With a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head, a person walks somberly up the garden center aisle, empty handed and disappointed. Sometimes they’re pulling a wagon behind them with some random plants, sometimes they leave their poor wagon abandoned mid-aisle like some forgotten pair of shoes. The customer who came into the store had big ideas, but now is disappointed. It’s not the quality of plant material; it’s not that what they want is out of stock; what is it? What is the mystery behind the empty-handed shopper?
What causes this pie in the face? Easy – signage. The silent salesperson that can make or break your store has failed you (and the customer) by not dishing out what is needed to move product without having somebody holding the customer’s hand every step of the way. The age bracket of gardeners is getting younger, and with that, us younger folks are a little more independent and hands-on than our older peers. Instead of letting that pie hit you in the face, use the term PIE as an easy acronym to remember what to have on your signage.
P - Price
Everything needs a price, which is obvious. More importantly, the price needs to be in clear view without having to search for it. Labels are important on every item, but proper signage instructing the price of items can be an easy way to boost your sales. If you’re selling flats of annuals for $18, make it known! If the price isn’t in broad view, you’re not going to hit as many pocketbooks.
People don’t like to jump into obligations to buy things if they don’t know how much they cost, especially when dealing with larger ticket items such as statuary or fountains. If a customer has to ask for a price on something, it’s almost like a stop watch has been turned on and the decision to change their mind is fast approaching. Having a customer hanging patiently around while you go look up a price is just bad protocol.
I - Information
Labeling and signage is going to be your ticket to being a whisper in the ear of a bunch of people you’ll be too busy to talk to. We take on too much as garden center owners and employees to feel like we can personally help every person, but we can make an attempt at it by putting our own words of wisdom on signage, and labeling that will instill confidence in the product or plant. Instead of having your sign inform the customer of only a price, give a little bit of a back story on the price and what they’re getting for their money.
Information can also be very prudent in terms of identifying the needs of a plant or item. We get that “sun or shade” question what seems like a million times over the course of a season. To save our sanity and time, place a large sign indicating the needs and labeling the plant to confirm the needs so that you’ll have more time to spend with the less independent gardeners. A bright colored sun hovering over a grouping of tables will make a bigger impression on your customers than a small scribbled sign written in sharpie that says “sun.” A scribbled sign is better than no sign, but you’re in the business to succeed — spending time on nice signage will certainly pay off in the long run.
E- Eye catching
A white sign stuck in a metal sign holder obscured by plants is not worth much, but that same sign front and center brightly colored will get your customers' attention without even having to read what the product is in question. Signage is typically set in metal stands or made of lumber stuck in heavy buckets of concrete — boring, right? Take some of your down time in the off season, invest in some spray paint and have a go at it. Brightly colored signage will help you not only bring excitement to your garden center; it can help you inform customers of the different requirements of a plant. Painting the sun loving plant signs yellow and the shade loving plant signs blue with proper signage (of course) to indicate what the different colors mean will allow the customer to scan the area and pinpoint the direction in which they should devote their attention.
Now that you know what you have to do, you need to know how to do it. Signage and labels can really set you apart from the less polished garden centers by giving you a refined look. If you walk into any chain store, more than likely you’ll have some sort of knowledge as to what fonts and colors they use. The repetition of these fonts and colors over time will stick in the brains of your customers and leave an impression long after they’ve thought about you. Signage and labels are no different, continuity is key. Include the following points:
- A brief description of the biggest selling points of the plant
- Size in maturity after x amount of years
- Hardiness (annual, perennial)
- Attributes that make it different (not necessarily better) than the rest of the plants
- Your Logo
- Add on sales
By creating a buzz about each and every plant, it’ll make them all seem like they’re something special and not just another “pretty flower.” Keep the wording simple, however, and don’t ever make the signage something that not everybody can understand such as using horticultural terms and more eloquent descriptive adjectives. You want your signage and labels to create confidence in the customer, not create confusion.
Labels and signs will also be the easiest way to tack on extra sales. Instead of trying to have all of your add-on sales right by the register, suggesting these items to them non-verbally on a sign or label will make the customer feel like they know the product even better. They know what the proper fertilizer is and can seek it out for themselves, which creates that gardening confidence we need in our customers. Also, if you are able to suggest items that will assure success of the product, the chance of having an unsatisfied return will be less. Happy customers are repeat customers.
Stroll around, write stuff down
The impression that you want your store to make is much more than the plants on your tables, believe it or not. Having continuity throughout your store, not just quality wise, will create a more boutique atmosphere and a pleasanter shopping environment. Take a walk around your store with some of your employees and have a brainstorm session as to what can change. It’s impossible to replace every sign at once or re-label everything using snazzy new color coded tags, but integrating them into your store will be a decision you’ll never regret. You’ll find it will make your job easier, and that’s a great thing.
Nikki is a horticulturist and professional adventurer who uses her experiences and knowledge to manage a successful garden center in Greenville, S.C.firstname.lastname@example.org