Secret Shopper - Grand Rapids, MI

From: IGC Retailer, IGC Show Issue, 2013

Secret Shopper - Grand Rapids, MI
Romence Gardens & Greenhouses
265 Lakeside Drive NE, Grand Rapids, MI  Shopper's Favorite

Striking planters and bright hanging baskets set the tone as I pull into the ample, paved parking lot. As I step inside, I see a large sign by the checkout counter mapping the layout. An employee headed toward the adjacent office area immediately greets me, tells me about specials while pointing to the corresponding spots on the map and offers assistance.
The basics in hardgoods are displayed within this main room along with a few decor items. In the greenhouses beyond this, the plant variety is impressive, and quality is excellent. Even end-of-season plants are spaced to make everything look full and fresh. Signage denotes each plant grouping, and benches are labeled by letter and number to direct shoppers.

Little touches stand out, like a cluster of perennials surrounding the sign to the perennials greenhouse. Hanging baskets turn a back fence into a colorful screen, and color-sorted containers fill a section of one greenhouse. Brightly painted Adirondack chairs add color, while birdbaths, statuary and a smattering of other decor pop up in mixed plant displays.

Everything is very neat and clean. I find only a few nitpicky things. Shopping carts are near the entrance, but a few strategically staged throughout could encourage additional purchases. The restrooms are a bit run-down and, with a place this big and all the time customers could spend here, access could be a problem.

Even with the size, this garden center is shopper-friendly because customer service reigns. Each staffer I pass greets me and offers assistance. When I ask about the plants in the only unlabeled block I find, an employee quickly identifies them, then immediately goes to a small office area to generate the signage. Two employees tag team in assisting a mom with three young children, giving the whole family a pleasant experience and earning smiles from other customers. What a great place to shop!

Visiting ‘The Other Side’ . . .
3330 28th St. SE, Kentwood, MI

Typical to Lowe’s, plants are displayed outside the garden center entrance on raised benches fronted by circles of featured rock and block offerings. Up close, I find this area is very messy, with plant debris littering the benches. Way too many plants are overly dry, many to the point of no return, even though a hose is handy on the reel nearby. A section of plants in even worse condition is displayed with a 50-percent-off sign near the first island in the parking lot.

Inside the garden center section, display areas and floors are neat and clean. The plants here are in very good shape overall. There are a few distressed and dead plants in a bin, obviously culled from display but still in open view of shoppers.

Signage is very good, and all plant sections are correctly marked. Though the setup is self-service, the uniformed employees are well-trained in welcoming customers and offering assistance. Those I overhear assisting other shoppers are knowledgeable in plant selection and plant care.

In the main store, I find a broad selection of indoor plants in very good condition. The extensive assortment of plant care items are displayed by type with informative signage. I watch an employee correctly identify a plant problem and lead the shopper to the correct control product - quite impressive for a self-service box store.

Knapp Valley Gardens
4100 Knapp St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI

The large sign makes this garden center easy to spot, but the message is missing a letter. I easily pull into the parking lot since traffic is light; during busier times, it would be challenging. As I walk toward the entrance, I see that the well-designed landscaping plantings are weed-infested and need attention.

In the main store and greenhouse, shopping is easy, with hardgoods, decor items and plants well-displayed and clearly marked. A “Snapshot Gardening” area offers assistance for do-it-yourself landscaping and displays photos of completed projects.

Outside, I see several hardscaping examples, one of which uses a fireplace. I browse a well-marked selection of larger nursery stock and canned/potted shrubs and roses. The displays are neat, and plant quality is very good. Hoses are neatly coiled except for those in use, and employees greet me and offer assistance.

Further back, the quality of plants is erratic, with declining plants mixed with good ones and quite a few blown over and some damaged. Many sections are weedy, and several spots are empty. A side area with rock and bagged goods badly needs a cleanup.

This is a good shopping experience, but just misses the mark. More attention to detail could make it a great one.

Ludemas Floral and Garden
3408 Eastern Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI

A mix of inground plantings and hanging baskets makes for a spectacular view as I approach this garden center. Bright flowers cascade from planters on fence tops and adorn the side of the greenhouse and along the entryway. Even the front overhang is covered with blossoms.
I step inside to a disappointing contrast. Plant debris litters the floral counter and spills over the floor. An employee working there greets me and offers assistance, but doesn’t wait for a response and returns to her project.

In the greenhouses, I find plants in very good condition on some benches, declining plants on others, and several with nothing but dead plants and plant debris. Some areas are merchandised for selling, while other spots have plants randomly set on benches.

Outside, I pass a row of upright evergreens - one at the end is dead, the one beside it is declining, and the remainder are in good condition. I find a few roses in the “rose garden,” along with many perennials planted in a variety of combinations. Plant quality is good, but the garden is overrun with weeds that even cover the mulched pathway in spots.

While the setup is geared for retail, it seems the garden center is an afterthought, nearly abandoned after the prime spring season. There’s so much promise here, unfulfilled.

Horrocks Market 
4455 Breton Road SE, Kentwood, MI

Massive hanging baskets, some filled with bright pink blossoms, others with green sweet potato foliage, are impressive from the street and spacious parking lot. Paved ramps lead to the main entrance of the triplex greenhouses.

Uncovered outdoor space on one side features sun-loving plants, while shade cloth covers a display of shade-loving plants on the other side. Each side is filled with a good assortment of annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees, nearly all in excellent condition. Better spacing would help mask bare spots in some sections. Signage is basic and adequate in most areas, but it doesn’t match the plants displayed in other areas.

Inside the door, I walk past rows of checkout counters to the gift and decor items. Next I browse through block and bench displays of small plants and pre-planted containers to the full-service floral shop. Beyond this, I find a deli section and a grocery supermarket alongside the garden center area, fully-stocked with hardgoods such as control products, fertilizers, soils, tools and a birding department. Though I pass by several employees, none greet me or offer assistance. Only those in the floral section seem eager to assist shoppers, and several are doing so.

There’s fairly good flow from one area to another. Shoppers must walk through plant, cut flower and decor displays to reach the grocery section in a store layout that should boost impulse sales. This is one of the most unusual IGCs I’ve seen, but it seems to work.

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