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Eye tracking, brand creation and social media

Plant retail trends for the future

Following the success of Plant Retailing – Fit for the Future? at Ball Colegrave in July that highlighted the importance of sharing knowledge and collaborating as an industry, the HTA worked with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland to spread the word.

The event held at CAFRE in Antrim and attended by around 70 growers and retailers from Ireland and Northern Ireland, looked at the opportunities for selling more plants in garden centres and how being brave, as well as using industry research were key in pushing sales.

Plants remain at the core of garden retail businesses and provide a real point of difference from the competition, understanding customers’ needs and wants were once again shown to be critical and backed up by the latest findings in the HTA eye tracker research, which highlighted the importance of viewing the customer experience through their eyes.

Eye tracking
Boyd Douglas-Davies, whose Hillview Group have been working with the HTA on the eye tracker project over the past few months supported the main presentation from David Denny, the HTA’s Market Information Manager and commented that it really is proving to be invaluable to really see how his customers view and shop the plantarea. “You may think you know your garden centre and customers, but this research has helped me to make simple changes within my centres and either prove or disprove what we thought our customers wanted.” Some of the areas highlighted within the research were the need for easy access to trolleys and baskets based on seasonal areas of demand, visible and knowledgeable staff and ensuring no physical barriers such as hoses being used by staff watering at the end of the day.

Another key element was the eye trackers focus on signage from location and message through to colour and font size, getting the right branding and information in the right place was crucial in converting the sale.

Brand creation
Kevin Waters, independent Garden Consultant spoke of the importance of creating a brand and encouraged retailers and growers to engage with their customers. “We need to keep the message simple and help customers shop.” Planting recipe cards, living labels and live demonstrations are all great ways of getting your customer to buy into the story and this has been proven to boost sales. One example given was with a particular product that had only sold one during the previous month at a store that Kevin visited, but following the demonstration of how to use the product it sold 21 that day alone and sales continue due to regular in store demonstrations from the garden centre team.

This was later backed up in the day by Neil Grant from Ferndale Garden Centre who gave great examples of how creating a style guide and a lifestyle choice from your store offerings can help drive sales. “We work in this industry because we are passionate about the greatest product available, plants. We need to pass this on to our customers and get them excited about plants too.” Everyone wants a piece of the action and there has been a recent surge in the interest of high street retailers of making plants a part of home style living, but we are the experts and need to combine this powerful knowledge with tailored marketing to the right audience for our area.”

Social media
Neil also spoke of the huge opportunities in social media and particularly in the non-gardening time in the early part of the year when people are ‘winter daydreaming’ of the garden they aspire to have the following spring time. “We need to be creative in our approach and for retailers and growers to work together to find stories and choices to sell.”

Andy Bunker from Alton Garden Centre and plant buying chair for the Tillington Group spoke of his commitment to finding the right plant solutions for his customers and the rise in seasonal plants and ‘plants of the moment’ driving customers in store. He also spoke passionately of the need for growers and retailers to communicate and talk to each other early on in the planning stage before decisions are made and there is no turning back.

If growers speak to retailers early on in the season and development process they can help guide the direction and this combined expertise means that as a result growers would sell more to retailers and retailers could sell more in store. A win win situation all around.

The day was jointly chaired by Neil Cummings, HTA Regional Business Manager covering Northern Ireland, and Doug Thomson, Irish Garden Plants, and ended with a rallying call from both to take action, be fearless and be proud to be a part of such a passionate and exciting industry.

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