October 15, 2011
Judith Guido
Judith Guido
Garden centre operators were faced with more than one challenge in their bid for success this year. Buyer loyalty is at an all-time low. The Internet has created demanding, data-driven, connected customers. Competition from box stores and grocery stores is still an issue, and 2011 saw the wettest spring on record, followed by one of the driest summers in most parts of Ontario.

In response to the challenges of the year, LO’s garden centre sector group invited business growth specialist Judith Guido to host a special meeting on Sept. 21, for garden centre owners and managers.

Guido is founder and principal of Guido and Associates, a business management company, consulting with many green industry businesses. With over 60 owners and operators at the LO home office, she discussed the importance of branding, trends in retail and what today’s consumers are looking for at garden centres.

Despite the rocky year, Guido is firm in her belief that there has never been a better time to be involved in the green industry. She says gardening is ranked as the number one hobby among homeowners, and outdoor living is an epic trend that will continue to grow. “Homeowners are staying home and gardening, meaning the green industry is projected to grow by 17 per cent over the next three years, and overall between 18-30 per cent during the next decade,” said Guido. Sustainability, or eco-living, is another trend the green industry can tie into.

Guido explained that branding is a misunderstood science, and that your company’s brand is the biggest asset you can have. The value of a company’s brand is now recognized on balance sheets, and represents up to 20 per cent of a company’s value. A brand is the sum of experiences and a promise to perform. Every single thing a company does has an impact on brand image, and she reiterated the importance of communicating your brand to employees so they can live and deliver your brand every day.

A strong brand will break through the clutter of the 38,000 messages we receive daily, and it is worth the investment in time to build an effective brand. Guido noted it wasn’t necessary to have a big budget to build a great brand, but that PR is a terrific way to build reputation and your brand. She explained that companies with the strongest brands actually spend 29 per cent less on marketing than those with a weaker message. “Garden centres can build their brand by aligning with like-minded partners for local events, giving back to the community and creating experiences for customers,” said Guido.

After the lunch break, Guido dove into the current state of retail in North America, saying, “There is no business as usual — nothing is usual about business anymore. Leaders who can facilitate change will grow; those who stay in their comfort zone will stagnate.”

While the growth of data centres and warehouses fuel online shopping, buying from bricks and mortar locations will continue. Guido says that for many, shopping is a hobby, and an activity that satisfies the need for human contact. People may research their planned purchase online and then visit a store to experience and buy it.

Increased competition in the marketplace is a fact, and there is no room for complacency. Retailers need to offer a compelling reason for shoppers to remain loyal to your brand. Guido noted it no longer matters if you are an established third-generation company, or if you’ve been established in the same location for 35 years. What matters is what you are doing for customers now.

Customers are demanding a multi-channel experience; they want e-commerce, or mobile commerce from their smart phone and a connection through social media. Guido quoted statistics that said businesses who offer multi-channel messaging engage with customers who buy 82 per cent more than at stores who don’t have multiple touch points with their customers, and, even more telling, 89 per cent of all shopping now starts online.

Creating an experience at your store is one of the top drivers when it comes to getting people to your store.  

To make it easy for employees to keep the brand top of their minds throughout the day, Guido recommended taking some time with them to boil the essence of your brand statement down to one single word. Simplifying your brand to one word that can be applied in every situation and transaction, will help maintain great customer experiences, and, in turn, grow your business.