Garden center retail survival strategy series: Marketing and merchandizing

Garden retailers should boost their online marketing presence to get customers excited for the spring season and then focus on selling customers solutions and packages of products.

Greenhouse flowers
Photo 1. Show off the beautiful product in your greenhouse in your virtual communications with customers. Photo by Heidi Lindberg, MSU Extension.

In Part 1, Michigan State University Extension covered garden center retail survival strategies to getting through this season. Part 2 discussed how to communicate with your customers by being positive, honest and showing off the beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables and herbs you have growing in the greenhouse. In this article in the series, we will cover ideas on how to market and merchandize your product during a time you might not be able to open your store and provide a normal shopping experience for customers.

Part 3: Marketing and merchandizing

Garden centers and garden departments at stores in Michigan are closed during the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, which currently extends until April 30, 2020. As you prepare for opening day, realize that it will eventually happen and that this order is only temporary. You can and should be using this time to gear up for touchless sales for the 2020 spring season and beyond.

First and foremost, consider how to accomplish online or telephone orders and curbside pickup and/or delivery services if this is allowed. Then consider how you will be marketing or merchandizing your products. The customer is not going to get the normal sales experience where they can walk through your store, browse and choose their plants.

Most garden retailers will not be able to launch full and extensive websites with a full range of skus for all of their products and be able to pull those products for individual customers at a time when staffing is already low. Therefore, retailers will need to get creative on how they are grouping and merchandizing their products.

Boost your online presence

The first step in your marketing and merchandizing plan should be to choose how to communicate and the frequency of communication with your customers. Now is the time to up your game in communications; show off the product in your greenhouse to get customers excited (Photo 1). Do you have an email list? Do you have a Facebook page? Do you have a website? This is the moment for your digital marketing to shine.

Customers need to see your products but not all at once. The choices will be overwhelming for customers when they are looking at it on a digital platform and are not able to physically see the products. Consider bundling or grouping products together for easier selection. Include mainly edibles (or ornamentals) but be sure to add a surprise of a marigold with tomatoes, peppers and basil or edible kale in a colorful bundle of pink-flowered plants. Integrate tropical with annuals and perennials and, priced appropriately, add a flowering shrub for a stunning novel container.

Retailers need to feature their products through their digital channels and also communicate how customers will be able to purchase those items. You could have an order form that could be filled out and emailed to the business, a phone line to place an order, or even a Google form to fill out to choose their products. Then, customers need to be given an order number or code, an estimate of when the order will be ready, and directions on how to pick up or receive their order. Bridget Behe, a horticultural marketing professor at MSU, recommends even using a camera phone and showing products to consumers and then posting it on a Facebook page or a website.

Think about grouping the individual products in the bundles mentioned above which can simply be assembled in front of a colorful cloth sheet. One other time intensive option is for retailers to consider video conferencing with customers to place their orders, but retailers should have a minimum order value to make this profitable.

Focus on solutions

During a time of social distancing, customers are not able to get the level of assistance from garden center staff about individual plants for their landscape. Consider promoting solutions to your customers. What are your top five plants that attract butterflies (Photo 2)? What are the most deer-resistant plants consumers can plant in their yard? What items are the most drought tolerant? What herbs are popular in cocktails right now? What plants are best for beginners or kids? Consider a theme when merchandizing your products so that people are less bogged down by botanical classifications and provide them solutions to the most common gardening concerns.


Sign in greenhouse
Photo 2. Garden retailers will need to adapt in-person signage to virtual marketing of plant’s attributes. Consider promoting the top five butterfly-friendly plants. Photo by Heidi Lindberg, MSU Extension.


Focus on packages

Food is essential and as more consumers are social distancing at home, gardeners are eager to get out into their gardens and plant vegetables, herbs and greens. In a time when morale is so low in our country, beautiful flowers are needed to keep people more content at home. In order to reduce the overload to your staff with individualized orders and in order to move more inventory quickly, consider selling your products as packages. Here are some ideas:

Take-out menu

  • “Pizza Party:” Sell customers essential items for a home-grown vegetable pizza: Roma tomato, basil, spicy pepper and marigolds (because marigolds are edible!).
  • “Pasta Package:” Grape tomatoes, parsley, basil and green peppers.
  • “Salad Bowl:” A bowl of pre-grown lettuce, packets of seeds of other greens, nasturtium, grape tomato and spring peas.
  • “Good Grilling Mix:” A bowl of herbs excellent for grilling and summer cooking including dill, thyme and parsley (Photo 3).
  • “Move Over for Mojitos:” Herbs for your virtual cocktail/happy hour party: several kinds of mint and an edible flower.
retail-ready package of herbs
Photo 3. An idea of a retail-ready package of herbs used for summer grilling. Photo by Heidi Lindberg, MSU Extension.

Decorator’s Paradise

  • “Let’s Get Growing:” Consider grouping containers, potting mix, plants and fertilizer for an easy group of products for sales.
  • “Purple Party:” Consider featuring colors on different days of the week. Maybe on Tuesdays you will market purples that includes purple fountain grass, daylilies, coleus and petunias
  • “Sunshine Package:” Feature plants that are all sun-loving and could be combined customer’s container.
  • “Life is Better in the Shade:” Consider featuring items that can be combined in customer’s containers in the shade: caladium, impatiens and begonias.
  • “Beary Happy:” Consider merchandizing some cute gift containers for loved ones (Photo 4).
Plants and teddy bears
Photo 4. Consider merchandizing some cute containers with plants which would make excellent gifts to those who are feeling isolated. Photo by Heidi Lindberg, MSU Extension.

Packages will be essential to streamlining the shopping experience for the customer and make pulling orders easier for the staff at the garden center. Retailers can also consider how to move their low- and high-margin items in order to survive a difficult sales season.

Did you find this article useful?

Other Articles in this Series