November 15, 2011
Now in its 32nd year, the Canadian Greenhouse Conference moved to the bright, new Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls this year.

Held on Oct. 5 and 6, the trade show floor featured both familiar exhibitors and new ones. A well-planned conference offered plenty of educational opportunities for greenhouse growers and garden centre operators, as well as students.

The popular pre-show bus tour visited a hydroponic operation, herb grower, cut flower and vegetable growers and enjoyed a luncheon stop at a Niagara-area winery.

For garden retailers, the marquee speaker was John Stanley, of John Stanley Associates. A renowned retail consultant, Stanley travels the world speaking with store owners. At the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, he presented three sessions for garden centre owners, and packed a lot of information into each one. Stanley addressed challenges facing the garden centre industry, and helped retailers set out a plan for their future, saying that today’s stresses include climate change, increased box store penetration, changing consumer habits and expectations as well as social media marketing.

Today’s consumers are looking for what Stanley calls “The Latte Factor.” He says shoppers want more than a plain coffee — they are looking for an experience when they shop: something new every day. If they see the same old, same old, they will go somewhere else.

As an example of the changing face of retail, Stanley spoke about Kidzania, a Mexican chain of family entertainment centres where children pay for the opportunity to work in adult jobs. The concept has been dubbed ‘advertainment’ as the children can bottle Coke, work at McDonalds, or fix Chevrolets. Stanley noted that through Kidzania, other industries are attracting children to their trade while entertaining them.

Hot retail trends to follow include a children’s garden category. Stanley noted that children’s tools, boots and watering cans are often scattered throughout a store, and recommended creating an area just for children. He said that for some retailers, fairy gardens have become a good seller. Edible landscaping is levelling off in some areas, but is still a large category that should receive attention, and also recommended promoting colour in the garden. Stanley said that as the economy slips; it’s been shown that people surround themselves with brighter colours.

Stanley spent a lot of time on the subject of social media, encouraging everyone to devote some resources to it immediately. He noted that smart phones have changed the marketing game. Shoppers now trust information that comes from their social media contact — or a supplier — more than your in-store salesperson. Shoppers will follow recommendations from their friends, snap smart tags to learn more about products in your store, and will soon expect to checkout and pay through their cell phones.

Stanley predicted that traditional advertising will continue to decline as people invest in Facebook Places, Google Circles and phone apps to spread their message to customers.

Stanley’s list of recommended reading for retailers includes: Spend Shift by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, Signs that Sell by Sonja Larsen, The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom and The Soul of the New Consumer by David Lewis.

John Stanley’s White Paper, Vision 20/20 The Next Decade for Independent Garden Centres is a strategic document co-authored by Stanley and Trevor Cochrane with contribution from Malcolm Scott. It provides their view of the changing retail scene and encourages garden centres to prepare business plans for the changing retail climate. The white paper sells for $1,995 on John Stanley’s website, but Garden Centres Canada is offering it to members for $399. Contact garden centres’ priorities manager Renata Triveri at for details.