March 2004
Profitable pottery placement By Sean Gillman

At Max and Hildy’s, Hillsboro, Ore., we merchandise our pottery very differently than many garden centers. The primary difference is in our basic attitude toward what pottery is and where it should be placed in the store. Many nurseries stock their pottery with hard goods such as fertilizers, soils and so on. This space is often off to the side of the main aisleways or possibly in the back of the retail area.

Using your space the right way

We tend to think of stoneware and ceramic pottery as more than hard goods items. They are art, albeit very functional. If well-displayed, pottery makes a bold and beautiful statement in frontal displays and main areas of traffic flow. What’s more, it will usually prove worthy of this valuable space in sales dollars. Think about it: You can sell a $3 box of fertilizer to every fifth customer who walks by a high-traffic area, or you can instead sell a $30 pot to every tenth customer. You do the math. This usually applies only to finer glazed pottery. Plastics and simple wood products will just look like an item that hasn’t been stocked yet.

The secret to successful displays

The trick to making pottery sell this well is in displaying it correctly. It should always be kept clean of soil and dust buildup. Pots should not be stacked too high, as this format is very hard to shop (and potentially dangerous to the little old lady trying to get a pot down). Often a “nesting” effect — a pot inside another matching, larger pot and slightly raised so the customer can see both pots — is very attractive. The display should be close to the ground, so nothing falls a great distance in case of an accident, but not on the ground, as this looks cluttered. Low, wide tables, usually with 2-3 levels, work well. The display needs to be tidied often, as customers tend to handle several items before making a selection.

How the pots are grouped is important as well. We usually group our pots by color scheme — all the green tones here, all the blues on this table, etc. This allows pots of various sizes to be displayed together, which makes for more appealing displays. Also, it is easy to help a customer narrow down what they want and make a decision with this set-up. Just ask the simple question, “What colors can work in that room?” There are other ways to group them — by size, by material, etc. Experiment, but remember that if the display looks good, then the product suddenly becomes more than just another hard goods item. This is the key to making it a successful pottery department.

Sean Gillman

Sean Gillman is assistant manager at Max & Hildy's in Hillsboro, Ore., and is responsible, among other duties, for hiring for the store's pottery department. He may be reached by phone at (503) 645-5486.