, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Change (and taxes) the only constants).

    ‘Hi tech’ is truly changing the face of ‘Hi-touch’ While the role of the garden center Team Member (TM) has been changing, good horticultural knowledge has been a key differentiator for the IGC. I hope the value of our good hort specialists never goes away. Sure, More of that knowledge will go digital each year but Siri should never replace Ian, Joanne, Joe, Kelly, Scott, Wanda, or Steve (to name just a few). The value of human interaction to help the novice to start successfully or the experienced gardener to solve a problem is, I think, irreplaceable. And, the good TMs will cost us more.

    Some customers, but not all, are willing to sift through the pile of online info to plan their projects. The others we are helping by our product selection, our displays, or signage, and some by our hort specialists. We need to make sure we are investing the right money on the right resource for our market.

    Is a beautiful day here in Lancaster.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jun 23, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Well said Mr Stauffer! I couldn’t agree more that the human touch should be the Local Garden Center (LGC)’s and the Independent Hardware’s winning card; this next decade of garden retail is theirs to win but only if they change their image to one of more “modern” communications and relevance to consumer’s projects. In effect we have to change our ways to operate in their world not hope/assume they will adapt to ours…. Thanks for your input Jere, see you soon!

  3. Ernest Wertheim
    Jun 22, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    i do agree with both IAN And also Jere. I do not believe there is just one answer for all independent garden centers.Each situation may be different.
    How are people handling the heat wave that we have or the wild fires or the Orlando disaster. All these things effect our sales and we will have to make immediate changes. Ian are you always available to help people to make immediate decisions? I think your clients or others need to be able to talk to some one via telephone or E mail to help them make decisions on matters that were completely unexpected.
    Thank you for your comments, they are always of interest and much appreciated.
    Yours, Ernest

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jun 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      Thank you as always Ernest. You are correct that we must be always available for our customers, many of whom have by now figured out the day-to-day but maybe challenged by a new situation as you say. The new situation for many of us (including me!) is significance of the digital world in retail. Consumers’ expectations are set now by Amazon, YouTube and so on as we scramble to help our traditional teams adapt and help customers. It’s an exciting yet challenging world as the garden industry struggles to get and keep their customers’ attention against some of the best marketers on the planet. Thanks Ernest, take care.

Comments are now closed for this article.