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Waiting in line may be a normal aspect of retail, but having customers wait too long could mean lost sales, particularly in a garden center environment where a tranquil consumer experience is desired.

Fortunately, there are steps garden center retailers can take to alleviate down moments and make the wait engaging and enjoyable. While reducing lines quickly should always be the focus, giving your guests something to do during peak periods results in customer retention and new consumers who leave less efficient stores.

Simple, empathetic interactions with patrons are a critical means of breaking up the monotony of in-line wait time, notes Steve Myatt, a mentor with Garden Retail Success, an organization offering mentoring and management services to garden centers in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

For example, register workers can thank customers for waiting, with a promise that their needs will be met as soon as possible. Those interactions should be friendly, yet brief, says Myatt.

“In a good store, they will be alerted to the fact that queues are growing and more tills [registers] will be manned,” he says. “Using staff time to console customers in line is not a profitable activity.”

Appointing a knowledgeable employee to answer questions helps line-bound consumers feel that their time is important, even as they’re waiting to complete a transaction, says Brian Laney, vice president of sales at Alert Tech, a Houston-based company that specializes in retail fitting room technology.

“There may be a young couple doing some landscaping or needing to regrade their lawn,” Laney says. “It’s good to have someone they can tap into for this information.”

Creating a customer ‘education zone’

Today’s garden center customer expects a pleasant visit where they can shop for plants or gardening products at their leisure. This “non-challenging” atmosphere results in less tolerance for long lines, unlike a grocery store where people anticipate extended wait times, says Myatt.

“We are seen as a more relaxed space where stress at any point is not desirable,” he says. “We try and create an inspirational environment that gives people convenience and value.”

Captivate your customers in line with signage about new products or specials.
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Relevant content about in-store newsletters, services and events can keep your temporarily captive audience engaged and comfortable. Lines are also the perfect place to educate customers about new products and services.

“Let’s say you have different types of shovels with fiberglass or wooden handles,” says Laney. “You can mount those in a row with an infographic that give stats on each one. You’re using the line as an education zone, telling customers that since they came to your store, you’re giving them direct knowledge.”

Technology plays its own part in easing potentially irritating queue-up periods. Garden retailers can use content-rich digital signage or an interactive touch screen to connect customers to their brand. For people accustomed to staring down at their smartphones in line, Laney suggests creating an accessible 3D panorama of your store or a brand-centric Facebook page with gardening tips.

“I’ll tell any retailer that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to technology,” says Laney. “Whatever tech you put in, it should be about creating a holistic experience that offers a direct path to helpful information.”

Ultimately, creative engagement is valuable in building a trusting, long-term relationship with your consumer base.

“If dealt with quickly, you’ll have a less stressed staff and an opportunity to engage [more closely] with your customers,” says Myatt. “All of this gives an ongoing benefit to businesses.”

Douglas is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Garden Center, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Crain’s Cleveland Business and Fresh Water Cleveland.