Has Your Retail Kept Up With The Rest Of The World?

Oct 5, 2015 8 Comments

It’s good to know that some things are just like they used to be. In an era of the rapid, irreversible change that the digital world has brought us, there are some things in life upon which one can depend. Don’t you sometimes wonder if there are some aspects of shopping which, despite our fears that the “on-line” world would have completely turned things upside down, have remained as they were, solid, dependable and seemingly un-fazed by 2015….?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you (ta daa!): the auto mall!

Yes. For those who worried about car salespeople becoming an endangered species, fear not. They are still very common in auto malls (and with what looks like a good crop of youngsters coming through too.)

Yes, they still operate under that same assumption that everyone wants to “deal”. Still spouting that rapid-fire of features jargon from brake horse power (eh?) to bluetooth. Still the total lack of interest in the customers’ situation, needs or even current vehicles. Still that same derisory offer on your pride-and-joy trade-in. Still that disrespect for the competition. Still that testosterone-infused showroom with high fives, private jokes and the all-knowing, all-powerful “finance guy”. (Gosh, we even spotted one in a blue shirt with a white collar – memories of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street”!)

After two (long) days we changed our mind and invested in our current fleet instead, realizing why we keep our cars a long time. Replacing a car is such an unenjoyable experience. We were prepared to spend as much in one afternoon as many of those people make in months – which in itself is an interesting observation – yet we felt like pawns in a game. Their game.

So the auto industry failed to relate to us and make the sale, but it did get me thinking about how retail home and garden teams are keeping up with the times. I would be interested to hear from readers as to how you and your companies have modernized the sales process to reflect today’s consumer lifestyles.

First Impressions Are Now Digital and Increasingly Mobile

  • Is your website mobile-friendly? (or does it feature impossible to navigate crowded screen pages?)
  • Do you offer any on-line Q&A (in real-time) and problem solving?
  • Are there mobile-friendly how-to videos of solutions to at least the top twenty garden questions?
  • Are in-store classes filmed and filed as a library for loyalty club members?
  • Can customers bring their garden pics to be put on a big screen for discussion and suggestions?
  • Are garden/landscape designers available in retail at weekends (not a given at all)?
  • Is there a “fast-track” for on-line order pick up and pay?
  • Can customers never shop on-site and still spend lots of money easily and happily?
  • Does your company offer personal shoppers, coaches, or in-home consultations?
  • Is there a VIP program for “spendy” loyalty club members (credit card on file) to avoid register lines?
  • Has the inventory been expanded to fulfill one-stop-shopping for most common garden projects?

But The Local Garden Center Is a People Business

  • Does your retail team put the customer before a task? (50 years and counting on that one!)
  • Has your company adopted a strategy of “It’s Showtime!” between say 10am and 4pm?
  • Are there separate teams for receiving/maintenance/merchandising and for one-on-one selling?
  • Does everyone on the team recognize shoppers’ time value and do their best to get them in and out?
  • Does your team’s Product Knowledge relate to Gen X and Gen Y needs and inspire them to buy?
  • Does your layout encourage “Silent Selling” through merchandising, signage, product groupings and solutions?
  • Do your company image and facilities (and team!?) look/feel/smell/sound different to 1995 or even 2005?
  • How has your overall shopping experience improved since the advent of smart phones in 2007?

It Better Be Better!

The shopping experience has to be better than “good” in the days of Yelp to at least avoid a bad review and it makes no difference whether the product is a $40,000 car or a $40 shrub. Hopefully your store doesn’t create an unsatisfying experience like ours at the auto mall. The final judgement about the shopping experience (and consequently the company’s brand value) comes from the customer’s reflection: “Was the end result worth the process and cost?”

Let’s start a dialogue here, I’d love to know how many checks (or ticks for the Brits) your company scores on these questions, and where you see opportunities for improvement. Thanks!



  1. Ron Vanderhoff
    Oct 6, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Wow. Your score sheet is like a self-critique. And intimidating. The difficult part is to answer these questions from the customer’s perspective, not our own warped sense of reality.

