Can we find opportunity within the current crisis?

It’s going to be a tough time for retail over the next few months (unless you are predominantly into loo roll or disinfectant). On an initial assessment we might expect it to be especially difficult for garden centres. After all, the core demographic is over 65 and they’re the very people who are being told to stay at home and distance themselves from others. A grim prospect for them and for retailers who rely on them for a large part of their trade.

But self-isolating doesn’t stop most people from spending time in their gardens. And they’re going to have plenty of time to do just that. So this set me thinking about how to turn this Covid-19 catastrophe into an opportunity for garden product retailing?

How can garden centres exploit the opportunity and reach potential consumers when they’re not even coming in to shop? What can centres do to maintain a level of sales turnover that will protect their businesses and keep the teams usefully employed?

Ten ways to stay in business despite Covid-19


Make sure you are loud and proud online. Your website must be updated with daily news about what’s in store, promotions, seasonal projects, tips and advise. If potential customers are sitting at home web-surfing during long periods of boredom, make doubly sure they can find you easily. Your homepage needs to be at least as exciting and interesting as your actual shop entrance. If you have not already, make sure your Google entries are up to date with contact details, opening times etc.


Align all your social media feeds with your website and make sure they are all being kept up to date and topical. If the store team has less to do because of failing footfall in store, challenge them to turn your business into the strongest and most vibrant on line and digital source of inspiration for confined gardeners. They all have smart phones so make sure they’re deploying them effectively.


Can you allocate some of the team to act as personal shoppers? With the use of Facetime or Skype, customers can have their own personal tour of the centre and direct their personal shopper to select the products they’re interested in. Well-engaged and knowledgeable staff will be able to up-sell additional items, especially on project purchases like planting up pots and containers.


Make sure your local delivery service is cranked up to the maximum, divert extra staff if necessary to make it easy for customers to have their order delivered quickly – within hours if possible.


Put a dedicated telephone order line in place and make sure it is manned from early until late. Don’t lose a single potential customer though an engaged telephone so look at adding more lines if necessary. And if the incoming calls dry up, develop an outbound call approach for any loyal and known customers. Make the approach predominantly an offer of help – not a hard sell.


Set up a drive through pick-up point in your car park with a team who can pick orders and load cars so that customers don’t even need to leave the car. Make sure you have adequate card payment terminals so that you don’t have to handle cash.


Create a colourful and eye catching direct mail leaflet that explains your new retail strategy. Detail how you can help self-isolating customers remain active in their gardens and get all the products they need from their local garden centre. If footfall has collapsed and you have staff with little to do, send them out on a door to door leaflet drop. Better still, work with a specialist direct mail supplier who can target your demographic target in the right postcodes.


Register your restaurant with Deliveroo or JustEat and make sure all your regular customers know they can order their usual favourites for home delivery.


Adapt your outside covered space to allow you to locate restaurant tables well apart. In the fresh air, customers who do visit the centre will feel more confident and comfortable. This might mean less display of seasonal bedding and containers, but because more of your sales will move online and/or delivered, high impact display becomes (temporarily) less important.


Have you thought about using Facebook Live to create a programme of topical events. Your existing FB followers will be able to take part and its a great opportunity to build your followers. Gardener’s question time with a local celebrity or expert gardener, tutorials on seasonal gardening tasks, cooking demonstrations in the barbecue department – you and your team will have plenty of other ideas.

It’s hard to see the positive in the current circumstances, and however you choose to react to the crisis, it’s going to be tough. But I hope I’ve managed to make you think about where the up-sides might lie, however well hidden they might be right now. If you think I could help you develop these ideas (or any others you may already been considering) please get in touch.

Good luck and I hope to see you on the other side.