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All you believe…may be ALL WRONG – Belief #2

Misconception #2 – Garden Centers Should be ‘Full-Service’ – Says Who?

(Read time approx. 3 minutes.)

This is the second misconception in a series of six. The concepts being discussed here will likely be counter to your beliefs. The comments left on the previous posts are quite interesting so you may want to go back and read them. Click HERE to go back and begin with the first post related to this series.

Who says a garden center has to be ‘Full-Service’, and WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE to tell YOU?

Hint: (It’s NOT the consumer.)

Why fly your flag at half mast?

What would happen in your garden center if you were to do the things you must do to raise the flag of ‘annuals’ (for example) all the way up to the top of your flag pole?

Should you be building  taller flag poles for your core product lines?

“It is not enough to do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required of us to actually succeed.” – Winston Churchill

What is ‘Full-Service’ anyway?

It depends on whom you ask. Part of the original concept was to provide a ‘One-Stop’ shopping experience so customers didn’t have to make trips to the greenhouse, the nursery, and feed mill to do their gardening. (Yes, consumers responded to the concept, often telling us they ‘like it’, but not always shopping often enough to actually make it a viable business model.) Expanding the year-round shopping potential and increasing the number of items and sales categories so the customer could spend more on each shopping visit seems like a good idea, unless it isn’t when the final results are tallied.

If you ask vendors many of them would tell you a one-stop, full-service garden center needs to have complete departments for Annuals, Perennials, Shrubs and Trees, Fruit Trees and Small Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs, Houseplants, Flower Bulbs, Garden Seeds, Lawn Seed, Fertilizers, Chemicals, Tools, Wild Bird, Water Gardening, Gifts, Silk & Artificial Floral, Pottery, Christmas Greens & Trees, Artificial Christmas Trees, Christmas Decor, Firewood, Hardscape Supplies, Topsoil, Mulches, Cafe, Produce Stand, and I could probably think hard and add a few more. Well I better add the service part of full-service. What about Floral design, landscape design, landscape installation, container gardening service, gardening service, deliveries, etc.

All of these could be noble pursuits for some garden centers but can also become a death sentence for others. Unfortunately, too many of the one-stop full-service garden centers have not been able to make the concept financially viable. But until now, no one has yet given  garden centers permission not to go there, or to pull back if they over-expanded.

So what’s wrong with being a ‘Full-Service’ garden center?

Nothing is inherently wrong with ‘Full-Service’ – IF you have the critical mass of sales volume from an ample customer base, the facility to support it all, and personnel with adequate knowledge to purchase, display and fulfill the Merchant Advantage Merchant’s Mantra “Never buy anything you cannot sell all of before you have to pay for it.” (With few exceptions.)

The big problem with the concept of a one-stop, full-service garden center is that it encourages stretching of resources and poor execution of the core business. A garden center that does not provide well located, weather-protected and properly ventilated covered shopping areas for their core product categories should not even think about even experimenting with  product categories that are on the fringe and unrelated to gardening.

Doing it all comes at a great cost.

If your market, facility and staff cannot support a ‘one-stop, full-service’ concept why choose to self-inflict the Stress, Complication, Investment, or Risk upon your business?

It is SIMPLE – you cannot afford to do anything you cannot afford to do.

“There is nothing so ridiculous as doing that which should not be done in the first place.”

If you are not already making a lot of money, reduce your temptation to go hopping down bunny trails trying to find new ways to make money. First take better care of your core business. Many garden centers would not be wasting time and money for little to no return with products that are on the fringe and unrelated to gardening if they were doing as well as they could (and should be) at their core.

Can you improve your core categories of annuals, perennials, nursery and the supplies to grow them with?

When we begin working with a client the first thing we do is address the performance level of all areas of their business. When they I think more of them would be doing this if they only knew where they were and were not making money. There is nothing wrong with the core business except poor execution. This means providing a comfortable and inspiring shopping environment, truly high quality product, providing benching, flooring, lighting, signage, and the space and time necessary to maximize the opportunity.

Accelerate Your Learning

If you want to improve the core of your business there is a cost involved. The first cost is that of learning what you must do. Find out who is doing the best at the core categories and examine what they are doing. Airport parking lots fill up every morning and empty every evening because corporate America goes out to fix problems and take advantage of opportunities in their companies. Sometimes this means they are visiting competitor stores as Sam Walton did on every one of his store field trips. Our industry provides plenty of opportunities to do this in low-cost compared to the benefit. Unfortunately I see too many attendees at the tours looking for new ideas and completely ignoring the opportunity to find ways to improve their core business. Actually you should look at an investment to accelerate your learning as being less costly than continuing to do what you are and continuing to miss out on the time value of money you could earn from  increases in competitiveness and profitability.

