Concrete: It’s In The Mix

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Concrete: It's In The Mix

At the risk of sounding pretentious, let me say that the thoughts and suggestions of this month’s merchandising article are concrete!

Whether multi-tiered fountains, statuary or planters, concrete has always been a welcome element in the garden as well as the garden center. Look closer at this category from a merchandiser’s viewpoint and you will see that the strength of concrete truly is in the mix!

The mix I speak of contains three main sub categories; statuary, fountains and planters. Within each of these categories you will find a variety of sizes, colors and styles ranging from tabletop application to pieces that can be placed in large public or corporate settings. Having the right product mix will result in a clean sell through with less inventory to be carried over in the off season.

Size It Up

When one encounters a piece of concrete in the garden, it immediately suggests permanence, mainly because of its sheer weight. No doubt, size is a major consideration when dealing with concrete, not only from the logistical perspective of the garden center operator but from the homeowner, as well. As the physical size of the items you offer increases, you must be prepared to handle them effectively.

Forklifts and pallet jacks are essential when dealing with medium to large pieces of 200 pounds or more. Hand trucks or wagons can certainly accommodate the smaller ones providing you first place a layer of burlap on them to prevent damage (speaking of burlap, have plenty on hand not only for your in-house handling, but also for customer loading and delivery purposes). The time spent in careful handling of concrete reduces that amount of time touching it up!

Concrete Ideas

You can avoid having your concrete area looking like a graveyard by using these ideas: 

1. Group everything into color stories (even if the color pattern is repeated in several places). Your customer is attracted to color, first so mixing them up reduces the impact. 
2. Avoid lining everything out like soldiers in a row. Show groupings together to inspire your customers.

3. Have water and electrical services in the sales area. Have some of the fountains running so that customers can experience them as they would at home.  

4. Make sure that all items are priced clearly and easily seen by your customers. No one should have to move or turn over an item to find out how much it is. Signage with a design or group name, such as The Day Lily Collection, helps to add appeal.

5. Concrete, although colorful, is still cold and hard. You can soften its appearance by introducing plant material into the display. Remember, the plant is to be used as an accent, not camouflage.

6. Keep the sales floor clean at all times. Empty pallets and shipping materials should be disposed of immediately. Daily use of a handheld leaf blower will remove debris in those hard to see places. Fountains must be periodically emptied and scrubbed to keep up their appearance. 

7. Offer delivery and set up service along with maintenance information. Now your customer has fallen in love with and purchased a large piece, how do they get it home? Who will set it up? How do they take care of it? Work out all the scenarios, viewing them from the consumer’s perspective.

Finally, do not under- estimate the number of people required to unload, move and display this category on the sales floor. It is labor intensive and requires multiple people to ensure their safety and reduce the damage to product from mishandling.

Color Counts

As with pottery and other garden accessories, concrete can be found in a wide variety of colors. Gone are the days for the consumer of choosing simply between gray and white when considering concrete for the landscape. Concrete manufacturers offer a palette of choices to help customers comple-ment or contrast building exteriors, patios or hard-scaped areas, as well as garden furniture. Color is a key motivator in the consumer’s eye, so offer a good variety. Your customers will tell you which colors they like by the items that sell the most, and you can adjust your future orders accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to try something new as long as it is done moderately at the onset. You may be surprised by what you can sell in your marketplace . . . you never know!

What’s In Style?

Whether classic or contemporary, style is dictated in part by your geographic region. Magazines can help alert you to upcoming trends but can’t compare to your knowledge of your area and the customers you serve.

There are many items that may sell at a garden center in the Southwest that you couldn’t give away in Boston. One style, however, that seems popular almost everywhere, is Asian. Pagodas, statues, fountains and bird baths with the Asian motif always seem to sell no matter where it is. Buyers should know their marketplace and customers well enough to know what new items may fit into their mix.

Merchandising Matters

The two techniques for displaying concrete are “scattered” or “mass/departmental. The decision of which technique to use is based on the sales volume of this category, as well as the size of your store. If your store is small, placing pieces throughout can be effective and fun.

Your employees will enjoy the challenge of selecting the right pieces for those areas, and your customers will shop as if on a scavenger hunt. The larger your sales floor, the easier it is to lose track of where everything is. This makes it harder for your sales help and frustrating for your customer who is shopping specifically for this category.

Most shoppers would much rather be led to an area where they can see the majority of your selection in one place rather than hearing, “has anyone seen St. Francis lately?” I am not suggesting that concrete can not be cross merchandised in all departments, because it can! All areas of the garden center, inside and out, can have concrete accent them.

However, make sure that the staff responsible for that department is aware of what pieces are being displayed where and that they are cleaned and maintained (particularly fountains).

I think we have touched upon all of the main considerations concerning this month’s subject of concrete. In conclusion, let me say a garden center would not seem complete without a selection of these garden accents, no matter how small. Be creative and have fun with this category!

I’ll see you on the sales floor. 

Scott Daly is the merchandising manager at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md. You can eMail him at sdaly@homesteadgardens.com.

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