B. B. Barns Garden Company in Arden, N.C. uses an “island” table to control foot traffic and build creative displays.
PHOTO COURTESY B.B. BARNS GARDEN COMPANY

It’s one thing to have the right product for your market. It’s another to present that product to your customers in the best way possible.

When the spring shopping season comes, along with the consumer crowds it brings, it’s important for retailers to put their best foot forward when showing patrons what is on offer, how the products can be used and what sets them apart from what has been seen before. Merchandising effectively can make the difference between passive browsing and inspired, informed purchasing decisions.

Getting creative with merchandise displays can transform otherwise ordinary hard goods and ornamental plants into imaginative creations that inspire customers. For Ray Schwall, general manager of Begick Nursery and Garden Center in Bay City, Mich., helping guests feel at home in the store is a key step in his merchandising plans.

“We take pride in the way we display everything,” Schwall says. “It’s a matter of walking in the store and feeling like you could easily be in your home or on your patio at home.”

A home away from home

Welcoming customers into a retail space is easier when the customer feels like they haven’t even left the house. Many retailers find that this can be done by arranging products into examples for patrons to follow in their own green spaces at home. This has the double benefits of creating an enticing visual identity and giving customers ideas, which can encourage sales.

At B.B. Barns Garden Company in Arden, N.C., General Manager Jon Merrill says his merchandising methods are intended to suggest uses for his products as well as weaving together a consistent visual theme for the store interior.

“There might be a color scheme to it, or there might be a theme of edible plants or whatever that might be,” Merrill says. “So, it still is cohesive, but it’s more about getting that sort of ‘lifestyle’ look, instead of just focusing on, ‘hey, here’s a product we want to sell.’ It’s like ‘Here’s this wonderful feeling we want to sell to you.’ We want you to take this look to your house instead of it just being a big display of fertilizer.”

By building example plantscapes and design schemes within your store, you can also make it clear to your customers what the intended application of a product is — a visitor is less likely to make a purchase when they don’t know how a product works. Consultant Bob Phibbs, known as the Retail Doc, advises retailers to “make function easily understood” on his website, www.retaildoc.com. Brief instructions, a detailed description or a demo model can also help with this effort.

Gifts and decor are specially displayed at B.B. Barns Garden Company in order to make customers feel at home.
COURTESY OF B.B. BARNS GARDEN COMPANY
Making the best use of your space

Merchandising capabilities can depend on square footage. A smaller showroom floor can limit options, but many retailers find ways to make the best use of what they have. Schwall says his store uses the ceiling as additional space to display windchimes and other hanging art “in action.”

“For display purposes in the springtime, we have maybe about 8,000 to 9,000 square feet,” Schwall says. “We use the ceiling. We use anything and everything — there’s really not even a blank space on our ceiling. We have trees hanging off the ceiling, to give that outdoor feel. It just gives us that much more space.”

At the same time, Merrill found that having too much open space can be almost as much of a liability as too little. To encourage more engagement with the displays, Merrill and his staff placed a tiered table in the middle of an open showroom, creating an “island” to fit in more product and create more opportunities for customers to stop and take a closer look instead of quickly moving out of the room.

“One thing we specifically did is we put an island down the middle (of a showroom),” Merrill says. “It used to be displays were on the sides, but it sort of became a thoroughfare. We’ve noticed already this first year of having that, people are meandering a little more, they’re stopping and shopping more than it just being a thoroughfare.”

Cut down on confusion

During spring, crowding and heavy foot traffic can be very real issues for IGCs. Wise use of merchandise displays, along with clear and visible signage, can lessen the impact of the hectic shopping season.

Phibbs recommends retailers to “create clearly defined areas” inside their stores, where shoppers can quickly and clearly see where they will find what they need. If someone is looking for a specific product, do your best to make it easy for them to find the right area of the store to shorten their search, Phibbs says.

“Customers need to feel smart; help them with clearly defined areas and good signage,” Phibbs says.

Along these lines, Schwall has learned to cater to the most frequent needs of his customers by dividing his stock into dedicated and clearly designated sections of his store. For instance, Begick Nursery and Garden Center merchandises into a specific lawn care “wing” and another section more suited to browsing for various garden products.

“Sometimes it’s like there’s two different customers: the customer [who] wants to come in and they’re willing to spend an hour or two looking around the furniture, garden accessories or fountains; or you have that customer who’s coming in with a pest problem or fertilizer problem and they want to be able to go to that room and get their answers and be done,” Schwall says. “So, we separate it out a little bit on things like that.”

The team at Begick Nursery and Garden Center likes to show customers how they can arrange their own patios and outdoor spaces.
COURTESY OF BEGICK NURSERY AND GARDEN CENTER
See the results

Experimenting with merchandise displays can be beneficial, but Phibbs advises retailers to not lose sight of their mission to connect with customers and impact their lives — merchandising is one of many methods to accomplish that goal.

“People come to your brick and mortar store to be dazzled, to discover new items, to develop a new perspective, and to upgrade their lives,” Phibbs says on his site.

Merrill says he can tell a display is doing its job of making an impression on the customer when the shelves are difficult to keep stocked. He agrees that this is a good problem to have.

“We can always tell — when we’ve done it right in one of those hotspots, it’s hard to keep it full,” Merrill says. “That’s how we know when we’ve gotten something right in the right spot with the right products.”