Taking a leaf out of the Garden Centre – creating a retail experience for your shoppers

Who remembers going to garden centres and farm shops in the 80’s when they were literally just, well, garden centres and farm shops??

You went to the garden centre for your shrubs and farm shops for your carrots. Fast forward twenty years and these retail spaces are now family friendly destinations.

As a mother of two very young children, I’ve become a regular visitor to our local garden centre. Am I a keen gardener? Of course not! But I do like to get out of the house, entertain the kids and have a coffee and cake – all of which are now possible at the garden centre.

With more shopping happening online, just selling stuff is not enough. Toys R Us is proof of that. Shoppers are demanding an experience and will go elsewhere if you don’t provide this.

Garden centres in my opinion have done a marvelous job. They are blessed with square footage inside and out and have used it to their full advantage.

In my local garden centre, I can let the kids loose in the soft play area, buy all manner of non-garden related (high margin) gifts, consume my body weight in coffee/cake and take a bottle of artisan gin home for the evening. At Christmas time, they even have an ice skating rink and giant moving polar bears (not real ones – but who knows what is next!). You can also buy plants of course! It’s a true spectacle and has attracted so many customers that they limit entry. I happen to know they turn a significant profit too and expand year after year.

So, what can we learn from this? The key is giving shoppers a good experience. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve ice rinks and gin… as the expectation of what a ‘good experience’ is will of course be relative to the environment.

It could be as simple as recipe cards providing shoppers with inspiration, or on-line shopping capabilities in-store that allow shoppers to order things that aren’t available within the physical environment (Nike do this). Perhaps it’s about creating a buzz in-store through cooking /makeup demonstrations. Or linking up with the local community. An independent home décor store owner in my town has started to offer things like weaving workshops in the evening.  A skill that must be appealing to her customer base – allowing her to get to know her shoppers better, ensuring she sources future products that they want.

So, what is the best way to improve the shopper experience in-store? The answer is find out what makes shoppers visit your stores and your competitors. Get to know YOUR customers and experiment with different ideas.

It’s not easy but is certainly critical if you want to survive and thrive in the future.

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