Leader - Approachability is the key to good business

Mary Portas did her thing at the recent HTA Garden Futures conference by offering some constructive criticism of garden centres.

What Portas liked about garden centres was when they showed expertise. Indeed, she called on garden centres to do more to "educate" their customers on what they should be doing with their gardens. This is a common Portas theme, having hit out at Homebase for not having advice on tap for its customers.

I went to a well-known electrical shop recently. The assistant did not know much about the products I wanted and passed me onto another worker. He rang someone else. But the first assistant did tell me off for trying to get a closer look at a product by opening the packaging. I made a "distress" purchase but I won't be going back. A similar thing happened at another well-known shed but, at B&Q, I found a self-confessed plumbing "geek", who helped me with my shower-hose fitting problem.

While I may be a retailer's nightmare customer, many retailers are my nightmare destination. If staff know their product, you want to return. If they don't, unless it is cheaper than anyone else's, you won't.

Figures suggest a third of garden centre customers, who have decades of potential purchasing in front of them, are not keen gardeners. Perhaps they are new to horticulture through grow-your-own. Good advice will keep them as your customers.

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