Depending on how many years you have been in business, those garden center owners reading this column have survived the onslaught of the mass merchants. Depending on the part of the country your business is located in, those competitors included K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Howards, Gibson, and many others.
You later survived when the grocery stores began to enlarge their footprint with their increased store size. Most of the grocers only offered products during the spring season, but they hid hard with having the best sellers at loss leader prices. This writer remembers quite well the day a delivery truck pulled up in front of the grocery store in the same shopping center as our business. The driver unloaded pallet after pallet of the leading lawn fertilizers and weed and feed products.
Shortly thereafter was the arrival of the box stores in the form of Builder’s Square, Home Depot, Menard’s and Lowes. These retailers got into lawn and garden in a big way with a lot of plant material and many of the same hard goods that the independents were selling.
Having survived all of that, you would think it is time to take a deep breath and perhaps even relax. You have made it! You are one of the survivors.
To the contrary, the challenge is not over; the challenge is not likely to ever be over. However, the challenge this time is not likely to be someone in the form of another retailer, but the challenge will simply be the future.
While this column will offer examples from other areas of retail to support this argument, I will tell you that the answer to the challenge lies in an old vaudeville routine by Abbott and Costello. And that answer will be given at the end of the article.
Picture taking has changed a lot in this same time period. Kodak used to make a lot of money because they sold the film that you used to take the pictures. Today, people take even more pictures but Kodak is nowhere to be seen. Simply stated, Kodak did not see the change coming as this is a name you have not likely in a long time.
The same goes for reading. You used to shop at B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Borders, and Barnes & Noble. Now you have only one of those left. Yet, more and more books are written today and more are being sold. It is just that they are purchased in a different manner.
Few arenas of retail are exempt. Television commercials give examples of areas that are different. You can’t watch television for 30 minutes without seeing a commercial with a lizard, duck or some person telling you how to save money by buying your insurance online. Where does that leave the local insurance agent?
When it is Valentine’s or Mother’s Day, there are plenty of commercials telling you about an 800 number to order flowers, teddy bears from Vermont, or footie pajamas. These companies make it quick and easy for the customer to place their order and get on with their life.
While the local pharmacist, whom you would expect to know their customers by name, could have taken the proactive step of reminding their customer to refill their 30 day supply of prescriptions, most independents did not. Now the chain pharmacies have off site refill facilities that can take care of these customers with automatic refills and a 10,000 square foot store that offers everything from milk to Christmas decorations.
Circuit City is gone and Radio Shack just announced they are closing 20% of their stores. Odd how Radio Shack had a Super Bowl commercial that hinted how their stores were stuck in the 1980’s.
Our last example comes from the fast food industry with Subway and Quizno. In the first quarter of 2014, Quizno is announcing their filing for bankruptcy while Subway continues to open locations. In researching for this article, every story about Quizno mentioned that their stores did toasted sandwiches. The toasted sandwich was the cornerstone of all of their advertising. The toasted sandwich is what Quizno sold.
Subway could easily negate that Quizno advantage with each of the Subway franchisees spending a few hundred dollars to add a toaster oven to their equipment. Subway’s message was to advise you to ‘eat healthy’.
Subway’s message focuses on who they sell to; the Quizno message focused on what they sell.
Look back at all of the examples this article has given. In each of the ‘failures’ and each of the businesses that are now challenged, the business has focused on what they are selling.
When the customer in each of these cases decided to change the way they did business, they did so because it was the future that changed; not because someone was simply cheaper. The future allowed another business to deliver what the customer wanted in a manner that was faster, easier, and more convenient for the customer. The failing or challenged business simply continued to offer what they were selling. They did not change how they delivered or what they delivered.
Within the lawn and garden industry, the same will be true for change. Those independent garden centers that believe that a garden center has to only sell plants, perhaps chemicals and garden tools, and fertilizers, will be the ones that will face the next challenge. They will be the next to face extinction.
Those that succeed will focus on who they are selling to. They will find ways to be proactive in connecting with customers. Just as the yellow pages have become a ‘non-issue’, these garden centers will find ways outside of the traditional media to directly contact their customers because they will know exactly who their customers are.
The succeeding garden centers will also be the first to recognize there is an opportunity to better understand the ‘who’ by changing ‘what’ they sell. Hardware stores, pool supply stores, garden centers, and patio stores are each taking care of a part of that customer and the customer’s needs for that great big outside room called ‘yard’.
The successful stores will realize that if they are only selling one component of the outside room to the customer, they will have a bigger challenge with the store that is offering more of the components. This other store is doing more to service the ‘who’ by getting closer to being the ‘one stop’ store for the outside room.
The banking industry has already learned the lesson. Their industry knows there is a 90% chance a customer will leave the bank when they buy one service/product from the bank. However, when the bank can sell five services/products to the customer (checking account, savings account, safe deposit box, car loan, home loan, business loan, debit card, credit card) ther is a 90% chance the customer will not leave the bank.
We see this as a same opportunity for a garden center. When you focus on who you are selling to, and adapting your business to the future; to the customer’s continually changing needs and shopping habits, your business will remain relevant to the customer. Without that relevancy, you may become the next failed business just like (fill in the blank).
At the beginning, the answer was promised by way of Abbott and Costello. This famous vaudeville do had a routine for which they are best known. It was a ‘talk’ about a baseball team that one of them managed.
The best remembered line from the routine was, ‘Who is on first; what is on second’. Remember that ‘who is on first’ in your business and you will remain relevant. Focusing on ‘what’ leads to extinction.