Here are some Accelerated Learning Questions to take along with you:

  • Who is doing better at the core business than you are?
  • What are they doing better to get better results?
  • How can you do the same?
  • What must you give up?
  • Who must come along?
  • Will you do it?

NEW Belief #2 – We are developing a franchise, a store concept – a brand experience.

If you focus first on building your store concept the temptation to listen to the “call of the wild” will fade. You will be able to focus more on what you must do and not feel you are missing out on all sorts of things that may not be right from you. Once you have found the path to make “real money” in the core of the garden center business you can experiment all you want.

“The primary mission of top management is to build powerful brands, which is what marketing is all about.” – Rance Crain

9 Responses

  1. Sid, you make some very good points. I am a firm believer in “Do one thing and do it well”. (not 1,000 things and do it poorly – but it is better because you are doing 1,000 things – I don’t think so)

    As a new garden center, we are finding our way. We have realized, we cannot be all things to everyone. We cannot please everyone, we cannot have everything that they want when they want it but I can offer to find the plant (this has been very successful) or give another suggestion.
    ~Lynne Phillips

  2. Very good Lynne. I hope your learning is accelerating fast enough. I hope you designed your garden center to maximize your opportunity and did not build in and became invested in inadequacy to make the most of the core business opportunity. If you did it may not be too late to make some adjustments. Sid

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  4. We were just seasonal concentrating on annuals and perennials. Then we went full service for 7 years. Now for the past two years we are seasonal again. We are doing about the same financially but have a better return on investment.

    The beauty of the the seasonal aspect is the time to refresh and make significant changes.

    My recomemdatin is that if you can figure out a way to make a living in six months why are you working 12. Spend more time with your frineds and family.

  5. Thanks for the great question Ed. I love rhetorical questions like that one. Sid

  6. Sid, you are continueing to make us think. We are currently working on our business model wondering how we can continue to be all things to all people. We are currently putting together a Profit and Cash Flow Improvemnt Plan that basicly is a transition to a Seasonal Business Model from a year-round operation. We will not close for the winter – our flower shop, house plants and birding business is strong, but we will not carry over any unneccessary employees and are buying much less to address the inventory issues.
    I forwarded your blog to Scott and he replied with the following:
    “Sid makes a lot of good points–all worth considering as we reinvent/rebrand our businesses. Our future success will come from working together and constantly questioning our methods and decisions.

    As we enter the hyper-competitive Christmas shopping season, we have a great opportunity as consumers to observe and conciously think about what motivates each of us personally to shop where we shop–and then apply what we learn from our experiences to improving our businesses. What combination of store location/hours, environment, merchandise presentation, customer service, product/brand availability, marketing communications, promotional offers and store policies do we personally like or dislike about the places we shop? This is not so suggest that we blindly imitate the competition, but this mindset will help us improve customer centricity.”
    Keep the challenges comming!

  7. You are making great progress in your collective thinking at Sid’s Phil. While necessity is the mother of reinvention the refreshment excites customers too. I’m sure you will soon be hearing those coveted words from your customers – “Who are the new owners?”. There is more to enjoy from retail transformation than just the benefit to the bottom line.

    Just so we don’t confuse anyone, Sid’s Greenhouse became a client this past summer, but is otherwise unrelated to me. I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with them, and to see their progress. Sid

  8. It’s very liberating to shed the burden of trying to be a “full-line, full service” garden source when customers actually won’t support that. We’re revisiting “The E-Myth” as a family and the point seems to be that we need to simplify, simplify. simplify or we’ll be overwhelmed.
    Well, i can assure you that i know what it means to be overwhelmed and i’m thoroughly tired of feeling that way and yet not making any money. More power to you, Sid, for shedding light on this important issue and setting us free.
    Of course we’ve all heard the story about the elephant who was tethered to a stake for so long he continued to walk in a circle even after he was set free…

  9. Thank you for commenting Steve. I would like to elaborate on your point. A small company that is trying to be “full-service” is over-burdened with way too many details than any humans should or can endure. A lot of people in the industry are prideful to a fault on how hard and long they work. The reality is that it is not only unfruitful to work that hard, it is not very smart. There is elegance in simplicity! Your place is becoming quite elegant. Stay the course. Sid

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