Predictabilty versus uniqueness, part 2

The comment from Sid Raiche at my last post was right on! Sid wrote, "...There is a certain level of predictability expected at the mom & pop hamburger or garden joint too, even your day care center. The minimum expectation at any garden center - chain or independent, is that you will have for example, bag mulch, at least one good planting trowel reasonably priced, a certain selection of basic plants appropriate for the time of year and your region, and so on. We call those the 'NEVER-outs'. But time and again I’m in stores where customers are being sent elsewhere for the basic expected items. In one store recently they told me they get calls regularly, 'is your bulk topsoil dry?'. At another, 'do you have a bale of straw?' These are not absolute necessity items for all garden centers, but can you think of ONE box store that would have either? We get too hung up on a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter that much to most consumers while ignoring some basic blocking and tackling retail competitiveness. And yes, if we’re going to sell something we must be just about as consistent about it as McDonald’s is with their Big Mac, and as the Cheesecake Factory is with their service. No excuses and take no prisoners." When I wrote predictability versus uniqueness, I did not mean we as smaller independents don't need to have a measure of predictability. Yes, our customers expect certain things from us. A friendly smile, courtesy, the right items in stock, etc. Here is the hard part though, we have to provide that and a measure of uniqueness that set's us apart. It's not an easy row to hoe. Of course, I would never tell you that running a garden center was a breeze.  One of the hardest things for me to do is put aside the 30 years of garden center experience and take a fresh look at our business.

That's what we did this last winter when all around us retail was sinking. What did our community want? What had we insisted on carrying that the community didn't want. We needed to let those thing go, and build on the other. It's not as easy as you think, especially when you have been in the business so long. Thank goodness we started to surround ourselves with people who had an interest in gardening, but we're not "in the business". They we're able to show us things, and way's of doing things that we had missed. We beefed up our selection of specialty fertilizers, and soil mixes. We are expanding our nursery into a  couple of the units we lease out in front, and will have a coffee/smoothie bar there. It will be run by a young couple, with a lot more enthusiasm than Monica and I can muster at this time. We are now your indoor gardening experts with all the lights, and other necessary items to do it right. Beefed up the selection of smaller 4" sized perennials and annuals, and reduced the amount of 15 gallon and larger plants's, which are just not selling this year.

Sid's comment was timely, as garden centers everywhere are looking to re-invent themselves into a vital must have resource for the community. Our mistake in the past here, is not having enough of those "must haves" when people want them. It's so hard to keep the inventory up during the season, especially when we have to buy the plants, and don't work on a pay at scan program. Our local Home Depot has that distinction as they always have the common stuff that people buy time and again. They have suppliers constantly taking out the old, and bringing in the fresh, since there is no expense other than labor for the box store. That's no excuse for us, though.

When you get down to it that really summarizes the reatil experience.  Give the customer what they are looking for at a reasonable price, and they will shop with you forever. What does our customer want, as opposed to what we think the customer should want. There is a lot of ego involved, and it's not always easy to let go of ideas and things that have worked in the past, but don't work now. That's the challenge.