The Garden Center Experience

The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore suggests that we have entered an age when consumers expect an “experience” when they shop. Having good products and excellent service is no longer enough. Consumers want to be drawn into the offering so that they feel pleasurable sensations and emotions when they shop. They want it to be memorable.

It seems that savvy owners of independent garden centers have read The Experience Economy. Gardening has become the ultimate consumer business. Independent garden centers, virtually all of them small businesses, have found a way to be profitable and compete even against the mammoth chains, by creating a shopping experience.

They may sell the same petunias as the big chains, but they make shopping there more fun and pleasurable. Savvy garden centers have added eye-catching displays and many new products, including greeting cards, linens, artificial flowers, garden statuary, skin lotions — you name it.

Now you can go to a garden center and wander around literally for hours. And not be bored. There is plenty to see. And the staff at these savvy garden centers are trained to be knowledgeable, helpful and pleasant.

Mostly these are fairly small businesses, run by plant enthusiasts who later became retailers. Which is probably a good thing, because then they are not bound by preconceived notions about retailing. Quoting Carol Miller of Garden Center Merchandising and Management magazine, Journal reporter Cynthia Crossen notes:

“Most independent garden centers are run by plant people learning about retail,” says Carol Miller….*** “Most mass merchants are business people learning about plants.” Matterhorn’s annual revenue of $3 Million puts it in the top 10% of independent garden centers, according to Ms. Miller.

This is a welcome trend in niche retailing. Most of us, certainly those of us who like to garden, know of at least one independent garden center in our home towns that has learned how to create an “experience.” If you are like me, you probably spend more time and money there than you should — all due to creative retailing. Such centers are a great example of small businesses figuring out how to compete successfully against the Wal-Marts and Home Depots of the world.

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

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