With non-core sales categories becoming ever-more popular, Jane Perrone discusses the most effective ways to sell clothes to garden centre customers
These days you can pick up pyjamas from Tesco, order new shoes from eBay and pop into Primark for a new pair of socks. In other words, it’s a crowded market for clothing and shoes. And yet it can be a lucrative area for garden centres – either via concessions or direct sales.
Who to sell to
Take Wellington boots. Time was when the only welly you’d find in a garden centre would be cheap, green and not very comfy. Now premium brands such as The Original Muck Boot Company, Hunter and Joules are on the shelves alongside the budget options.
These kinds of products appeal to the core over-fifties garden market who have money to spend on such items and want a quality product that will look good and – most importantly – last. It is a principle that holds true across garden centre selling of all garments, something which, according to the GCA, has risen markedly has in recent times.
Peter Mellish, official UK distributor of The Original Muck Boot Company, says the kind of customer that’s buying barbecues worth ?600 are also prepared to spend ?50 or ?100 on quality footwear. “We have a range which is designed specifically for gardening but three times the price of the budget brands. However the garden centre consumer is prepared to buy quality, style and durability.”
Do many customers visit a garden centre with the express purpose of splashing the cash on a new blouse or pair of trousers? Probably not, but as Peter points out, “garden centres are now ?destination? shopping centres, where the consumer will visit for a couple of hours’ entertainment rather than the specific act of purchasing goods.”
What to sell
Meike Cassens, buyer for Burford Garden Centre in Oxfordshire, agrees. She says: “There is the customer who comes into buy something completely different and then stops in their tracks and finds something that catches her eye that they may not have seen anywhere else.?
It’s creating this ?special? feel that is central to Burford’s strategy. And they must be doing something right, having seen double-digit increases in clothing sales in the last five years. (Without incorporating concessions).
When it comes to fashion, the aim isn’t to follow the latest trends but provide timeless pieces that wear well, which is how Burford distinguishes itself from the high street. “Our customers are from the yummy mummy onwards and they come to us when they are in their late twenties to early thirties. I?ve seen the same dresses on young mothers and on a 65-year-old.”
Cassens also believes it is vital for garden centres to offer a comfy, non-intimidating place for customers to try clothes on. “In the quirky Burford way we have a shepherd’s hut for people to change in. It’s a lovely private place, roomy and airy. It’s an informal yet personable service.”
Nowhere to put your secateurs
On the whole, not much of the clothing that’s on offer in garden centres is actually any good for wearing while pruning, weeding and mowing. Sue O’Neill, who founded Genus Gardenwear in 2012, is hoping to change that.
“Everybody wears old clothes. But they just aren’t designed for gardening ? there?s nowhere to put your secateurs.” So far, only one garden centre chain has been interested in her products (which ultimately came to nothing), although she believes the opportunity is there.
One problem she has encountered is that many garden centres’ fashion offerings are via concessions. What?s more, there is often no changing room available for trying the clothes on.
O’Neill has come up with a workaround where customers can see, touch and feel the clothes, pay for them in-store, after which Genus fulfils the order directly. For now however, sales are coming from the website.