    I “think” Roger’s Gardens pro’s and con’s might be:

    •Mobile-friendly website.
    •Mobile-friendly how-to videos.
    •Customer’s garden pics on a big screen
    •Off-site and still spending lots of money
    •Personal shoppers and in-home consultations
    •VIP program for “spendy” shoppers with credit card on file and register line aviodance
    •Showtime!” between say 10am and 4pm
    •Separate teams for receiving/maintenance/merchandising and selling
    •“Silent Selling” (sort of)
    •Our company image, facilities and team! different to 1995 or 2005

    On-line Q&A/problem solving in real time
    In-store classes filmed and available
    •Garden/landscape designers on weekends
    •A “fast-track” for on-line order pick up and pay (not yet but working on it now)
    •Putting the customer before a task (must be honest – we are inconsistent)
    •Relating to Gen X and Gen Y needs and inspiring them to buy

    So we would be a C+ at best.

    Thanks for waking us up again and reminding us of these requirements of successful retailing. At Roger’s Gardens we need to keep changing, but faster now than ever before. Your guidance will be integral to this Ian.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 11, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Ron, sorry for the delay and many thanks for your honest observations. Not that many visitors to Roger’s would agree with your critique, but your intense focus on the shopping experience at Roger’s is a good example of the polarization currently at work in the Local Garden Center industry – the good are getting better and gaining market share from the others, no question about it.

      It’s a constant challenge isn’t it? The first step to “continuous improvement” is openly, honestly and objectively admitting there are things that can be improved…

      I look forward to continuing the dialogue with you and your team!

      Thanks again for your objectivity,


  2. Maureen Murphy
    Oct 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Wow, this list is very rich and comprehensive! I will be printing it out and keeping it in front of my face. Some of these things we do well, some not great and most not at all.
    Lots of food for thought…

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Maureen, many thanks for taking the time to respond.

      As I just replied to Ron Vanderhoff, it is a constant challenge and of course the owners of the companies I blogged about had no idea it went on. The team (and therefore the image) is only as good as the weakest link, which of course the public will notice long before owners or senior managers will.

      If the CEO of AT&T was listening to the tone and attitude of the “Service Professional” that Lisa was unlucky enough to get on the phone today, she/he would have been livid (at least I hope they would have been livid).

      I hope some of these questions help you avoid such AT&T moments!

      Best wishes,


  3. Cyndee Carvalho
    Oct 6, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    This is extremely painful! I can see several areas where we are way behind. Several areas we are in process on. So much work to be done. We are a D- on our best day. Sort of using Ron’s grading methods?
    Still a reach to have on line sales. Reaching the Gen X and Y consistently is problematic. I’m cringing cause I’m trying to buy a car myself, and I’ve had many of the experiences you described. Hated the experience, and still haven’t purchased. I came away thinking in the 10 years I’ve owned my car, nothing has changed, still the worst shopping experience ever. Would someone say the same thing about trying to replace a tree? Yikes!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 11, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Cyndee, nice to hear from you, sorry my ramblings hit a nerve! As garden retailers face Gen X and Y, it raises even some basic questions about how we are doing with “our people”, the Boomers, now that “gardening” is in decline.

      But don’t be too hard on yourself, your center is a lovely place in a great market! Remember, it’s the good that are getting better so just considering this list for your store shows your desire for “continuous improvement”.

      Thanks for taking the time and your honesty,

      Best wishes,


  4. Julie Ruf
    Oct 30, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    There are a couple digital impressions that we are looking forward to tackling. The how-to videos and quick link to answer questions and the Silent shopping signs that don’t get made quick enough.
    I am proud to say our personal shopping experience is utilized and customers are always bringing in their photos on their tablet. And when they are encouraged to bring in pictures or samples of problems for diagnose they are happy that we will take the time to work out solutions for them.
    Every day every year there is room for improvement. Thank you for direction!!!!
    Julie Ruf

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Nov 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Julie, sorry for the delay, we have been away and are just catching up on things. I am glad your business and your team ‘scored’ well on these questions and thoughts. As you say there is always room for improvement but knowing your place for 20 years I’d say you two are doing a great job at moving “Upwards and Onwards”! Thanks again for your input, have a great Christmas season.

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