The art of visual merchandising

Make your products pop with these strategic display tips from expert Joe Baer.

A pyramid display of Surfina pertunias.
Julianne Mobilian

After plants, the No. 1 thing garden centers can offer their customers is experience. During his Cultivate’21 session, Joe Baer, co-founder and CEO of ZenGenius, shared how retailers can showcase their products for a better customer experience.

“It’s about driving sales and celebrating your products, services, and ultimately, your brand. Garden centers are competing with big-box stores, so you need to make sure customers are attracted to your business,” Baer said.

Plan and strategize

Approach your game plan with a methodology in place. Ask yourself, “What are my best-sellers?” and “What are my slow-movers?” Your displays should center around those best-sellers or key items. Take one key item in every department and surround it with two or three other items (complementary, add-ons or even slow-moving products) that you want customers to buy when they’re buying those key items, he said.

“Dissect the numbers from the business side first before diving into the visual aspect,” he said.

Understand your SKUs and inventory so you can dedicate an appropriate amount of space for them. Know the flow of your products so you can keep them organized. He suggested the following techniques:

  1. Identify your target
    Who is your customer? How are they shopping? and How do they like to shop? are all questions you should be thinking about. Tap into the younger generation and take note of their habits, because they’re shopping differently than their predecessors, he said. Take note of community happenings as well as your competition.
  2. Put a strategy together and plan
    This involves a lot of preparation, but setting goals and taking actionable steps will save you the hassle in the long run. Build a calendar, review your marketing plan and analyze your sales so everything is in line with your initiatives. An example of this might be creating a seasonal floorset calendar and sharing it with teammates so every employee is in the know.
  3. Test, implement and observe your strategy
    Do a trial run and see what’s working, and what isn’t. Watch how shoppers use your space: Is your dollar volume increasing? If not, tweak or change your plan. Start small, and focus on one department or one season at a time, he suggested.
Photo by Julianne Mobilian
Utilize the things you have a lot of, such as watering cans, rakes or pottery, to create whimsical displays, like this one seen outside the exhibit hall at Cultivate'21.


Now that you have a strategy, it’s time to execute it. To successfully pull this stage off, you need to figure out what type of merchandising plan best fits your store. Here’s a handy refresher to figure out which category your business falls into:

  • Vertical merchandising focuses on style, and categorizes many products from top to bottom. Many mass merchandisers (such as big box stores) use this strategy, but some IGCs that carry a large volume of products can fall under this umbrella as well. Items like risers and props can help achieve an orderly, yet visually pleasing look, he said.
  • Horizontal merchandising arranges items left to right, and is used to stylize or cross-merchandise with other products. Horizontally merchandising is also to show off color items. A good rule of thumb to follow is to arrange shades from light to dark in a left to right display, because the eye is already trained to read left to right, he shared.
  • Boutique merchandising gives retailers a chance to tell their story with curated items and accessories. It’s often seen in smaller stores, and this strategy combines products from different categories and gives you a chance to work with a variety of local buyers. Boutique experiences encourage more browsing and offers customers more time to shop, but he warned it can lead to clutter. “Make sure you’re giving the eye enough time to rest with blank spaces,” he said.
  • Fashion merchandising is all about the stylization of apparel items and clothes. If you carry apparel, think about how you want to display different pieces (seasonal or otherwise) on mannequins or wall layouts.
Quick tips

Think about the different types of fixtures, props or tools that are already at your disposal, such as gardening rakes for a fall display, or items like risers and blocks (which are especially handy for vertical merchandising). Seasonally rearrange your departments by switching out sign holders and colors to keep things looking fresh. He concluded by sharing a quick guide to that will help you come up with your own ideas:

  • Power of the pyramid
    Pyramid stacking entails placing key items at the top, while the products on bottom “all work together with the top two products to create strong presentation,” he said.
  • Power of 3
    Displaying three products together — in various color assortments, for example — showcases variety while the repeat process gives the customers’ eyes a breather moment to absorb the product, he said. This works best for odd numbers, and can be used for one product or even five products.
  • Complementary colors
    While the color green is a popular choice for IGCs, he recommended playing with complementary or accent colors, as well as different textures and materials.
  • Signs as storytellers
    These are your silent salespeople, and signage should be used to help tell your brand’s story, he said. Make sure to keep signage simple but thoughtful.
  • Create clever windows
    Get creative! An eye-popping exterior allows you to share visual moments and share your story, he said.
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