Sam Kirkland

1. What are some key areas garden centers can use technology to strengthen their business in 2021?

First, technology can help garden centers improve cash flow through inventory control and managing margins. It can offer instant visibility and allow for quick decision-making to keep the business healthy. Second is employee productivity. Technology offers tools that simplify tasks and free up time — allowing employees more time to work with customers. Third is customer engagement. Customer insights are key to understanding what is effective — and what isn’t. Finally, technology allows for data-driven decision-making. For example, if a SKU goes negative quantity-on-hand or is sold below cost, we have a business process issue. Technology offers immediate notification like a text message to the appropriate employee to resolve the process and correct the data. Then the business can move towards resolving why it happened.

2. Maintaining accurate inventory is more challenging with changes in consumer buying patterns and retailers launching new services like e-commerce and curbside pickup. What advice can you give to help retailers stay on top of their inventory?

To be successful, accurate inventory management needs to be a top-level initiative. Once that goal is set, build a plan and provide the tools to the team that helps them get there. To successfully offer e-commerce, retailers must have accurate inventory. The right software helps evaluate the life cycle of the inventory, identify where processes are broken, and provide data to help retailers get on track. Technology also offers mobile tools that allow employees to check stock levels or review sales trends anywhere they are.

3. What advice do you have for garden centers looking to get started selling online?

Accurate inventory is the most critical. Second is to have your e-commerce site integrated with your POS. Running an e-commerce site can be very labor-intensive without this. Start small and build on the site once you have the process down. Focus on high-margin items and key bestsellers. You may consider a minimum price point or minimum market basket value. We also have customers who have set a convenience charge with minimal pushback. If you are offering curbside, I would encourage you to evaluate mobile POS solutions to improve the process and add the ability to upsell at the time of pickup.

4. What are some of the ways technology is helping businesses streamline their operations in store? What tools are making the biggest impact?

Technology is helping with data-driven decisions. The software does all the number crunching and provides an easy-to-interpret dashboard that delivers real-time information. As businesses are redefining roles and responsibilities, the ability to access useful data is key to their success. Inventory is always top-of-mind so consider the ability to easily know what products are selling at the time of procuring the inventory. You can focus on high volume and high margin items, along with the common pull-through items you know are increasing your market basket. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Add the mobile tools for employees to offer mobile POS, physical inventory, ordering and receiving, and you start to develop a very strong and profitable business.

5. For retailers that have seen an influx of new customers — how can they retain these customers and keep them coming back?

I am hoping businesses have captured most of the new customers’ information so they can market to them. Our retailers can sign up a new loyalty customer in under 20 seconds making it possible, even in high volume times, to capture critical information. With this information, you have to ability to communicate with customers and evaluate the successful promotions. Find what works and double down, knowing you found the right method. You can determine products or departments frequented by customers, number of visits, and spend — all critical information for marketing teams.

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