March 2005
In the Bag By Catherine Evans

The addition of premium packaging can make a small purchase go a long way.

When it is time for a customer who has just spent a fair amount of money in your store to check out, what kind of bag or box should you give them? Something that small seems pointless to think about, right? Wrong, packaging is one of the few things that can make a lasting impression on your customer in many ways.

By the right packaging, I mean a nice bag with a handle and your logo printed on it, something that people can walk out of the store holding and carry with pride. Thin, plastic bags are fine for groceries but not for upscale plant material or high-end gifts.

Look at places like Bloomingdale’s with its “Big Brown Bag.” Bloomingdale’s has become so known for its packaging that some people say it shows status if you carry your lunch in the bag. Most major retail companies have jumped on this bandwagon. Many women can spot a Victoria’s Secret bag a mile away, and the same is true of Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus. Not only do people see the bag as a status symbol, it makes them wonder what’s new at the store and might even draw them inside. Amazing, but a little thing like packaging goes a long way when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Benefits

Status. All independent garden centers try to be different from the big box stores, and you are. You are much more upscale, tend to carry better plant material and many of you have high-end gifts as well. Basically, you are an upscale store that caters to mostly higher-end cliental. Imagine what impression you are giving your customer when you roughly package their expensive trinket in a plastic thank you bag. Aren’t you subtly devaluing the product? Aren’t you telling the customer you don’t care about whether or not they get their purchase home safely, because the customer is not worth the effort and expense nor is the product? And don’t forget about making small customers feel big; nice packaging will go a long way toward doing that.

You put yourself out there as a unique upscale store; you should use the packaging to prove it. Put your logo on either side of a nice, handled, heavy-weight paper bag, and see how your customers will respond. You will be surprised to hear comments from customers about the bags. It will make them feel special that you would put their small purchase of $2.99 in a nice bag.

Marketing. When better packaging is used in stores, people tend to use the bags over again. People reuse nice, sturdy bags to transport things to work, parties and weekend getaways. That customer then becomes a walking billboard, spreading your image on the street for you.

Something else to think about when it comes to advertising is having bags that are suitable for gifts. If your bag is nice enough, the customer may not even gift wrap what they bought; all they have to do is just add some tissue paper, and they have a good gift bag.

Carrying your own custom boxes holds the same benefit. Have a simple box with your logo on it, in case the item the customer chooses needs to be wrapped. If it is a gift then the person opening it will see where it came from and since they liked the gift so much, they just might start shopping in your store.

Making a Statement

There are a number of your peers out there right now using fancy bags and boxes. Companies such as Molbaks in Washington, Bordine Nursery in Michigan and Ravenna Gardens in Washington, just to name a few, have already spotted this trend. They have been successful, and people have noticed their higher quality bags.

This might seem like a miniscule idea to implement in your garden center, but think about all of the small things you have done in the past that seemed unimportant at the time and are now a big hit. Some garden centers offer free samples (see page 90 for more details); other places do small things like offer to help customers take their purchases to their cars. Customers notice and appreciate those types of things. Ideas do not have to be big in order to make a difference. Do a trial run; there are a number of packaging manufacturers out there that would most likely be willing to work with you if there is a possible large sale on the horizon. If you are looking for some advice in the matter, the Retail Packaging Association is a good resource, www.retailpackaging.org.

Just remember, you are in this business to make money, but you can’t make money in this business if the customer is not wowed by what you have to offer. Just because it is a bag or a box does not mean that it is insignificant. Walking billboards, customers who feel special and nice recognizable gift wrapping are just some ways to make something insignificant not so insignificant in the end.



Catherine Evans

Catherine Evans is managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1050 or E-mail at [email protected]




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