If you’ve walked into a Stein’s Garden & Home store recently, you’ve probably noticed some changes — beyond the new name, which changed from Stein Garden and Gifts two years ago. When President and CEO Bob Young joined the chain of IGCs in 2014, he helped the company establish a corporate mission, vision and values, “providing a framework which we make all our decisions around,” he says. Since then, the company has been rebranding from the inside out.
Stein’s operates 16 stores throughout Wisconsin, which range in age from 12 to 70 years old. Now that the exterior landscaping has been updated outside of every location, Stein’s is working through an interior refresh to contemporize its merchandise and the way it’s displayed.
Expanding product categories
“In the past, we had merchandise that was as high as 10 feet, and it was just one long cavernous aisle,” Young says. “We’ve brought all our fixtures down to anywhere from 48 to 84 inches, and we’ve opened up the aisles so you don’t walk any more than 20 to 24 feet before you come to a natural break.”
The new layout features merchandise that highlights both halves of the company’s new name. In most stores, the home department fills the right side of the building with product categories like women’s accessories, home and wall décor, and indoor plants. Walking toward the back of the store, you approach the garden department, which features an expanded bird and pet section.
“Patio becomes a natural separation between home and garden,” Young says. That’s where an expanded selection of fire pits and grills lead shoppers toward more traditional outdoor garden plants and products.
“Taking down the height of the fixtures is exposing the customer to the variety of product we have when they first walk into the store,” says Stein’s CFO Lynn Hawkins. “A lot of people didn’t know we carried pet, wall décor or women’s accessories. We opened it up to increase visibility so the customer could see the other product categories we have, besides just our traditional garden center product.”
While Stein’s still dominates in traditional outdoor garden products like annuals, perennials and nursery stock, Young says, “we changed our assortments inside the store to reflect more of today’s consumer shopping habits and patterns, and we did that by testing different product lines and gauging results. One of our advantages is that we’re very nimble, so we were able to become more relevant and current in new product categories.”
These new and expanded product categories are driving traffic into Stein’s stores outside of typical seasonal peaks during spring and holiday seasons, Hawkins says, which helps sustain the business year-round. This year was a prime example.
“We had bad weather in May, which is usually when we do a large percent of our total sales volume,” Young says. “We’re going to be able to offset that through other product categories that we now have, so it’s really helped us stabilize our business in the summer and the fourth quarter. It’s exactly what we were trying to achieve.”
Rolling out integrated software
Stein’s team has a better understanding of these merchandising trends now, thanks to the latest change it’s been rolling out internally over the past year: an integrated retail software system that combines point-of-sale, e-commerce, customer relationship management, inventory warehouse management and business intelligence systems into one robust tool.
Implementing the system from Celerant Technology has been a huge undertaking that began in March 2016. Although the basics have now been implemented, Stein’s still has weekly meetings as they continue rolling out the system’s many capabilities and training associates on how to use it. Though the website is still a work-in-progress, Young is already noticing the differences this software has enabled in-store.
The POS system facilitates a faster checkout experience for customers, he says, while collecting real-time data that helps his team manage inventory and make informed merchandising decisions.
“If we see that one of our stores in the northern area, for example, has a heavier inventory on, say, vegetables, we can run a promotion just for that store on vegetables,” Hawkins says. “It helps with inventory management and helps our buyers, which ultimately helps the customer.”
“In the past, we couldn’t do promotions by store; everything would be done across the company,” Young adds. “Now we use the analytics to make our merchandising decisions. This provides unique selling propositions by store.”
These analytics have informed the new layout of Stein’s stores, so for example, women’s accessories are located in roughly the same spot in each store — creating a consistent look throughout the chain. However, individual stores still have autonomy in how they display products within each section, which gives the staff a chance to express their creativity and knowledge about local customers.
Participating in change
These changes wouldn’t have been possible without Stein’s team. “One of our keys to success has been picking the right people to lead our stores, investing in leadership development, and giving the managers the tools they need to do their job,” Young says.
By getting the team involved in implementing some of these changes — specifically, repainting store interiors with a new color scheme of greens, grays and neutrals — Stein’s has secured staff buy-in to make the rebrand more successful.
“We’ve seen morale go up in stores, because the associates have been excited to see reinvestment in the company,” Young says. “What’s been really exciting is that the associates have gone above and beyond to help us get it done. One of the really cool examples is that the stores had fun painting parties where associates actually repainted the interiors after the stores closed. Instead of staying on the timeline that we had, they got so excited that they wanted to speed it up.”
That excitement has rubbed off on Stein’s customers, who have responded positively about the new look and feel of the stores and, especially, the new merchandise inside. Customer satisfaction scores have stayed above 90 percent since the changes began.
“We’re now embarking on a new, heightened customer service program for our associates to further differentiate Stein’s from the competition,” Young says. “The competitive landscape is fierce, and this is one of the ways we can stand out.”