IGC retailers are taking garden gifts and decor displays to the next level to give a boost to the category and inspire more purchases from their customers.
At Stutzmans Greenhouse, Hutchinson, KS, ranked No. 87 in IGC Retailer's IGC 100 report with $5.6 million in sales, Designer Larry Rogers is big on turning trash into treasure. He finds ways to incorporate pieces such as castoff items and family heirlooms into displays. "I do workshops on it, too, encouraging people to be bolder in their use of decor at home," he says, "freeing them to reuse things in unexpected ways."
During Stutzmans' open house weekend in early spring, workshops offer decor ideas for both indoors and out, such as using clusters of saucers or birdbath tops in assorted sizes as serving centers for a buffet, and a grouping of large containers filled with plants and a tall trellis as instant screening. "I add a few fun trash-to-treasures ideas, too, such as turning an old luggage set into planters," Rogers says. "With fresh plants and a few pieces of decor, we can make something exciting from those old pieces customers uncover from their spring cleaning."
Indeed, shoppers love the novelty of "found" items in displays, whether they're for resale or just a display prop. At Bell's Seed Store, Fayetteville, NC, Manager Jeff Thomson says, "Our owner's wife has a wonderful eye for spotting treasures in trash. She finds things everywhere, even along the roadside. We took an old mattress box spring that she found, painted it black, suspended it from the ceiling and used clear fishing line to hang gazing balls from it."
At Cornell Farm, Portland, OR, Visual Merchandiser Berkeley Blatter likes to use items in uncommon ways, too, such as large ceramic pots as the base and a clear or color-coordinated round or square top to create a bistro table or plant stand.
Blatter says you have to explore all your options, even considering the packing materials plants and pots come in. Wooden crates are great display pieces when painted or creatively stacked, for example. "Check out what you've accumulated in broken and old statuary and containers," she says. "A pot segment or lion head may be a great addition to the corner of a plant bed or the top of a container, and serve as the link to unify a display."
A focal point attracts shoppers, she says, and combining multiple elements within a display keeps them exploring. Exploration leads them to pick up pieces for a closer look, and an item in-hand often makes it into the cart.
Blatter's terrarium display is a great example. It featured gorgeous hand-blown glass pieces in three different shapes. "I put them on an old antique table that I'd found, displaying them on old blocks of wood that made excellent risers. I kept one planted up and ready to go as a take-away, and left the others empty with signage attached that told where and how they were made and a bit about the artisan," she says. "I expanded from there with other glass pieces in a wide range of styles and sizes, and multiple accessory items, from little smooth rocks with words of inspiration on them to tiny benches, arbors and even chandeliers for a touch of whimsy." Blatter included the practical elements, too, like potting soil and a selection of plants, including air plants for those who wanted the look with less maintenance.
Where to Put It
An important element of merchandising decor is making it easy for customers to take it off the display and bring it to the checkout counter.
At Bell's, a large arborlike structure inside the greenhouse is the ideal spot for windchimes. "We hang 10 to 12 along each row, coordinated by color and style. They're so tempting, people are almost compelled to test them," Thomson says. "It can get very loud, especially with youngsters involved, but we love it. Shoppers in other areas hear all the variety and come to explore, too. It really drives sales."
Also easy to grab and go and tempt impulse shoppers, Bell's showcases a mass display of garden stakes in a high-traffic area near the checkout counter. "We put a couple three-tier racks together, and set up three pots across each level, working from 42-inch plastics at the base to 14-inch terra-cotta on top. We filled each pot with sand, topped it with decorative bark, and kept each pot full of an assortment of garden stakes, making sure a few on the outer edges would spin with any air movement," Thomson says. "We set up a second display, with the larger pots and larger garden stakes, at the entrance to our fountain display area."
Since decor is great for gifting, Bell's is careful to offer a range of sizes and prices in the category, from garden art sculptures to cute knickknacks, and merchandise them front and center during popular gift-giving times. They think of gift-giving occasions in addition to holidays, such as baby showers and housewarming gifts. A grouping of garden flags, for example, is perfect for a housewarming gift display.
The veranda just outside Bell's main building is prime space for seasonal plant displays that incorporate decor. "I always integrate showy decor and whimsical items into that area," Blatter says. "Last summer, I split it into three sectional setups: one contemporary/modern, one country and one native. Part of the decor accents included one of the large indoor-outdoor canvas art pieces with a great scene for the country setting. A rustic bronze owl perched in the native setting, and some of our whimsical frog collection went golfing and dining under the stars in the modern section."
Color Sets the Scene
Color sells. Cornell Farm follows seasonal color trends and, looking ahead, relies on Pantone, the world leader in color forecasting. "I often use fabric to supplement the display scene, so I need to be aware of future color trends as I build my fabric collection. A simple backdrop or strip of fabric wound through a display helps shoppers envision those decor items in their own settings," she says. "I'm a big believer in fresh paint, too. If we have a wooden or metal decor item that's not selling, I'll paint it in one of the trendy new colors, and it's soon sold."
Blatter is always looking at plants for leaf color, shape and size to determine how they complement each other. Then, she develops the display to show each plant's best characteristics. "We'll infuse ceramics, garden balls or fountains to help lighten and freshen the scene," she says.
A fireplace with a mantle in the garden center has become a prime spot for decor displays at Cornell Farm. "We repaint it frequently, usually in neutral colors, with decor pieces as the color highlights," Blatter says. "For our Thanksgiving display last year, we painted it a bright red-orange that really made the merchandise pop. It worked like a magnet, drawing shoppers, and everything we featured there sold out quickly."
Bell's is highly visible from the roadside, so it always has decor pieces out front, along with a color burst of bright blooming flowers, from annuals in the spring to mums into late fall. Inside the store, several brightly painted walls make great backdrops for decor. "We brought in a huge assortment of brightly painted, very thin metal wall sculpture pieces. Each one had a loop on the back for mounting," Thomson says. "We painted a wall bold yellow, inserted hundreds of screws and hung those pieces, creating a display that no one could miss."
'Fresh' Is Key
At Bell's, it's always a challenge to keep customers with varying lifestyles interested in decor. "We have a broad customer base, with some farm families that have been coming here for years for seeds for their crops and vegetable gardens, some dedicated in-town gardeners and some in our suburban area that have outdoor space of their own for the first time," Thomson says. "Our challenge is to keep our decor displays fresh and appealing so there's always something to delight those in each group. We're always setting up new combinations inside and out, integrating plants with decorative screens, statuary, fountains and containers with all kinds of garden art. We work birding and water gardening into the mix, too."
Rogers says, "Many of our patrons stop in once or twice a week in the spring, so we're constantly changing displays and adding new looks to make each visit a fresh experience." Even adding new merchandise to existing displays freshens it up enough to feel like something new.
"Every vignette we create is like stepping into someone's home or garden, but in the 'over the top' version," Rogers says. "While we do have some shoppers who want to purchase the entire look, most find a couple decor pieces they can integrate into their own setting to capture the essence of the look."
Creative Displays Sell More Garden Decor
From: IGC Retailer, IGC Show Issue, 2011