"Sweating the space" is now the mantra across many garden centres as the industry matures, new building slows and garden retailers seek to make their existing buildings return more per square foot. Bunnings' new UK stores, Dobbies and now Wyevale are among the big garden retailers who have focused on exploiting their existing footprint to increase sales density this year.
Project-based merchandising, attachment selling, secondary location selling and seasonal pop-ups are among the buzzwords retailers are hearing in this context. Tim Stainton of brand manager and retail developer Future Thinking Retail, formerly of Homebase and Gardman, has been working with a number of garden centres on how to reinvent attachment selling and project-based merchandising in garden retailers.
"For example, if you want to perfect your lawn what are all the products you need to have together?" he says. Two trials in stores have seen upwards of 60% like-for-like sales improvements for attachment selling. "It's a balance between how much inspiration you have in the garden centre and how much you want to sweat your space," Stainton explains. "Most garden centres tip too much to the inspirational and don't touch day-to-day as much."
For improved density selling he takes the store's square footage area, produces a heat map, then "rebalances" the space - "the overs and the unders". Stainton says many garden retailers will not know their sales per square foot but this method will "make your space sweat harder". It is "bringing the sophistication of larger retailers into the garden centre", with sometimes surprising results such as reducing home by 20% or increasing fertilisers and chemicals by 5%, for the same or better returns.
He adds: "You can get higher numbers quickly by readdressing the balance." Stainton says attachment selling - how to bring products to customers with natural attachments, for instance hostas with slug repellents sold next to them - will launch at Wyevale this spring as a roll-out. Other projects are with Compass Group, getting more garden centres to do a Garsons Esher-style restaurant, "particularly seasonal pop-ups".
Stainton says "festival-look" gypsy van-type pizza or burger outlets "sweat space outdoors in summer in the planteria when the restaurant is full", adding: "The restaurant is how you get the customer in for two hours. There's still a lack of that understanding in garden centres."
Bunnings has increased product density at its relaunched Homebase stores in the UK, with 40% more stock keeping units in the same space. Dobbies is including 21 concession "villages" at its centres to use space that is returning less than a concession would gain per square foot.
Good retail disciplines
Retail consultant Mdj2 director Andy Newman said "sweating the space" - project-based merchandising, attachment selling and secondary location selling - are "good retail disciplines" that all retailers should be working on. "From price stacks to products by tills, to placing the right products in the right place, they are just recognising perhaps they have got some work to do on some retail basics.
"The retailers are looking at making the most of the space they have got. Supermarkets have done it for years. The clothing sector is one of the best at it. For instance, Primark are great at co-locating products and catching you at the till. These are sensible retail disciplines.
"Any retailer should always be looking to improve what they have already got before buying or building. There's a great opportunity under your nose. Alan Roper at Blue Diamond's revamps (at Fermoys, St Peters Jersey, Coton Orchard in Cambridge, Newbridge, Harlow and Fryers) are good sensible retailing. He's owned those centres for some time and you can't sit on your laurels. You need to give them love and attention."