How garden retailers can smooth out the boom and bust

One of the biggest challenges for the garden retail industry is your success - especially when the success you are achieving is counter-cyclical.

That is why, when you are hit with fast-moving boom-and-bust times such as you are now experiencing, it seems more difficult to figure out what to do. The good news is, you already know - and it is based on the exact same counter-intuitive thinking that drives your market up when the rest of the economy goes down.

The outcome is that your sales will smooth out - avoiding the boom-and-bust cycle - and your trajectory will be ever-upward. Here are five steps to show you how.

Forget about the weather

One of the cornerstones of your industry's conventional wisdom is that sales are dependent on the weather. In good weather, sales go up and in bad weather, they go down.

But if you look at the best of breed in your industry and others, you and they find ways to make the weather far less consequential to sales than you would otherwise think.

Whether it is putting covered areas and walkways in your planteria, making it an easier trek from parking into the store, improving your online offerings or expanding your on-site offerings - from Wifi-enabled cafes to a your broad variety of gifts and services - you do not let people think of you, first, as a "garden centre".

Instead, they think of you as a destination - and, even more, the answer to a broader set of their retail needs.

As long as "weather equals sales" you have limited your opportunities on the garden side of garden retail.

What you want to do is think of yourself as a retailer first - then design your centre and its offerings according to the unand under-tended needs in your area. That way, the weather will not matter as much to you or your customers.

Niche is everything

Garden centres too often try to be everything to everybody. Now, in a technology-driven world where every advertisement is customised to your particular profile and addres- ses you by name, you need to be more discriminating about how you offer what you offer so that every aspect of the customer experience is personalised. That is where niche comes in.

You may still offer a wide variety of products and services - but, if you are small to medium sized, then do not try to go against the big boys, who offer ubiquitous products and services at prices much lower than yours.

Differentiate yourself by creating a customer experience that establishes you as a niche player. Have staff that represent your current and future customer base so your customers feel a personal connection and understanding.

The more you use your own data and experience to identify, address and tend to the unand under-tended needs in your geographic area - most often ignoring conventional wisdom in the process - the more people will come to you for that niche experience. And they will pay for it, too.

Wield your power over your suppliers

You have a lot more power over your suppliers than you think - even the big boy companies and distributors that make you feel they have you in a stranglehold. Do not accept what they tell or offer you at face value. Say you want a better deal. Tell them they are not fulfilling your needs.

Actively look for other suppliers - and let them know you are doing so. Join other retailers in the area so that you can make larger purchases as a block. Do not roll over to what your suppliers say. That is what they are counting on.

Keep it specific

The HTA and others generate a lot of really excellent research. Stop paying attention to it.

Research is interesting and useful, but it is not an answer - it is a guide.

Your answer is specific to your centre, your vision, your operations, your budget, your geographic location and your surrounding demographic.

Read the research with an open mind - then take the actions that are right for you and not just because a research institute says so.

Engage your customers

Chances are, you got into the garden retail industry because there is something about it that calls to you - and that is great. But that is not true of your customers. In fact, a lot of your customers will not have any interest in gardening at all - especially those you are building as your future customer base.

They will have other reasons for coming to your centre that you need to identify, create and expand. Then give them even more. Give them their answers, not yours. They are not you - but they are your future.

Leslie L Kossoff is chief executive Leadership Quantified - Helping Business and Government Do Well and Do Good. Simultaneously

Five steps to success Maintaining a market

1. Beat the weather by seeing yourself as a retailer first and foremost, and design your centre accordingly.

2. Personalise your customer experience to establish yourself as a niche player.

3. Join with others to get a better deal from suppliers.

4. Use research as a guide but follow your own vision.

5. Identify and build on your customer base.

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