Garden Retail: New year, new plan

Now is the best time to take stock and decide on your sales approach for this year, says Leslie Kossoff.

The Christmas grotto is closed and stored. Your sales rush is over. Now all you want to do is sit, take a deep breath and relax. Sorry, but before you get that chance you've got a bit more work to do.

One of the benefits of the start of the year is that everything is still ahead of you. More importantly, hopefully you know by now what you did right - and wrong - in the previous year.

So now is the time to take a realistic look - by calendar, floor space, product lines, services and more - at what you did, what you are thinking of doing and what more can be done and is available.

The calendar is the easy part. Valentine's Day isn't far off. Then comes Easter. You know the drill. Week by week, season by season, you look for those opportunities to create a buzz in your business. To do something special and in a different way from before. To get more customer attention by being creative in ways both common and uncommon to your sector.

But whatever your plans, don't do the same thing you did last year ... or the year before that ... or the year before that. Customers expect something different. Familiarity may be comforting, but you don't grow your business by doing what's been done already.

Instead, take a look at what worked - exquisitely, surprisingly, perfectly - and what didn't and then make your decisions. That's when you start planning - once you've decided that you're not going to do what you did before, or at least not in the same way, you've already moved to the next level.

That means that it's time for a next-level analysis - which will lead to next-level planning.

Set up your strategy

The best place to start - because you should have as much data as possible from which to make your analyses and decisions - is looking at the sales and return on investment of every millimetre of your floor space.

Where did you make the most money? How do your customers travel through your centre? Does the money trail follow the retail pathways you've established? Were there any changes mid-year as you made changes in the layout or use of space? Do you offer catering? A dedicated gift shop? How much space is taken by products for which the producers are paying - or at least contributing - towards your costs? Are there markedly different profits on those products?

What you're going to find is that different areas have different returns on investment. Your gift shop may be a draw that leads to other purchases. If you have the right selection of impulse items at your tills, you may see high returns at checkout. Your planteria will show differing returns depending on the layout, but also on the time of year.

For those who have taken the proactive step of creating a destination for coffee drinkers, your catering area may be a money-maker on its own.

More importantly, though, is whether you've seen a rise in overall sales as a result of the catering facilities - particularly if you're offering Wi-Fi, which is a direct method of reaching a new, younger customer base.

Wherever you see high sales, you want to figure out how you created the highest floor-space returns for those areas. You also want to take a look at what wasn't working in those areas that didn't give you the sales you expected or needed.

Check your customer service

Now that you've looked at calendar, products and floor space, it's time to take a close and important look at service. From offering home delivery and set-up to landscape design services - and more - every business, ultimately, differentiates itself based on the service levels provided.

That means your employees must not only be trained, but educated, in what they're there to do. It's not enough for them just to be able to stock shelves and point customers in the right direction. They need to be knowledgeable enough to assist customers in making buying decisions and - most important of all - be able to cross-sell around every department in your centre.

You need to think about all of the above - now - before the year gets too far ahead of you. It's time to plan. Build on the best. Learn from others who have succeeded. Don't be dogmatic about the way you've done it before. Open the door to employee input, suggestions and assistance.

Create a strategy for the new year. Then lay out the tactical plan including your specific goals and objectives. Know where you're going and how you're going to get there. Know your costs - and what the returns will be.

That's your new year's resolution. It's the resolve to be bigger and better, vastly surpassing your customers' expectations. It's to have the best year yet.

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