Troubleshooting Trouble Spots

Problem areas. Every garden center has some. We asked members of our Fresh Air Forum to tell us how they have approached some of the retail roadblocks in their operations. Have an idea of your own to share? Join in the conversation at

Teri Smith:  Smith’s Acres

We have an “L” shaped greenhouse that wraps around our retail store, with big double doors on both ends. The doors towards the back have always been a problem spot for us. Our benches come out from the walls at an angle and are fairly well spaced. The back door seemed to be where UPS drivers would drop off, cardboard would get piled and general receiving and pricing would get done. We always kept the “right” side of the doorway clear of clutter and fairly well merchandised, but not much ever seemed to sell from that area.

Judy Sharpton suggested I give up trying to retail from that space and have it be receiving. She suggested placing a large fabric curtain (10-12 feet wide) across the walkway about 6-8 feet in from the back door. That would let people know when they walked in the back door that it wasn’t really retail space. And when you walked around the corner from the front of the greenhouse, you would be pulled in by the large expanse of color.

We toyed with the idea during the winter while we were closed, and instead of draping the curtain across the aisleway and visually blocking an entrance, we used the fabric to block off the left corner of the greenhouse. We also removed one of our benches and widened the aisles even more, leaving much easier access to the “righthand” corner which is where everyone is supposed to gravitate to when they enter a store.

What a difference it makes. Our mess is contained behind our curtain. The large swath of purple fabric still draws customers’ eyes in toward the back of the greenhouse, and our righthand corner is now much more shoppable.

Erik Friedli:  Flamingo Road Nursery

As a merchandiser, I’ve been tackling “problem spots” for 20-plus years. Every store has them, and they change constantly. One needs to always look at their store with the eye of a customer and understand the psychology of retail. In merchandising, our goal is to create “sugar trails” for customers to follow, and if they get confused or refuse to follow where we want them to, then we need to examine where we’ve failed.

Often, it is the smallest detail that has the greatest impact on whether a customer will shop an area or not. In merchandising, our goal is to make them do it our way. Listen to Dave Matthews’ “Ants Marching,” then stand back and watch customer traffic through the store. If the customers are not walking the same way, stopping where you want them to, picking up those impulse items, then it’s time to change the displays and layout because they are not working. When it comes together right, one should be able to watch traffic flow and say with confidence, “That couple is going to stop at the fertilizer, then go look at those pots across the way.”

Gail Vanik:  Four Seasons Greenhouse & Nursery

For years, we had low metal shelving in a row of three sections which held our chemicals, seed starting supplies and fertilizers. Last year, in an effort to pare down products that were no longer good movers, we eliminated one of the sections of shelving, replacing it with the seed racks. This served to open up that space and make it more shoppable, plus it became less cluttered looking.

This year, we eliminated a second section of shelving, replacing it with an octagonal section from Bench Systems on which we display houseplants. This has increased houseplant sales, changed the traffic pattern and served to open up another section of the hardgoods section to a more airy, easier-to-shop look.

These changes increased visibility for our back wall, which is where the chemicals ended up. It also increased visibility for the wall, which holds the gloves, knee pads, etc. It’s amazing what a little rearranging can do! I still have one section of the hated metal shelving to go, so that’s my “creative management” project for next year! But overall, you’d be surprised how many customers think you’ve done major renovations when in reality you’ve only changed one or two little things.

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2 comments on “Troubleshooting Trouble Spots

  1. Anonymous

    We have an area in our back yard that does not drain well. It remains very soggy until the heat of summer. Anything I can do-like putting hollow pipes in the ground to help elimenate the water.Maybe add top soiL ?

  2. Anonymous

    We have an area in our back yard that does not drain well. It remains very soggy until the heat of summer. Anything I can do-like putting hollow pipes in the ground to help elimenate the water.Maybe add top soiL ?