John Stanley's top 10 garden centre Christmas ideas

International garden centre consultant John Stanley has outlined his top ten ideas he has discovered on his worldwide travels.

Garden retail consultant John Stanley - image: John Stanley Associates
Garden retail consultant John Stanley - image: John Stanley Associates

1 -  Interactive Shop Windows

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is not the first place you expect to come across innovation, but a walk down Whyte Avenue shows how you can bring a nostalgic Christmas to life .The Old Strathcona Business Association created the "Return of Magic" for Christmas 2011. Nine retailers joined forces to create a Christmas destination with old fashioned Christmas windows. These included Santa’s workshop, nativity themes etc. It was not this though that is worthy of mentioning. It is how they integrated a traditional theme with modern marketing. At each window there is a MP3 Code where you can scan onto the Return to Magic website using your smartphone. The website then provides the story and history of the display you are looking at.

It talks about the fact that this type of window display started in the late 1800’s in the USA when such windows also included live circus acts. In the 1920’s electric motors were introduced to bring animation into the shop windows and bring paper-mache Santa’s to life.

For me this highlighted how we can bring the nostalgia of Christmas, history and modern technology together to create a retail destination.

2 -   Toys for Tickets

St Albert is a small city in central Alberta. Like many cities it has parking meters and consumers who will park illegally. One thing it does at Christmas though is "Toys for Tickets"

If you park illegally between November 15th and December 7th you will get a parking ticket, but you have a choice on how you pay the fine.

You can simply pay your money or you can give a toy gift to a charity for under privileged children.

This is how it works

  • The ticket must have been issued between the above dates
  • You must pay the fine within the agreed time frame on the ticket
  • The toy you gift in must be suitable  for a baby or up to the age of a 16 year old
  • The toy must be new and in the original toy box
  • The toy must be to the value of a minimum of $25 and must be presented with the receipt

The authority has found that the average gift donated is valued at $40 and last year 70% of those fined donated toys to the value of $4,200

What a great way of marketing and sharing the good spirit of Christmas. The idea has now been taken up by Red Deer, Vancouver and Fort St John in Canada.

3 - Adding Value to Poinsettias

The Poinsettia has now become a commodity retail Christmas plant. You will find them in supermarkets, petrol stations, hardware stores and other retail outlets and as a result they have become price sensitive and are often sold at the cheapest price. I was therefore impressed to see how Holes Enjoy Centre in Alberta are adding value to the product and moving it away for the price point. A few Christmas trimmings and a bauble and you have a new non price sensitive product. Christmas is an ideal time to move commodity products into added value zones and we need to think of other products where the same can be achieved. Chladek’s in Prague in Czech went one step further and sold 1m high Christmas tree shaped Poinsettias

4 - Reward the Sales Team

ASDA are the UK sister of Wal-mart and one of the major supermarket retailers. They are also aware that it is the sales team that make the difference on the lead up to Christmas. In December it launched "The Twelve days of Christmas". Every day on of the two weeks leading up to Christmas they handed out ten pound gift vouchers to team members who delivered exceptional customer service. Apart from this they also passed on twenty pound gift vouchers to all the team along with a free Christmas meal. This is when team members are at their most stressed and the biggest benefit to the business. This is the time to reward the team as it brings in the most beneficial rewards.

5 - Delia Smith wins again

Delia Smith is the most trusted celebrity chef in the UK and works closely with Waitrose supermarkets. This year the business created Delia Day in November and promoted her as their food hero for Christmas. The real winning idea was to pick up on the trend of baking and create the Delia Smith Christmas Cake in a box. All the ingredients were placed in the box and all the customer had to do was add the egg and start mixing. This was a huge success. The key secret was providing a solution in a box. Something many retailers miss out on as a retailing idea that adds value to the consumer.


6 - Get Famous

The key to doing anything is you have to dare to be different. Take a walk through St Pancras station at Christmas and you would have seen the traditional Christmas tree in the station foyer. But, the live tree had been replaced by a 12.2m, 6,000 brick Lego tree created by Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified Lego Professional .The tree was made by two local schools, and therefore involved the local community.

The key is daring to be different. Taking a traditional idea and developing it to the next stage.

The world’s largest Lego Christmas Tree is an example of this thinking process

7 -  Build on Nostalgia

Marketing has moved back to nostalgia as a result of the desire of the consumer to reflect back on the"Good Old days". As a result we have seen a surge in traditional markets and at this time of year the Christmas market in town squares across the world. Gloucester on the edge of the Cotswolds in the UK went one step further and created a Victorian Christmas market. All stall holders had to wear Victorian clothes and old Victorian equipment and props were brought in by the organisers. This included a traction engine and the memorable smell of the steam engine waffled through the air. Actors interacted with the consumer. When I was there an actor pinched an apple and the old "peel" policeman chased him through the market. If retailing is about atmosphere then the Gloucester Victorian Market had it for me. As more markets appear, the leaders need to do something different.

8 -   Make Christmas Candles on St Nicholas Day

Chladek’s Garden Centre in Prague, Czech, is one of the must see Christmas shops in that city. I was there on St Nicholas Day which is three weeks before Christmas. They had all their team dress up and get involved with the visiting children. They had a candle making session, but spread the components required to build the candle around the garden centre. This mend child and parent had to visit all parts of the store and see what was on offer. A simple idea, but something we often forget. We need to engage the consumer, but also get them to see the whole store.

9 - Facebook and Christmas Trees

Chladek’s also are the largest single seller of Christmas trees in the country. This year when a consumer bought a Christmas tree they were given a leaflet inviting them to take a picture of their decorated Christmas tree and place it on Facebook. The garden centre would then judge the best dressed tree. As social media becomes more acceptable by business we need to build more of these integrated marketing campaigns

10 -  Nostalgia is a Trend not a Fashion

Everywhere I travelled in the weeks leading up to Christmas indicated that nostalgia is a trend rather than a fashion. In Livermore, Colorado I worked with a client who has developed Miniature Living Gardens based on a n idea that was introduce to the Chicago World fair in 1893.The traditional miniature gardens were decorated to develop  a Christmas theme.

2012 will continue to be a year of innovation, but we need to blend nostalgia with new technology.

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