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Developing a Successful Image

Marketing: Developing a Successful Image

A success independent retailer has studied the local market, looked at the potential customer base, built an interesting shop, and stocked it with a focused array of merchandise. In short, everything about the business reflects an image. This concept however, involves more than just a store full of products. Image is more than price, whether it’s the lowest at a mass merchandiser or the highest at a high-end specialty store. Image is the lure that attracts the new shopper, and retains the repeat customer for years into the future. In essence creating the successful image is probably the most successful strategy an independent business owner can make.

Create an Experience

Having a nicely landscaped display garden at the front entrance of a garden center sets the stage for shopping.
Having a nicely landscaped display garden at the front entrance of a garden center sets the stage for shopping.

Unlike commodity items that are purchased frequently (food, everyday clothing, and reading material), independent garden center shoppers are not looking for just a plant, or an outdoor garden bench, or a bird-feeder. They are looking at a business that they can trust (1) to help them create an entire yard, a large flower bed, a small island planting, or even a container trough for their condominium, that reflects their sense of beauty, imagination, and individuality. In all of these examples, one 5 gallon garden tree, or a 2 gallon shrub, or even a 6-pac of annuals, won’t be enough to make the yard, flower bed, or window container a complete garden to be proud of. While a mass merchandiser sells plants individually, a specialty retailer offers a well laid out store with beautifully displayed plants, set into interesting containers, and sends the customer home with a brochure describing a planting plan of the display garden viewed at the nursery. True gardeners are looking at the shopping experience itself to be their incentive to buy, as well as come back at a latter date to enjoy more of the same. If the entire image of the store, the products, and the customer service appeals to them, they will be willing to spend more on both actual as well as perceived quality all to satisfy their love of gardening.

Who Are Your Customers?

The first strategy in designing a garden center image is determining the customer base. The largest segments of the gardening public include the baby boomer generation (those born between the late 1940’s and the early 1960’s), and those over the age of 60. In a survey of shoppers of garden centers in Tennessee, Hall (2) found that these 2 age groups made up 52% and 32%, respectively, of the annual sales.

The baby boomer generation shoppers are characterized by the following emotional and shopping habits (3):

  • Very interested in environmentally-friendly products,
  • Prefer to shop at clean shops, where the merchandise is unique,
  • “Cocooning”, or becoming home bodies, is widely practiced, especially with the heightened travel securities,
  • As work weeks and travel times have increased they love home delivery, internet sales, and ready-made products,
  • With smaller lot sizes for their new homes this group has embraced the patio garden concept,
  • Look to gardening to relieve the stress levels associated with their fast-paced lives.

For the over 60 age group, the following traits apply:

  • More affluent seniors look to high-end stores for larger plant sizes and decorative containers,
  • Indoor houseplant conservatories are very popular,
  • Smaller stock should be with-in arms reach,
  • Seniors relish excellent customer service,
  • Nostalgia sells well, whether its giftware, clothing, older plant cultivars, or garden photography,
  • Enjoy plenty of places to sit, whether it’s an indoor café, an outdoor bench in a display garden, or having wheelchairs available,
  • Enjoy bus tours of local garden centers.

Find a Focus

In our consumer orientated economy there has become a marketing trend favoring stores having a clearly defined focus. Whether it’s expensive clothing, home furnishings, transportation, or sports equipment, a store with a focus is known for high quality merchandise, carefully displayed in an uncluttered show room. Customers are offered quality merchandise without being heavily distracted by loud store music, pushy sales staff, or too many product choices. Finding a niche in retail garden center sales can occur with plants or hard goods. In heavily urbanized areas dwarfed plants (4) and distinctive containers sell well, especially when displayed in beautifully designed greenhouses. Unfocused garden retailers often try to compete with the selection offered by the mass merchants (5). While the chain stores can try to be all things to all people, the independent can not. Long after purchasing a plant and setting it in the garden, a satisfied customer will remember the beauty of the store, the ease of shopping, and the wonderful customer service they received.

Image Pricing

High priced nursery stock creates an up-scale image at any independent garden center.
High priced nursery stock creates an up-scale image at any independent garden center.

There are numerous examples of products in our society that have a high value image (6). Luxury automobiles, jewelry, and up-scale homes are all examples of items with high perceived values, and thus have higher price tags. Such products have often been tastefully advertised to appeal to consumer’s sense of status. In the garden center trade image pricing can be used as well with the more affluent customers. Products examples would include mature Japanese maples in tree tubes, teak furniture, and garden conservatories. Store owners often stock high priced merchandise in order to elevate the image of their business. Once again by setting themselves apart from stores that lack focus, the business that uses image pricing is making a statement that can be effectively used to draw in customers with higher discretionary incomes.

