There is a popular trend sweeping the country that has consumers flocking to stores, and doing so repeatedly. As a bonus, the business owners of these locations are enjoying the fact that this retail concept requires minimal labor. So what is creating a flurry of happy, returning customers in a minimal labor store? Frozen yogurt.
Now, before you think, “I’m a garden center and I’m not going to start selling frozen yogurt,” please hear me out. The industry can adopt a few ideas from the business model of these trendy “fro-yo” locations. These ideas are relatively easy to implement and help make a garden center stand out in the process. After all, being unique is something that really makes the independent garden center much more intriguing than the big box stores.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these trend-setting frosty dessert places, the stores are entirely self-serve. They provide cups and the customers fill them with as much (or as little) frozen yogurt as they want. There are a variety of flavors with an even wider variety of toppings. Consumers pay at the end of the buffet line by weighing their creations on a scale.
How does this concept apply to the garden center industry? Let’s take a closer look at the upcoming holiday season and how you can adopt some of these ideas.
Customers have control.
Container gardening is popular right now, so think beyond the basics of traditional wreaths and garlands and embrace winter container gardening as a way to bring color to an otherwise dull, gray season (in most parts of the country anyway.) Properly harvested greenery will not shed, so fresh cut products can last for months, especially for those that see colder temperatures in the winter. Winter containers filled with cut greenery have the potential to last from Halloween until late winter with minimal care and maintenance.
You can provide your customers with the same level of control as these fro-yo places by creating a self-serve container gardening station. First, your customer selects a container. Next, he or she chooses the material as a base for the greens and branches (soil, moss, floral foam, etc.). Finally, the customer selects from an almost endless array of cut greens, colorful branches and seasonal picks. As customers move through the buffet line, they choose items and assemble their container pot as they go.
Signage is key here. Label everything so they know what they are choosing and how much it costs, and assemble a few examples as inspiration and guidance.
Don’t forget the impulse sales. Have pre-bundled kits of extra picks and sticks at the end of the line in fall hues, Christmas colors, icy winter tones and everyday neutrals. These additional impulse items will allow your customers to purchase extra décor to update their container with each holiday. In the end, it is a truly customized piece, and it’s exactly what the customers want because they made it themselves.
Customers leave with a winter decoration, not a mess.
It is much more appealing to consumers to play with messy soils and sappy greens at your location than to bring home the components and have a mess to clean up at home when they are finished. Besides, if they are getting excited about their creation and feel it is lacking something, they can easily add it. They are still at your store and won’t have to settle for a less than satisfactory creation because they don’t have something on hand that they want or need.
Busy consumers won’t necessarily make a second trip just for that extra little accent but if they are already there, and it is convenient, you will be able to sell it to them. In fact, as the consumer gets caught up in their artistic creation, emotions come into play. They don’t always have the little calculator adding up their components because those components become something they have to have to make their creation just perfect.
Customers are short on time
As a busy Generation Xer myself, time is something I’m usually short on. I also know that I am not alone in this. Setting up this DIY buffet gives customers the chance to create something even if their busy schedules prevent them from attending a scheduled seminar or workshop. They can do this on their own time and fit it around all their other activities.
Customers want the experience, not just the end result
Anyone who has been to these frozen yogurt places knows that the price for creating a custom sundae can be high. However, consumers return over and over to these frozen yogurt stores. Why? It’s an experience, and they will pay for the experience.
A trip to your garden center and the creation of a beautiful winter decoration that they made themselves will certainly get your customers excited and sharing their experience, especially through social media outlets. Just imagine the buzz and photo uploads that this experience can create.
Also, what a fabulous opportunity this is for families to come together for a fun activity where children and parents create their containers together. Don’t forget about groups of friends, schools, churches and other organizations looking for an activity. This is very easily a fun and social event.
These are just a few reasons and a springboard for more (Pinterest photos, anyone?) to look beyond the garden center to other businesses and their models for inspiration. In order to compete with the big box stores, independent garden centers need to think outside the box, especially during the holidays.
Christmas greenery is a great way to add color to the long winter season. Decorating with this product can start as early as late October in some places and it doesn’t need to end on Dec. 25. Get creative and these decorations will give your customers a colorful winter decoration that will last them until they are ready to start their spring gardens. Now, isn’t that a “sweet” idea?
Shannon Kuhrt is vice president of M&M Wintergreens Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio.