Andrew Burton on making the most of a store’s available space to maximise potential.
Planning the layout of your garden centre or farm shop is both an art and a science; requiring creativity, psychological insight and testing.
I was keen to explore common retail tactics that can be used when planning and implementing the arrangement of a garden centre or farm shop, to see if it can help layout and merchandising.
1. Use the right floor plan and walkways
Your floor plan and walkways play a critical role in managing customer flow.
The choice of which layout works best will depend on a number of factors, including the size of a centre, the products being sold, and most importantly, the target customer demographic and market.
There are numerous considerations prior building a floor plan to maximise your potential: Identifying specifics such as the current strengths of the business, your customer profile, identifying building restraints and ensuring the range of goods fuse well all affect a layout design. Personally, I’m a big believer in ensuring your core walkways are positioned properly too, focusing on hot spots and ensuring that customers get to see everything where viable – the people I work with often hear me say ‘Let’s tell customers where to go rather than ask them where they want to go.’
Then there are the trading constraints and changes that Covid-19 has created, such as being able to trade in areas of your store without affecting others.
Town planning constraints are also something to think about as space allocations often get affected by local town planning guidelines. This is something I focus on early as there’s nothing worse than thinking I can give more space to a department to increase turnover, only to find it can’t be done because planning constrictions don’t allow for it. On a positive note, we can work with clients’ operational needs and planning together, hand in glove, so planning changes often work alongside the floor plan work.
While there are plenty of store arrangements that you can adopt, here are the most common ones in retail:
Straight supermarket style floor plan
This floor plan involves positioning shelves or racks in straight lines to create an organised flow of traffic. It’s one of the most economical store layouts and is mostly used in grocery, gardening or pet and aquatics departments. It primarily uses shelving to showcase merchandise.
This layout is very effective in garden centres and farm shops, encouraging customers to do a 360 degree loop through a centre. By positioning fixtures and merchandise in such a way that a path is created, shoppers are guided around the space.
The real benefit of these walkway plans is that you can get your customers to pass everything you want to display to them, working around destination departments such as the restaurant or plants in a garden centre, or butchery in a farm shop.
Angular floor plan
This layout plan works very well in gift departments or smaller retail outlets. Comprising of curves and angles to give off a sophisticated vibe, the angular floor plan is usually adopted by high-end retailers, and lends itself to giftware purchases especially. It does tend to reduce the amount of display area, but focuses instead on fewer, more popular lines.
Free flow plan
A free flow layout affords the most creativity. Again, this works well in farm shops, food halls or giftware. Because it’s not limited to floor patterns or shelves that have to be placed at certain angles, people are not guided through a route; instead, shoppers are encourage to browse and go in any direction.
2. Be aware of where you “lead” shoppers
There has always been a bit of debate about whether or not retailers should lead customers in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction around their shops. Garden centres and farm shops, however, create an environment that can allow a ‘circular’ route. The question is then usually about which way the traffic should flow. Some claim that since most people are right-handed, they instinctively turn to the right and then explore the centre in a counter-clockwise direction. However, other studies indicate that shopper direction has more to do with their vehicle traffic patterns. Consumers in the UK drive on the left side of the road so they have a tendency to explore stores in a clockwise manner.
The key influencer really is the entrance position in relation to each department, understanding how the departments link and designing a flow that reach your needs should be individually led, in short – there is no right or wrong here.
3. Ensure that your product quantities are appropriate
The question of how much space is given to each department and how much merchandise to have on display is an important one — and the answer is not always clear-cut.
On one hand, having more products on the sales floor has proved a good way to potentially improve sales, but quality products often need showcasing properly. Having too much product on display can even lead to a decline in brand perception, especially if you’re trying to position yourself as a quality retailer with a unique proposition.
The more a department is full of stock, the more people think of it as value, while on the flipside, having fewer items on display can give the impression that they may be too expensive.
Ultimately, it will depend on the size of the shop and the image you want to project. It also greatly affects the type of experience you want to create for your customers.
For example, in your gardening or wine department you may want to display goods in a supermarket style, heavily stocked with high availability. But if you’re a focusing on select giftware products or Christmas displays, then it’s best to keep the selection merchandised appropriately and inspire customers.
This all affects space allocations by department and I really look at these in depth with clients to support potential for turnover. It can’t be a gut feeling – it is vital to use data and understand trends, and the vision for the whole shop has to affect this.
4. Have enough space between products and fixtures
While it is fine to have shelves packed with merchandise, it’s still important to give your customers their personal space – something which is more vital than ever before further to the effects of Covid-19 and changes it has led to in terms of customer expectations.
Avoid over-crowding in areas – shoppers could abandon a display or product they were looking if they felt their space had been invaded by another customer. Customers have been seen to move away from merchandise, even if they’re interested, in to avoid being too close to other shoppers.
With shopping trolleys often used by customers, many departments work to 1.2m – 1.4m wide walkways through the department displays, with 2m-3m wide walkways used for main thoroughfares. Giftware and Christmas products encourage more open space, but working to narrow walkways will create a negative environment.
5. Freshen up your displays regularly
The rules around how often to change displays will vary depending on who you’re talking to, but garden centres and farm shops need to keep things fresh and seasonal all year around. Most experts recommend changing some part of your store around once a week – this could be as simple as changing a hot spot promotional end or placing an eye catching display piece in the middle of the display. It can be as simple as a wheel barrow full of carrots, or even something like a tractor surrounded by fresh produce or plants.
Take into account the amount and nature of footfall in to a garden centre or farm shop because these aren’t like the high street, often with a lower numbers of return visits. Creating a centre that has consistency but has new things to see each visit encourages investigation and a higher return rate.
6. Find ways to appeal to multiple senses
While the majority of a garden centre’s and farms shops design is made up of visual components, other factors including scent, touch, sound and taste can also make an impact on a customer’s perception and buying trends. If you wish to create a truly immersive customer experience, you need to design your shop to appeal to as many shopper senses as possible.
Pick your environment noise carefully. For example, having carefully considered birdsong sounds, which are not overpowering, playing in the wild bird department can enhance the customer’s mindset.
Volume, music choice and beat can influence behaviour too, and the customer demographic your centre has should affect your choice of noise by area.
Environments should be calm and peaceful, so playing acoustic music that creates a mindful atmosphere often works well, especially in restaurants.
Farm shops, food halls and cafes/restaurants may have a slight edge here, as they can use the smell of their products to draw customers in, but you can still cater to people’s sense of smell even if you aren’t in the food industry.
Candles and soaps are big sellers within giftware departments, and utilising that can affect sales greatly – consider the success of Lush on the high street. Whether you like this philosophy or not, the brand is very successful in enticing the customer to them via their nostrils.
Having a “hands-on” vibe can enhance shopper experience. Pre-Covid, a key way to do this was to remove sample products from their packaging to encourage customers to test them. However, in a post-Covid retail situation, people should be discouraged from handling any products they don’t intend to buy, so how can we create that opportunity?
Demonstrations or events can help attract customers and lengthen their stay as they take the time to learn more and involve themselves. Once a customer has taken the time to watch a planting demonstration or sign their child up to a pumpkin carving workshop, they’re far more likely to follow through with a purchase.
Farm shops are masters at this, but if you do sell food in your store, sales will be enhanced by tasting stations. This encourages engagement and makes it less intimidating for people who may be unwilling to spend on products they’re unsure about.
Allowing people to taste the products you sell, be it cheese, coffee, chocolate or jams, will create more of an incentive to buy. In the 30 years I have worked in the retail, catering and visitor attraction industries, tasting sessions have never failed to work. Weekend footfall is the ideal market to trial these, and the turnover as add on sales more than pays for the staff wages and the cost of goods: The real benefit is when the customer returns two weeks later to buy the chilli flavoured cheese or the Bloody Mary tomato ketchup they can’t get elsewhere.
7. Don’t forget to link sell and cross-merchandise
Reviewing average transaction values is essential and grouping products into neat categories or departments is a great strategy, but I would always advise cross-merchandising or link-selling different items where possible. Obvious links are selling pots with houseplants, or positioning Yorkshire pudding mix next to sausages with a toad-in-the-hole recipe attached; but the display has to do this. It is up to you to identify products in store that go well together and put them together in a single display.
Always view your merchandise from a customer’s perspective and ask yourself ‘Do I understand how this works?’ Often, things look well linked to us, because we know what we’re trying to do, but it’s important to ensure that the customer actually understands it.
8. Make sure your team are effective
Your staff play the most essential role in your store’s design and layout. How they are positioned in your shop can make or break your store’s appeal and service level. Having your employees move around on the sales floor instead of staying behind the counter makes for a more inviting, interactive and personal experience for the customer.
Get your employees out from behind the counter, site them in specific zones within your shop and keep them active, especially if you have trade and service windows. They shouldn’t be over-pushy, but being there to say hello, helping where they can and suggesting linked products really nudges up that average basket value.
Why look at this now?
Covid-19 has created a need to look at space management and planning.
Whether it be a restaurant that needs more or less seating, or a retail area with bigger walkways, now is the time to look at this and those who hesitate may well see negative effects as customer expectations change.
The real art to getting it right first time is to work with a team with experience in change management and business development, who will challenge the norm and create that ‘new normal’ we’re all working towards.
A solid in-store execution strategy helps garden centres and farm shops:
• Improve the in-store experience by turning a vision into reality, faster
• Increase in-store conversion rates and potentially boost sales, because customer experience has improved.
• Become more agile, reactive and competitive, since it’s easier to try new concepts and quickly decide what works and what doesn’t.
• Identify potential profit drivers and hotspots and also helps manage slower selling, less profitable stock ranges.
And it helps the staff:
• Sell more by focusing their time on what matters
• Improve their performance because there’s a plan in place to help them deliver turnover and success.