Simplicity – A Twelve Point Test

Apr 19, 2016 14 Comments


In most of the USA and Europe, garden retail makes money for three months, breaks even for three and loses it for six! So it’s understandable that retailers want to expose their customers to as many products as possible. They even have a phrase for it; “Peak the Peaks!”

Add to that pressure, the constant supply of new or re-packaged products (don’t even get me started on the yearly deluge of new plant varieties) and the businesses are bursting at the seams. Aisles become narrow canyons deterring shoppers while inventory obscures signs meant to help. Everything is so jammed in, nothing stands out.

Time Crunched

Now see it like today’s customer. There are now fewer hobbyists who love discovery shopping and more time-crunched project shoppers. You can see them every spring, like deer in the headlights with 25 minutes (“tops”) to get what they need and get out of there. Faced with shelves of similar packets or benches of seemingly identical plants they are forced to read labels or bags (then go on-line to see if it’s true!) Sure they could wait for an equally stressed employee, who already has five others hovering around her and hasn’t had a break for 5 hours…

Customers don’t know what they don’t know so de-mystifying 5,000 to 20,000+ SKUs in 25 minutes is not the fun experience they expected. Choice can kill impulse and current garden retailing is SKU-ing customers to death (or at least into under-spending!)

The retailer must become the first “filter” of what shoppers need to complete their project. That is the real goal of a retail buyer; providing the sales team with a range of products already narrowed down for quick, easy-to-follow sales or merchandising. Are your buyers focused on that?

I know it is too late to thin out the shelves or cancel orders for this spring (maybe that’s a summer project before the 2017 buying season!) but use these questions to walk around each department. Consider your inventory through the eyes of today’s intrigued but hesitant consumer:

1.       Is pricing readily understood by all (or do customers have to ask someone)?

2.       Are customers led from impulse to wow to inspiration (or do they just wander around)?

3.       Is layout conducive to grab-and-go shopping?

4.       Are signs simple, fresh and understandable? (“4 in perennials” anyone…?)

5.       Is there a “Fun ideas for a weekend project” area to give ideas?

6.       Does the POP simplify shopping by narrowing down the choice to a few solutions?

7.       Is sales language simple and confident reflecting expertise and local knowledge?

8.       Do displays attract, inform and inspire in just a few seconds?

9.       Does merchandising say “look no further, this is what you need”?

10.   Are projects, such as planting an herb garden, sold as a one-stop kit of plants and hard goods?

11.   Is there a full-size mannequin, mature display bed or photo-banner to show the project’s end result?

12.   Overall, do the products and displays simplify customers’ options or just create more questions?


Let me know how it goes and stay tuned for next week’s blog post on making the emotional connection.

Photo credit: taken by Ian, showing the brilliant idea by the team at Weston Nurseries, MA

  1. Martin Pratt
    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

    As expected Ian, this is right on target. After 20 years in the Lawn and Garden Category I see the same things over in the Pet Industry. It is all about making it simple for people to hand over their money. If I want to be over-whelmed finding things for my garden, there is already the orange and blue boxes ready to over-whelm me with under-whelming options

    The underlying point I take from this is organize it, sign it and keep it up

    Thanks for the ideas

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 20, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Martin, nice to hear from you again, hope all is well in your new life. I might be borrowing your phrase “overwhelm-me with under-whelming options” – love it!

  2. Larry Thalmann
    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Spot on, ol’ chap. Spot on. 😉

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks for your nice response, we need all the smiles we can get at this stressful time of year. Happy spring to you and the Chalet team Larry!

  3. Jeff Griff
    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I sure miss the ‘good ole days’ of selling collector plants to plant collectors but it is amazing how much more profitable we have become since we have simplified our selections. Ian is right… again!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Jeff, you can still have a “conna sewer” corner for the collectors, let’s place it next week. Amazing how some operators still don’t connect the dots between a bloated inventory and skimpy profits isn’t it! Now we need to get that message back down the supply chain…. Thanks as always for your insightful comments!

  4. Marsha
    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Great tie in with my walk thru this morning!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Marsha, thank you, happy to help. Take before and after pics for jogging the memory of the team in a few weeks!

  5. Bob
    Apr 20, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Well that is a great shot of Weston nurseries! I am craving a nice Rhody and a Snappy Dog.
    Simplicity is the 80/20 rule. We all want to find the next new plant, pot, garden accessory. There are some very good items out there, but very few that rock everyone’s world every year. I think the mantra of K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) is one to live by in product selection. Have a great Spring!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 20, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks Bob! Yes K.I.S.S is a solid merchandising principle to live by and we have to start with buying that way. After years and years of exciting new plants, the top twenty by sales volume changes only very slowly and some “wonder plants” are indeed dogs, though not very snappy! Happy spring to all the team at Sickles.

  6. Keith Turbett
    Apr 21, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Right on the money Ian. Cluttering due to unplaned buying is an issue. Not just for customers but staff and of course cash-flow. “Merchandising to sell” you’ve covered nicely here.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 25, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Keith, great to hear from our German friends! You are so right about cluttering from unplanned buying and I would also add cluttering from planned buying! Too many retailers still have a (1990’s) strategy that offering the widest assortment in their market is a winning differentiator. The retailer buyer’s new role is that of first filter of the thousands of products a consumer could be faced with, which makes your role even more important eh!?

  7. John Heaton
    Apr 23, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    I really enjoy your idea to peak the peaks. To me to add on sales when we think we are at the max is easier than trying to get more sales in January when no one is interested. Just need the correct signs and displays.

    Also the idea of not confusing our customers is critical. To have 8 very similar ways of killing something is crazy. The inventory is to high and as you say it just confuses everyone, employees and most importantly our customers. Confusion leads to a customer walking out the door empty handed. No good..

    Keep up the good ideas we need to do it the right and efficient way.

  8. Ian Baldwin
    Apr 25, 2016 at 11:45 am

    John, as always you make us all think! Winning a few more dollars off a customer in spring is a marginal and very profitable return on effort, even though we might think there’s no more to be had that day. Now, getting a customer to shop in January in Chicago is a whole different discussion! Thanks for taking the time, have a great spring week.

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