August 2007
Are Your Restrooms Working For You? By Meghan Boyer

Space is precious for garden centers. The more products and displays customers see, the more likely they will be to make purchases, which means every available store space needs to be used. While it may not be the first place one thinks of for adding merchandising possibilities and more, bathrooms are an untapped resource for many garden centers. Don’t let your bathroom’s tremendous opportunities — from housing overstock products to showcasing garden and home accents — go down the drain.

See Possibility Everywhere

Being a successful retailer often means finding and embracing every opportunity. “You just can’t afford to overlook any possible placement to make customers aware of your range of products and services,” explained Phyliss Williams of K&W Greenery, Janesville, Wis.

Making the most out of every space means seeing the potential in every nook and cranny, even if those nooks and crannies are in the restrooms. “We’ve always used every inch of our property as the best advantage as long as we had enough energy to do it,” said Sue Hustings of Highland Nursery, Inc., St. Paul, Minn. “We just feel [the restrooms are] another opportunity for us to do a good job that maybe other people don’t do. It’s really a shame to waste that space. There’s really no reason to do that. It should just be an extension of your business as far as I’m concerned.”

Using The Space

Both Hustings and Williams see consumers in garden center restrooms as a “captive audience.” Lots of businesses, such as movie theaters and tourism rest areas, already take advantage of that fact and include advertisements in their restrooms. Whether its advertisements, promotional materials or products, there are lots of possibilities for how a garden center can utilize its restrooms as selling spaces.

Putting more products in front of customers is most retailers’ goal, and Hustings sees two ways her garden center’s restrooms can be used for products: “We can take things that we don’t have room for and that don’t fit anywhere else and put them in there or we can take the things that we have overstocked so they’re out in the showroom as well as in there.”

If you don’t have enough room to wheel racks of product into the restrooms, there are other ways to get products in front of customers who use the facilities: The bathroom décor can also be for sale. Everything from containers and accents to what hangs on the walls can come directly from your inventory. “We have plants in pictures and just anything that would go on the wall displayed in the restroom,” said Hustings. Just make sure it is obvious the decorative pieces are for sale; it’s a good idea to place the price tags in highly visible places on each piece.

Of course, products aren’t the only items that can be placed in garden center restrooms. At K&W Greenery, framed copies of public relations items and print material hang on the walls along with gratitude plaques from different charitable organizations the garden center has sponsored. Additional promotional material is also placed in the bathrooms, explained Williams: “When we were sending out direct mail circulars, we made sure a current copy of the front cover was framed and hanging along with a small stack on a baker’s rack in the restroom.”

It’s also a good idea to place samples of personal care items that are sold in the garden center in the bathrooms. When they wash their hands, customers can use (and maybe be enticed to purchase) everything from hand soaps to lotion.

Tips To Consider

Like any retail space, adding product, promotional material and more shouldn’t be a quick decision; it takes forethought and planning to achieve the highest degree of impact. Think about these details when displaying merchandise and more in your garden center’s bathrooms.

Hide the supplies. A mop, a broom and a shelf full of cleaning supplies in plain view in a restroom might make customers think they’ve stopped at a gas station instead of a garden center.

Stow the supplies in a cabinet (preferably locked) _ or somewhere other than the bathroom.

Keep it clean. Even though the cleaning supplies might be stored somewhere else, it is not an excuse for a dirty, messy bathroom. Williams thinks the best indicator for how customers react to K&W Greenery’s restrooms is the fact that they use them: “They wouldn’t do that if they were dirty or inconvenient,” she explained. There is only one chance for a first impression: To keep your bathrooms sparkling, give them a good cleaning every night and have employees check them regularly throughout each day for egregious messes.

Avoid clutter. To help merchandising efforts stand out, avoid placing too much in the restrooms. Minimal clutter will also help keep the spaces clean. For a no-clutter way to dress the space up, consider sponge painting the walls or adding a decorative wallpaper border.

Rotate the displays. Don’t forget to rotate the products and information featured in the bathroom. The restroom décor at K&W Greenery changes four times a year; similarly, Highland Nursery’s restrooms change seasonally. “We try and have backups of the same colors [of products used in the bathrooms] as we sell them so we don’t have to redo the whole thing again. And we’re more able to keep up any month other than May,” explained Hustings.

Make it festive. Don’t forget to decorate the bathroom as you decorate the rest of the garden center for Halloween, Christmas and more. “On the doors, we have wreaths on both the inside and outside so people can see what wreaths they might want to have at the back door, the front door, the kitchen door or even in the house,” explained Hustings. “Of course, in the fall, they’d be fall [themed]; the winter, Christmas.”

Make it fun. When decorating and merchandising the restrooms at your garden center, don’t forget to have fun with it. Restrooms are a good place for extra whimsy and creativity. At Highland Nursery, extra rolls of toilet paper are kept in plant containers and a garden accent rabbit presents the toilet paper roll for customers. “We try and have things to make it fun,” Hustings explained.

Don’t Forget…

While bringing products, signage and more into your garden center’s bathrooms is a great idea, keep in mind the spaces are first and foremost restrooms. Don’t add anything that will make entering, exiting or using the facilities difficult or will interfere with handicap accessibility.

Also keep in mind that the products you place in the restrooms will be largely unmonitored by employees, which increases the opportunity for theft. “Theft is a consideration. It has happened, but seldom,” explained Williams. “Don’t put anything you couldn’t bear to lose in a restroom. Check with your vendors to see if they will provide extra testers.”

Children are another element to keep in mind. Little hands can get into all sorts of mischief in a bathroom, especially if mom is waiting outside. Place lotions and stacks of promotional materials on a high shelf to minimize the risk.

Do Customers Like It?

While not every customer is going to approach you to talk about the garden center’s bathrooms, chances are they’ll notice the efforts that go into making them a clean, pleasant selling space. “We hear so many comments from people who go in [the restrooms],” said Hustings. “They say we have the nicest bathrooms in the whole darn city!” Customers also ask for products they’ve seen in the bathrooms: “A lot of people come in and say, ‘I want that.’ Or men will come in and say, ‘My wife saw something in the bathroom,’ which is always funny. Mostly they come out and appreciate that it’s a place that we take pride in,” Hustings said.