When it comes to creating ambience in your garden center, “let there be light” is a good rule to live by.

Properly lit displays draw a customer’s eye to a product while creating a warm and inviting retail atmosphere. In fact, lighting is one of the basic things a retailer can do to perk up an IGC’s appearance, sales figures and merchandising appeal.

“The key is remembering that you need lighting to make the room safe and you need lighting to highlight products,” says John Stanley, a garden center retail consultant based in Perth, Australia. “These are two separate issues.”

However, improving your lighting doesn’t mean simply installing more fluorescent lights. Fluorescents may be a suitable means of flooding a space with general illumination, but they also wash out the displays that merchants should be bringing the most attention to, Stanley says.

Instead, merchandisers can utilize spotlights to emphasize key products and help create a homey shopping environment. Stanley recommends spotlighting at least three sight line displays to help draw a consumer around a store.

“We need to get these sight lines looking dramatic,” Stanley says. “This is something that’s weak in many garden centers.”

A series of brightly lit zones throughout a store will also separate IGCs from big-box retailers that tend not to use spotlighting.

“Highlighting products with spotlights ensures a garden center will be perceived as offering something different,” Stanley says.

Molbak’s uses upside-down terra cotta pots as “spotlights.”
Caras Nursery uses the traditional kind of lights to highlight displays.

Get creative with your lighting

Caras Nursery & Landscape, which has been serving Missoula, Mont., residents since the late 19th century, is currently updating the lighting system of its 5,000-square-foot retail space. With an overabundance of natural light from oversized windows dimming some areas of the store, third-generation owner Bill Caras is considering spotlighting certain permanent display islands.

Using feedback from a consultant, Caras plans to run lighting tracks directly above merchandise, much in the same way jewelry retailers harness overhead lighting to showcase their wares.

“Go to any jewelry store and you’ll see how their stuff jumps out at you,” says Caras. “Spotlighting our displays will make them pop.”

Caras is also converting from standard fluorescent lighting to an LED system to reduce overall operating costs. Along with using less wattage, LED bulbs come with a rebate courtesy of a Montana energy company.

“It would probably cost $10,000 to light the whole store (with non-LED lighting), but instead I can change out to LED,” Caras says. “It’s a no-brainer.”

The right retail lighting can help guide customers through stores.

Molbak’s Garden + Home in Woodinville, Wash., gets creative with its lighting and underscores its brand. Bulbs placed inside upside-down terra cotta pots serve as a decorative, attention-grabbing twist on typical display lighting. Plus, the upside-down pots create a spotlight-like effect.

“They are very fun,” says Debi Colton, visual merchandising manager at Molbak’s. “It’s a nice touch that ties back to our plants.”

Any lighting revamp should accentuate a store’s individuality, Colton adds. Ultimately, the right lighting can build atmosphere, as well as the revenue, of your garden center.

“Garden stores can look to their roots and see what fits their brand,” she says. “That’s what we’re all about. We want to get people’s attention and make them take a second look.”

Douglas is a Cleveland Heights, Ohio-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.