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January 2018
A New Beginning By Stan Pohmer

January, the dawn of a new year, is an opportunity to look back on 2017, processing what went right and what went wrong, identifying lessons learned and then looking forward with anticipation to the clean slate that 2018 presents.

The hustle and bustle of the chaotic Christmas selling season is behind us, and most of us get a chance to take a deep breath and take some time to reflect “on” our businesses, to think more strategically, rather than “in” our businesses where we are focused on executing and operations in the heat of the battle.

January is a unique hiatus for garden center managers, a time that can be used to your benefit for an improved 2018.

Recognizing a Transition

Too often, as we transition from year to year, we simply commit to doing more of what worked and less of what didn’t.

On the surface this makes sense, but it doesn’t take into account the significant changes the marketplace is experiencing, new consumer behaviors or new technologies and processes that are turning retail as we’ve know it on its ears.

Rapid and fundamental change in the way businesses interact with the consumer has established new expectations that will help dictate why they shop, where they shop and what they buy.

Those retailers who adapt to this new environment will be rewarded; those who don’t may suffer the consequences.

Simply stated, the consumer is demanding to know who you are, what you stand for and what you can do better than anyone else to make their lives easier and more fulfilling, enhance their home spaces and quality of life and what solutions you can provide to them.

We’ve discussed in past columns the need to have a clear and easily understood value proposition, to be relevant and to be authentic — and the ability to effectively communicate your story so that it resonates with the consumer.

Remember that “value” isn’t necessarily about having the lowest price, but rather the ability to convey the incremental benefits one gets from spending more on an item or service (in other words, perceived value).

And the need to establish relevancy is on two planes, one to demonstrate why the products and services you provide need to be an integral part of the consumers’ lives and lifestyles, and two, why you should be the preferred provider of these goods and services.

Two more key consumer expectations are convenience and personalization.

These both should be significant positive differentiators for brick-and-mortar retailers, but surveys show that consumers give higher accolades to internet retailers such as Amazon in these two areas, despite the fact that on the internet consumers can’t physically touch, taste or feel the products and there isn’t usually any human contact in the buying transaction.

A Real Review

Carve out some serious, uninterrupted time in January and spend it doing some research and asking yourself some poignant questions.

For this process to be successful, you’ll need to be brutally honest; don’t try to rationalize your responses to fit your existing structure or strategy.

And a basic premise that should guide your thinking is that, as a retailer, everything you do should be focused on satisfying the needs, wants and desires, often times nonverbal, of the consumer, offering them an exceptional and differentiated experience, which incorporates product, services, facilities, communication and customer interaction.

Start by identifying who your current customers and potential customers are.

What are their demographic profiles (age, race, education)? Is your trade area population aging or getting younger? New construction or mature homes? Plot sizes?

Don’t think just in terms of your existing customers, since they are probably just a small share of the potential customer population you want to cultivate.

Armed with these answers, it’s time to get down to the gist of this process. Don’t get hung up by trying to rationalize your current operation with your responses right now; this exercise is meant to get you thinking and your creative juices flowing.

Consider the following:

Re-imagine: Knowing what you do from your past experience and from having a better understanding of who you want your customer to be, if you started a new garden center company tomorrow, what would it look like in one, five and 10 years?

Re-think: How would you go about achieving this vision for your new company? What would your strategy or game plan look like to accomplish your goals?

Re-position: You operate in a highly competitive marketplace, not only from the big boxes, but retailers and online purveyors of all other products and services that the consumer can choose from. How would you position your company to not only effectively compete, but also to stand out in a crowded market?

Re-connect and re-engage: This is important on a few different levels. First, you’ll never be the lowest priced retailer of your products based on your cost structure and profit needs. That said, you can have a higher perceived value if you can effectively communicate (operative word!) the benefits and experience you can provide. How can you best communicate your value message to your current and potential customers? What does your brand message (who you are and what you stand for) using all customer connection modes (i.e., social media, print ads, TV/radio, direct mailers, in-store signage)? Secondly, what can you do to re-engage your existing customers, recognizing them as individuals and personalizing relationships to increase their loyalty and purchase frequency and purchase value?

Re-train and re-educate: Your floor team (service specialists, cashiers, etc.) is the face of your company, representing your store brand to the consumer. Unless you train and educate them, not only on product, but also on your values and vision and get their buy-in, you will have a very difficult time in achieving your potential. How can you get your entire team on board?

This is just a short list of some of the areas I think bear review.

Once you get some momentum on this kind of review, I’m certain that you’ll identify many other areas to pursue and consider.

I recognize that it’s not reality to think that you will change, or be able to change, any or many major aspects of your current business strategy and plans for spring 2018; you’re too far down the planning process.

Further, there may be physical or financial reasons why some things you’d like to do, can’t be done. I am, however, confident there are some things you can add or modify for this spring.

Maybe, after going through this review process, you are happy with where you are currently; that’s OK as long as you’ve consciously reviewed the alternatives and other options. And for those who see major opportunities for change, remember that change is a process and a journey, and takes lots of coordination and planning to implement.

Make a detailed list of the changes you’d like to make, and then prioritize them on a timeline, so you create a road map as you start looking and planning future seasons.

The consumer is driving the change bus and the expectations they have on retailers, and they are constantly evolving. The retail playing field is changing and those retailers who can adapt quickly will have success.

Use January as a time to start a new beginning … best of luck in 2018!

Stan Pohmer

Stan Pohmer is president of Pohmer Consulting Group in Minnetonka, Minn. He can be reached at [email protected] or 612.605.8799.


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