Finding your style as a garden center retailer

Garden center owners must have a defined vision of the size and personality of their retail store to stay focused.

Plantorama Hillerød, a garden center in Scandinavia. All photos by Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension
Plantorama Hillerød, a garden center in Scandinavia. All photos by Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension

Imagine you are interviewing a budding entrepreneur and ask them one of the most fundamental questions to their business success, “What is your vision for the style of your store?” Do you want to be a Walmart, Trader Joe's or a small boutique retailer? Garden center owners should have a defined vision of the size and personality of their retail store to stay focused. This means that all of the products, displays, communication materials and the general look and feel of the store are all consistent with the style so that consumers get a consistent “picture” of what to expect – and they like it!

When visiting 12 garden centers while at the 2015 International Garden Center Congress in Denmark, it became evident that many successful retail owners deliberately chose the style and function of their store. I will compare and contrast two very beautiful and very different garden centers in Denmark and offer my impressions and other editorial comments.

The garden center Plantorama Hillerød is the newest and largest garden center in Scandinavia with an indoor sales area covering 2.5 acres. It is the most recent addition in the chain of eight stores. The garden center has 70,000,000 DKK or $10.5 million in sales per year. An entirely indoor garden center, the atmosphere is large and immaculate with an amazingly large product inventory. Opened in 2012, the facade of the garden center was sleek and inviting. Inside, their plants were grouped sometimes by species and sometimes by color. I was particularly shocked at the indoor cactus, houseplant and orchid sections, which had an amazingly broad selection. Their home decor department was also streamlined and modern, consistent with Scandinavian design.

Flowers in a garden center Table decoration Flowers in a garden center

Retailers should remember that not only does the garden center design and atmosphere influence the persona of the business, but the product offerings contribute greatly to that same persona. The store offered some very cute gift products, such as this coffee plant in a coffee mug with spoon (see photo below), which I would have purchased if I could have gotten it through customs. They also had a wide variety of sensual statues and fountains. I ran across two very cute cultural products, a frog prince, which I am told is particularly important in the German culture, and a castle-style hamster house in the pet department. These products exude the store’s personality to the customers.

Plant in a coffee mug Castle-style hamster house

Frog prince statue Statues in garden center

If you travel 30 minutes away on the island of Zealand, you will arrive at the second garden center, Skrædderbakkens Havecenter, which was located in a very rural area. It had an atmosphere of an oasis, a haven away from the city and a boutique. This garden center was 54,895 square feet, including the indoor, outdoor sales area and the parking lot, with total sales of 4,200,000 DKK or $630,000 per year. This garden center won the prestigious “Garden Center of the Year” for best medium-sized garden center in Denmark in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The sloping brick pathway led you from “room” to “room” as defined by immaculately-trimmed hedges. You could even peak out onto the countryside to see the sheep and horses grazing or let your children play on a playground surrounded by green space. It had a remarkably different size and style from the Plantorama, as it was quaint. 

Bush and flowers Buddha statue with flowers

Outdoor garden center Indoor garden center

Lamps Flowers Livestock grazing

Their products also radiated the owner’s personality. The small statues were displayed with miniature plants on a wire shelf near the checkout counter. The Danish, natural-styled bird feeders were cute and piqued many customers’ interest. 

It is fun to explore the many different yet effective ways garden centers can develop and present their personality and products. Focusing all effort to produce a specific style helps customers understand what to expect when they shop there and seek out products with which they can relate. Therefore, Michigan State University Extension recommends entrepreneurs interested in opening a garden center or current owners looking to redesign their store should consider how their structure, atmosphere and product mix will appeal to different demographic segments. Every product you stock represents your store to your consumer. 

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