GardenWorks gives garden centres M&S warning

The latest trading statement issued by Marks and Spencer interesting, and possibly parallel, points pertinent to our own garden trade industry, according to a garden centre promotions and training expert.

M&S overall year-on-year sales between April and June fell by 2.8 per cent but non-food sales fell by 6.8 per cent.

John Connel of Gardenworks said the official reason for this is a number of stock issues and the bad weather. But he warned that M&S had lost its central position in womens fashion because it was not giving customers what they wanted.

He said their offer was too confusing (according to fashion editor Melanie Rickey they had 57 different types of black trouser at the last count) and their people-pleasing range tried to appeal to everyone but attracted noone.

M&S food offer sales during the same period rose by 0.6 per cent.

Garden centres too are hanging on to increases in food sales to attract customers and buoy up sales during difficult trading times.

Their £1.99 breakfasts at 8.30am may be a great way to get customers in to the store early says Connel "but could this be used as a hook to get people in, rather than the reason?" he asked.

He said a breakfast garden club with talks, quizzes and demonstrations with all members entitled to a breakfast for £1.99 "may start to put the emphasis back onto the reason why the garden centre started in the first place".

The plant offer too, may well benefit from learning from the M&S experience, Connel added:

"They need to own the space in which they operate and do it with conviction ensuring they are seen as the authoritative player with an edited range that is clear, understandable and appealing."

The Connecting People with Plants initiative launched at the HTA Plant Show recently, on the back of findings from the HTA Garden Spender Segment profiles, looked at how it is possible to direct merchandise at the appropriate audience by encouraging merchandisers to build a customer profile before building any display.

Grow your own products, for example, appeal to a wide range of customers but different groups will look at it in a very different way, Connel insisted.

Three most important groups in terms of sales potential (according to Connel) are:

1 -Garden Elders have plenty of time and knowledge but not always money therefore growing from seed and planting in allotments will be the way to attract them.

2 -Garden Proud however are younger with less experience, knowledge and time therefore a small raised bed with a plan of how to go about, with what and when would be of more interest.

3 -The Family Focus group however treat the garden as they would any other room in the house in that they want it decorated attractively but they are not wanting to maintain it constantly. They will also have children, therefore containers of strawberries and herbs will be appealing to this group.

Each of these three different profiles will be attracted by a different range of products and a different style of display, explained Connel.

Simply throwing all these products together into one big grow your own display is akin to a clothes retailer merchandising children’s clothes together with teenagers, ladies fashion etc into one big scrum down, said Connel.

Gardenworks will be at

IGCS Know2Grow Retail Conference, Chicago, USA - 20-23 August
FourOaks, Macclesfield Cheshire, UK - 4-5 September
Glee 2012, NEC - 17-19 September

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