First Impressions

The visual appearance of retail business plays a key role in attracting the first time shopper. Most shoppers in urban areas have come to expect that the big box stores will generally consist of large, relatively amorphous structures surrounded by acres of parking. Within a chain, they will expect the same type of merchandise carried in one store to the next, across state boundaries. They probably will have received newspaper flyers advertising the store’s wares, thus further reducing the chances for finding something unique or imaginative.

On the other hand, a specialty retailer is an unknown entity that either appears inviting and worthy of exploration or one that evokes a negative response. Initial observations, often made within the first 10 seconds (7), can make or break the chances for the new shopper to even enter the establishment.

Exterior details that invite the first step towards the garden store entrance include:

  • A clean, distinctive front door, marked by a tastefully designed sign,
  • Adequate, well marked parking
  • Enough windows that a shopper can actually see into the store,
  • Grounds around the store have been landscaped, and are neat, trimmed and clean.

Interior impressions are often made within the first 10 feet inside the store entrance. Often customers make visual decisions well before they look at any of the merchandise:

  • Store appears clean, open and vibrant.
  • The isles are wide enough for browsing,
  • Floors consist of either clean carpets, brightly finished wood, tile, or polished concrete,
  • Ceilings sport clean acoustical tiles with accent lighting, or consist of open finished beams.
  • Conservatories, with a either acrylic panels or glass are very popular.

Push and Pull Marketing

In the world of advertising there are two methods of delivering information to customers. With the traditional push marketing (1) customers receive product promotions via print, television, and radio, often to the point that they are over-loaded. In the wholesale nursery trade, push marketing is used to encourage the garden center owner to order plants for retail. This type of strategy works best when the product is an impulse item (floriculture and herbaceous perennials), or when the availability of an item is high (8). Push marketing is the prime strategy behind trade shows and can be very successful when used tastefully. In the retail trade, a garden center owner that utilizes a local television or radio show to advertise his or her business is using push marketing (9).

Conversely, with pull marketing the strategy is to interest the end user, the consumer, into encouraging the retailer to stock a particular plant or service. Pull marketing is associated with brand loyalty. For example, many consumer rose growers are familiar with Jackson & Perkin roses (10). This famous rose supply company has been selling roses for more than 130 years. Retail garden centers all over the United States carry products from this company. With the growing interest in on-line shopping this company has posted a web site listing not only their roses, but all sorts of other garden plants and giftware.

In terms of image building, a retailer can use push marketing by carrying well known brands of plants, and follow up with pull marketing to interest the consumer with virtual shopping. Internet shoppers often spend more time evaluating a product’s attributes than the store shopper will. Used appropriately both marketing strategies can support each other effectively.

Horticulture As a Lifestyle

The image of gardening has evolved over time. With more hours devoted to working, commuting, shopping, or raising children, gardens of all sizes are looked upon as places of rest and tranquility. Retailers can capitalize on this trend by advocating not just the sale of horticultural items, but the lifestyle that it evokes. By helping consumers arrange a multitude of plants into various forms and designs, such as shade, herb, or even butterfly gardens, the successful garden center retailer will have helped create an inspiring oasis of escape and individual creativity.


  1. Tracking trends. Kurt Fromherz, president of Sunrise Marketing, Hartford, CT. From: American Nurseryman, Feb.1, 1999.
  2. Measuring and Assessing the Image of Retail Garden Centers. Charles Hall, professor of agricultural economics. The University of Tennessee Institute for Agriculture.
  3. Just About Everything a Retail Manager Needs to Know. 2003. John Stanley, Published by Lizard Publishing, Kalamunda, Western Australia. Sold in the United States by Ball Publishing, Batavia, Illinois.
  4. Gaining the upper hand. Emily Nolting, extension specialist, Kansas State University. In: American Nurseryman, August 15, 2001.
  5. The role of the independent garden center versus the mass merchandiser. John Stanley. The Digger magazine, Oregon Association of Nurseries, March 1996.
  6. Sales success: Why customers buy. Mary Stewart, associate director, The Digger magazine, Oregon Association of Nurseries, January, 1995.
  7. Building positive first impression. Steven Stovall, Nursery Retailer, September/October 1994.
  8. Response to demand pull and demand push marketing strategies. 2002. Proceedings of the Southern Nursery Association Annual Conference, Volume 47: pages 537-539.
  9. Where everybody knows their name. Beth Gainer, associate editor for American Nurseryman, Chicago, Illinois. June 15, 1997.
  10. Jackson & Perkins, Medford, OR.


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