Secret Shopper - Portland

From: IGC Retailer, March/April, 2013

Secret Shopper - Portland
Garden Fever      
3433 NE 24th Ave., Portland
Shopper's Favorite

I’m delighted to discover this garden center tucked in an urban commercial area. A cluster of bistro sets, plants and decor on the front sidewalk capture the attention of both drive-by traffic and pedestrian shoppers.

Inside, I find every speck of space used for display. Rooms within rooms each contain groupings of plants, hardgoods and decor, some quite unusual and unique and all slanted toward the needs of urban dwellers. Merchandise suspended from the ceiling and hung along the walls adds interest as each new room unfolds. I spot shelves filled with books, bulk soil amendments with scoops and bags and organic plant care items in “the pharmacy.”

Ramps angle up to a second story and outdoors to multilevel grouped plant displays at the back of the building. I would appreciate signage inviting me to explore upstairs; I only find it’s open by asking an employee, who seems surprised by the question. A single checkout spot, located in the largest room, could prove inconvenient when customers shop multiple levels.

The upper outdoor area is enclosed by plant-bordered fencing so that it seems part of a mini-jungle. Ramps angle down to a display of more plants, large ceramic containers and a paved parking area. Plants are in good condition, but a few empty metal sign holders within displays distract. Those not mixed in displays group up by type: natives, vines, sun and shade.
A few mini-carts loaded with plants strategically sit along the side street to catch the eye of those traveling by.

Though I don’t feel crowded while winding through this store’s small spaces, I’m sure they’re harder to maneuver pushing a loaded cart.

Every employee I see offers assistance, and those I hear answering questions sound knowledgeable.

Dennis’ 7 Dees 
6025 SE Powell Blvd., Portland

I easily spot the garden center’s signs near the street and on the building, and although they’re a bit faded, they’re a contrast to the quality plants highlighting the ample paved parking lot.
I enter the nursery display area to discover multiple groupings of brightly painted, matching sets of Adirondack chairs and tables, many shown with plants and decor. Rock pathways branch off at angles and wrap between and around islands of plants and decor. Smaller plants sit on raised tables formed by stacked blocks and pallet-style tops. Larger shrubs and trees group up by type, marked by wooden signs suspended from posts. Plant materials throughout are in good condition. A few pathways need more rock, and I change direction in some spots to avoid puddles. A few hoses snake across the paths, dropped where they were last used, and I find some pruning tools and soft drink bottles cluttering a couple displays.

Farther back, a shaded space with chairs for seminars has a badly worn table in the front. In other spots, I notice faded signage and tattered plastic on lath houses.

The store, an older building, shows a bit too much wear. However, it appears well-organized, with several small rooms devoted to different categories of hardgoods. Decor items mix into some multi-item displays and are grouped in sections.

The only employee I encounter offers assistance, but we both can clearly see another shopper struggling to load her purchases.

Tony’s Garden Center
10300 SE Holgate Blvd., Portland

Bright yellow signage, plants staged along the tall cyclone fence and a series of hoop houses make this garden center stand out in its mixed residential/commercial area. I easily pull into the paved parking area, then head for the cluster of red maples marking the entry.

In addition to the series of hoop houses for retail sales, I spot more for production. An assortment of fruit trees, shrubs and trees extend beyond the houses, in ground-level groupings. Most plants appear in good condition. Clearly visible block signage states the plant names and prices.

Shopping carts sit just inside the gate. But lightly graveled walkways leading through the display area prove to be hard to navigate, with wet spots and deep puddles. Some aisles are too narrow, and dead ends could easily be reset. Hoses strewn across paths present a hazard. I see too many toppled trees, yet several workers walk past them and one steps over a couple rather than setting them upright.

Inside the garden center building, I find a limited but adequate assortment: containers, tools, soils, controls, stakes and trellises.

Though a I’m greeted outside, the only offer of assistance comes from a clerk inside. With so much great plant material here, more focus on shoppers would make this experience better.

Farmington Gardens
21815 SW Farmington Road, Beaverton, OR

Signage bordering the road guides me to this huge combination retail garden center and production nursery. Four choices of carts sit at the edge of the parking lot for easy pickup, and I see a cart drop-off in the lot, too.

Wide blacktop pathways lead to the multiple plastic or shade cloth-covered hoop houses and rows of container stock and field-grown shrubs and trees. Signage marks areas for types of plants, with a photo and detailed information at the front of each block. Birdbaths, planters, bistro sets and benches mingle with some of the plant displays.

I head to the barnlike main building, browsing through a series of connected paved hoop houses filled with small vegetables, annuals and perennials. Endcaps feature displays of assorted plants, mixed pots and decor. Detailed plant information sits in plastic boxes for customers to take. The central checkout area opens into the main parking lot.

An impressive layout, great selection, high-quality plants and neat and well-organized displays make this experience enjoyable. However, though I see many employees busily pulling orders, cleaning and restocking, none acknowledges me. Another shopper nearly chases down an employee to get a question answered - but once confronted, that staff member does seem to be helpful.

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