May 2006
Going, Going, Gone By Bridget White

You probably spend a staggering amount of time and money researching, shopping for and trying to sell the season’s hottest new products. Most storeowners do. That’s what retail is all about, right?

Whether you’re selling couches or cars, shirts or shrubs, new products create excitement and keep customers coming to your store again and again.

So what are you doing to make your customers more likely to purchase all those new products you have so diligently collected? Do you even promote them as such? To seal your reputation as the must-visit store for all the latest gardening products, you need to develop a complete merchandising plan that showcases your new arrivals.

Like any good display, your new product showcase should begin with signage. Even a plain, white sign that boasts “NEW” will help draw attention, but there are a plethora of other merchandising techniques you can use to make sure your display gets noticed.

Feel It, Try It, Love It

Simply because they are new and probably unfamiliar to the customer, new products add an additional challenge to the sale: making customers comfortable enough with a product to purchase it. As much as people like the idea of new products, they will shy away from things that are too unfamiliar.

Probably not a problem for new pottery or gift cards, but a new line of fertilizer or a new plant species could require more effort to make the sale. Research conducted by Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping, indicates that people are more likely to purchase something if they are allowed to touch, taste or try it.

“Close to 90 percent of all new grocery products fail,” explains Underhill, “but it isn’t because people didn’t like them — it’s because people never tried them. In my opinion, a new product introduction that doesn’t include a well-funded, fully supported (with marketing and ads) effort to give shoppers samples is not a serious attempt.”

Obviously, not everything lends itself to sampling: How do you sample statuary? But you can have products open, accessible and functioning for customers to experience. How will customers know if a fountain makes too much noise or if landscape lighting is bright enough if those products are not even plugged in? And when you can, a free sample of insecticide or birdseed will go a long way.

Location, Location, Location

It’s true in real estate, and it’s even more so in retail: Location is one of the most important factors to consider when creating displays. Should you use an oversized table to make a statement? Should the rack go in the appropriate department or near checkout?

When it comes to location, the rules for new merchandise are the same as for any other product: Put the product where it will have the best chance of getting noticed. For most shoppers, according to Underhill, this means on the right-hand side of the store at least 15-20 ft. inside the entrance. Underhill has found that people most often turn to their right and shoppers need a minimum area inside the store to slow down, get their bearings and start shopping. This area, which has come to be known by retail experts as the landing strip, is a retail dead zone.

For something on the left side of the store or in the landing strip to attract attention, it needs to be really outstanding or actually obtrusive. Clothing stores like Old Navy have made use of the landing strip area by constructing a display that completely blocks the aisle. Shoppers have no choice but to acknowledge the display, because if they don’t, they will run into it.

Another location trick for getting new products noticed is to create multiple displays… especially if the merchandise is a completely new line for your store. If you’ve never carried body lotion before, don’t just locate a small rack in the gift section. Put some product near checkout to get noticed while people wait in line; stock a few samples, or even a small display, in the bathrooms; and maybe even incorporate the product into some unexpected displays such as the container gardening or chemical areas. Multiple locations will create maximum exposure and the best chance for sales.

Good Neighbors

Some new product lines fit perfectly into your store; customers accept them and immediately start shopping. When you take on a new line of pottery, you probably just put it on the shelves and walk away. Other products, such as gourmet food or home furnishings, need a bit more effort.

One technique for exposing customers to these unexpected new products is to mix them with products more familiar to customers. This not only will immediately establish a context for the new products but will often create a synergy that results in increased sales for both products.

A classic example of a good adjacency is greeting cards near a floral department. Since flowers are often given as a gift, having cards nearby creates a complete package that helps the customer and shows up on the bottom line. You can easily find examples of adjacencies in the plant department by pairing together plants that have similar culture and look good together. For example, you can create a display with an unusual new perennial paired with seed impatiens or hostas, or put a specimen tree with daylilies or junipers.

How will you know which products to pair together? Is there some way to tell which combination will result in increased sell-through for both? If you develop a formula, you’ll have done something countless retail experts could not. So far, no one has been able to determine what Á creates that extra spark or synergy you sometimes get between two products. Some pairings are intuitive, like the greeting card example, but others can only be discovered the hard way… through trial and error.

New To Me

So what happens when it is late in the season and your store is full of merchandise that is not so new anymore and all your new buys have debuted at the beginning of spring? Should you bring in new merchandise to satisfy customers’ demands for new?

For many garden centers, it really is not smart to bring in a lot of hard goods heading into the slow season, though there are plenty of summer- and fall-blooming plants that make sense. But that does not mean displays should be allowed to get stale. Even just a few new products will freshen displays and give you something to promote. Remember, customers are not as familiar with your product offering as you are, and products that seem old to you may be new to someone else. As long as you display products in a new setting or a new context, they will seem new even if they aren’t.

In a large display, a “NEW” sign could refer to everything in the display, the grouping right under the sign or a single potted plant out front. As long as the display is new and fresh, customers will be attracted to it because it seems new and is promoted as such.

Maybe the best advice for showcasing new products is not to create a blinking sign that can be seen from the road or to bombard customers with your latest acquisition before they even enter the store. Instead, you might want to weave new products throughout your store (certainly identifying them as new when they are) so all displays and departments seem new. That way, your garden center can become a haven for new ideas whether or not your products are actually new.

Bridget White

Bridget White is editorial director of Lawn & Garden Retailer. She can be reached at [email protected] or (847) 391-1004.


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