John Stanley's top ten garden retail ideas from international garden centre shows

Retail guru John Stanley has reported back after spending August and September visiting garden centre trade shows around the world.

Glee's Artistic Garden - image: Glee
Glee's Artistic Garden - image: Glee

He started in Chicago with the IGC Trade Show and IGC University, moved on to Warsaw in Poland with the "Green is Life" Show which is the main horticultural trade show for eastern Europe and then to Italy and Padua and the main Italian show and finally to Birmingham and Glee.

Stanley said: "This is an opportunity for retailers to look for new ideas. The days when shows were places of order taking a have moved on. They are now ideas centres.

"My top 10 ideas from the shows this year are as follows:


Jeff Morey started the IGC trade show and conference five years ago and this gamble has resulted in this being the main trade show for independent garden centres in the USA and Canada.

This year the show was even better and retailers were cautiously optimistic.

My ideas from Chicago

1 Children’s Garden category

I have been promoting that children are a new customer base and we neglect them at our peril. The children’s garden category needs to be taken seriously and there were a number or suppliers who have identified the trend and are presenting new products.

Growums released their new range of children’s garden products. These products are using Pixtel characters to teach children how to grow the plants. The product is linking online trends with gardening and should prove to be a huge success with their target market.

The other range of products that took the show by storm was the Fairy Gardening product range. This company started in January and has already gone international. They have created small fairy garden kits where the children can collect miniature garden furniture and create a small garden for the fairies.

2 Boxes become benches

I like the idea from Hort Coulture who have designed their deliver boxes so that they become merchandising benches. This is an excellent example of the grower thinking for the consumer and understanding the process and how they can maximise sales for both parties.

It also links into the sustainable movement that is occurring in the market place.

3 City Fashion Promotions

The same company has also launched a city theme promotion campaign. There new promotion is based on "Cities of Fashion". Imagine the theatre displays that can be put together around a theme on Paris, London, New York or Milan


The garden retail industry in eastern Europe is performing better than their cousins in western Europe. One reason for this was a good spring and a consumer who has weathered the financial crisis better than the euro zone.

The growers in Poland put together some imaginative displays on how to merchandise plants, it does disappoint me that they do not pass these ideas on to retailers with planograms and advice on how to set the displays up. This is a lost opportunity to grow sales

My favourities were

4 Heather Balls

These were presented by Majewsky Nurseries and showed how we can take a value plant and create a premium range with the same product. On the public open day at the show, there were the most commonly photographed items on display.

Zabieniec Nurseries produced a similar idea using Buddleia balls. I think we will see a lot more nursery stock being used in this way to create premium ideas for the consumer.

5 Large helps Sell Small

I often talk about using large plants as a status to help sell smaller plants, next to the Majewsky display was Pudetek Nurseries who showed how simple this can be done by placing a display rack on a crate. Simple ,but very effective.

6 Buy A Bike

Merchandising theatre can be created very easily. Sakolka Krzewow Ozdobrizch Nurseries showed how simple this can be created by just using a bike as a display prop. As retailers we need to look at how we can take props and be more creative with them to sell garden products.


7 The Padua show is one of my favourites. It is located in a beautiful city and shows the best Italian growers have to offer. It is a plants persons show and it needs a good day to look at all the exhibits. Although it is dominated by the Italians ,I feel it is the Danish who actually shone at the show and showed new ideas. The Danes are managing to develop plant  turnover plant material for the home and garden. As an industry we need to look at companies like Zara who are changing the clothing fashion industry and adopt that thinking process to the plant industry. Zara are increasing the stockturn in their stores by offering the consumer a constant seasonal change in ideas and fashion. The Danes seem to understand this concept at present and are introducing the ideas to the plant sector.

8 Small is beautiful

The Italian market is gripped with euro fever and as a result consumers are not spending to the level that we would like. At the same time, the majority of consumers are living in apartments. This means that small is beautiful when it comes to plants. Taking a small low value plant and creating a high added value  perceived product is seeing growth. This is a lesson for all plant businesses. How can you add value to low cost plants to develop a new desired plant range.

United Kingdom

My final stop on the trade show journey was in the UK and Glee which is recognised as one of the top trade shows in Europe. Like all shows it is smaller than in the past, but is constantly coming up with new ideas to attract the target market. Delegate numbers are down ,as they are in most countries. Research is showing that the same number of businesses are attending these shows, but with less delegates per company. This means that those attending are the true target market.

9 Dare to be Different (see picture)

GLEE is a show that shows the retailer that it is okay to be different. Some of the displays on purpose are challenging. I do believe shows have a function to dare to be different and to challenge the retailer. I like the way GLEE presents those challenges and creates merchandising ideas that challenge the norm.

10 The Changing Face of Meerkats.

For the last three years meerkats have been the most popular line sold in British garden centres. This craze started with a TV commercial and then consumers wanted these animals as ornaments in their gardens, replacing the traditional garden gnome. I believed this would be a one year wonder. But, in year two the suppliers started making British characters out of these animals and extended their garden life for another year. This year there are meerkats that can be planted and hence the life of the meerkat is extended by another year. I am not convinced that the trade will get a fourth year out of these characters, but it does show how a suppler can extend the life of a trend by constantly providing the next version.

Many industries around the world are questioning the future of trade shows. My view is that they are becoming more regional and they have to give the delegate a reason to go. Just providing the same suppliers selling the same things will not generate the traffic needed to make a show viable. It is time to dare to be different."

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